Green Labs initiative to promote sustainable research 

UNMC and the med center campus in Omaha is a world-class research facility, with more than 740,000 square feet of dedicated research space, making it a world leader in health research. 

Lab spaces are resource intensive. In comparison with standard office spaces, laboratories use five- to 10-times more energy and five-times more water. Laboratory researchers generate around 15-times more plastic waste than the average individual, with labs being responsible for a total of 5.5 million tons of plastic waste per year. 

The med center’s Green Labs Program complements the med center’s institutional sustainability goals, as well as the University of Nebraska System’s 2023 sustainability plan.

The UNMC Office of Sustainability is collaborating with the UNMC Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research to drive optimization in energy and water consumption, while exploring innovative and practical ways to manage waste downstream and upstream by working with procurement to offer more sustainable options for researchers. 

The voluntary program is designed to support lab personnel who are interested in implementing measures and adopting behaviors that will reduce environmental impacts without sacrificing research quality, safety standards or lab productivity. 

Participants will be asked to fill out an initial survey to establish a baseline and a post-pilot questionnaire seeking feedback on the process and resources. If a UNMC lab is interested in joining the Green Labs program, consider signing up for the pilot. Click here to fill out the interest form for the lab, and the UNMC Office of Sustainability will be in contact to get the process started. 

Before submitting the form, consider discussing the program with lab personnel to approve participation and determine who will serve as the lab’s representative throughout the pilot. 

To kick start the Green Labs pilot program, the med center is participating in the International Freezer Challenge. This free competition offers guidance and resources to optimize a lab’s cold storage for better sample access and improved sample integrity, while reducing energy usage. 

Enrollment in the Green Labs program is not required to participate, but colleagues who are interested can fill out the same interest form to start receiving information about the challenge.  

For more information, including viewing the Green Labs program structure and program goals, visit the LiveGreen web pages for the Green Labs Program and the Freezer Challenge.

Earth Month will showcase nature and biodiversity

April 22 is Earth Day, and the med center will celebrate Earth Month throughout April, focusing on nature and biodiversity. The events offer opportunities to learn more about how the med center improves the community’s biodiversity and what the med center is doing to maintain a natural environment.

Check out this event list to learn how to participate in the Earth Month celebrations and engage with nature.

Nature photo contest: All month, online
The UNMC Office of Sustainability is hosting a photo contest. Entrants can share how they interact with nature on or off campus during April for the chance to win a gift card to a local business or an upcycled lab coat tote bag.

Health Care Ecochallenge: All month, online
Join the Health Care EcoChallenge, where you can take sustainable action directly related to health care and health topics. Click here to join the med center team and earn points. Top-scoring participants will be recognized and receive a local gift card or a lab coat tote bag at the end of the month.

Campus cleanup: April 24, noon-1 p.m., Lot 64 (native prairie area)
Note: Due to the possibility of severe weather, the date of the event has been changed from April 16 to April 24. Join in picking up trash around campus over lunch time with the Blue Bucket Project. A group will be cleaning up at Lot 64 around the native prairie, making sure the prairie is clean while also learning more about its benefits and other engagement opportunities. Register here and invite friends, coworkers and classmates.

Arbor Day tree planting ceremony: Wednesday, May 1, noon-1 p.m., at the far west end of the Ruth & Bill Scott Student Plaza between the Sorrell Center and Williams Science Hall.
Note: Due to the weather, the date of the event has been changed to May 1. Join the UNMC Office of Sustainability, HEAL, and UNMC Student Senate in the biannual tree planting event for the planting of a Japanese lilac tree. Help improve green spaces on campus while learning more about the med center’s planetary report card. Stickers, snacks, seeds and saplings will be available, and participants will have the chance to name the tree being planted.

Webinar, ‘Urban Pollinator Habitat: Supporting Health & Wellness’: April 9, noon-1 p.m., virtual
The UNMC Office of Sustainability will host an online webinar to teach about urban pollinator habitats and their impact on health. The two guest speakers will be Benjamin Vogt, owner of the prairie-inspired design firm Monarch Gardens, and Bob Gittins, president and founder of Nebraska Monarchs.

LiveGreen ambassador kick-off: April 19th, 12-1 p.m., virtual
LiveGreen Ambassador Program has officially become an Employee Resource Group at the med center. Join the group on April 19 to begin planning what the LiveGreen Ambassador Program will look like this year. The program is an excellent opportunity for faculty and staff to create climate action on campus. To learn more about previous efforts by LiveGreen Ambassadors, go to the LiveGreen website.

Personal electronic waste and techno trash shredding event: May 7, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., and May 8, 6 a.m.-2 p.m., UNMC grounds building
Earth Month events will extend into May with the med center’s annual recycling event. Bring e-waste and old media to be recycled. Seedlings and wildflower seed packets will be available, courtesy of the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District. Details are available on the website. If interested in volunteering at the event, click here.

See a leak, report a leak: Support water conservation

Water is an important resource, and each drop counts. And the med center takes water conservation seriously. One easy but significant way to help is to report water leaks as soon as possible.

Here are the steps for how to report a leak and why it’s important for the organization and the environment. To learn more about water conservation, explore this guide, “LiveGreen: The Importance of Water Conservation.”

How to report a water leak at the med center:

  • For emergencies, call 402-559-4050, and the help desk will create a work order and call facilities immediately.
  • To report non-emergent leaks, go to the UNMC facilities work order submission page.
  • Submit the work order for maintenance requests. This includes repairs, electrical needs, installation requests and are all directed to a building’s zone based on information collected in the maintenance ticket. This means that if the location is incorrectly noted or not filled out, the request will not route correctly. Provide essential details such as contact information, the location of the leak and a brief description of the issue.

Why reporting leaks matters:

  • Water is finite and important. Reporting leaks helps ensure that every drop is used efficiently and minimizes waste.
  • The med center is committed to sustainability and reducing its environmental footprint. Reporting leaks supports the med center’s net zero water sustainability goal and demonstrates a commitment to responsible resource management.
  • Neglected leaks can escalate into more extensive issues, causing structural damage and mold growth. Early reporting mitigates these risks, ensuring the health and safety of patients, colleagues and visitors.
  • Reporting a leak sets an example for others, inspiring colleagues to take responsibility for maintaining the med center’s buildings and grounds and contributing to a more sustainable future.

Take action today

Reporting water leaks is a small action that can yield big results. By following the easy steps outlined above, everyone can play a vital role in the med center’s water conservation efforts.

Visit the UNMC facilities work order submission page to report water leaks. Working together, med center colleagues can reduce waste, save money and protect the environment.

LiveGreen: Budget-friendly tips for winter energy conservation

Whether someone is a homeowner or a renter, winter weather can feel like a threat to their home and family.

As temperatures drop, there are several home winterization techniques people can employ to ensure they don’t spend a fortune on energy while also improving their family’s comfort and safety.

Check out this short video from OPPD to prepare homes for cold weather.

Winterization, or preventative measures to prepare for the harsh impact of the winter months, can significantly improve a home’s performance and the health of occupants. Benefits include improved indoor air quality, less temperature related illness and reduced hypertension.

The financial stress associated with the heating season also can take a toll on mental health. There are several local assistance programs to explore when home weatherization work is needed, including Habitat for Humanity’s Home Improvement Program, OPPD’s Energy Assistance Program and federal programs such as the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

The most thorough approach to addressing energy loss in winter, and throughout the year, is to conduct a home energy audit. If that’s not an option, there are other low-cost options available.

One of the most effective winterization strategies is to make repairs on areas in the home where heat loss commonly occurs. Drafty windows and doors, for example, can be inexpensively and easily addressed by caulking cracks and holes, installing weatherstripping or door sweeps and applying heat shrink plastic film to windows. Adding insulation can act as a winter coat for a home, reducing the chance of heat loss in areas where heat can radiate to the outside, such as exterior walls, attic access doors and rim joists.

Opening the blinds to let in sunlight and closing them at night is an easy and practical measure that can be adopted at the office and at home. Lowering the thermostat during the night and during the day when nobody is home also can save money and energy. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, households can save as much as 10% a year on heating and cooling by turning their thermostats back 7 degrees to 10 degrees from normal settings for eight hours a day.

Another option is investing in a smart thermostat, which analyzes a home’s energy usage patterns and automatically adjust settings for energy efficiency while keeping homes comfortable. OPPD offers a bill credit for every year someone uses a qualified device.

For those considering a more comprehensive home energy upgrade, check out the Rewiring America’s savings calculator to get an estimate on energy savings, upfront discounts and available tax credits.

 

LiveGreen Ambassadors participate in campus clean-up

On Dec. 7, med center students, staff and faculty participated in a campus clean-up event, or a “flash trash mob,” outside the Durham Research Center.

Together, the participants filled one waste bag with litter that was sent to the landfill. Items that could be recycled were picked up and separated appropriately.

The 2020 National Litter Study found that there are almost 50 billion pieces of litter, or about 152 pieces per resident, along U.S. roadways and waterways. The study found that more than 207 million pieces of litter are personal protective equipment, such as gloves and masks.

Litter affects environmental, community and individual health, as well as quality of life, economic development, water safety, environmental justice and the urban habitat. Preventing litter from spreading further on and off campus makes the community healthier and safer and protects the natural environment.

Many clean-up participants noted how enjoyable and fulfilling it was to spend time outside, doing something meaningful to benefit their environment, campus and community. Participants also provided helpful feedback, such as identifying spaces on campus that could benefit from new waste infrastructure.

The event was made possible through support from the UNMC Office of Sustainability’s new community partner, the Blue Bucket Project. The Blue Bucket Project is a nonprofit with a mission to engage Omaha community members to make the city litter-free.

The organization leads “flash trash mobs” by completing one-hour litter clean-up projects throughout Omaha and providing all the supplies needed. It also offers free litter pick-up starter kits to households to clean up their neighborhoods.

Cindy Tefft, who represented the Blue Bucket Project for the event, said: “Part of the Blue Bucket Project’s mission is to provide equipment, resources and opportunities to groups, families or individuals who would like to help keep our community cleaner, safer, more attractive and litter-free. It is very rewarding seeing the difference we are all making for a more sustainable environment.”

Visit the Blue Bucket Project’s website to order a starter kit, organize an event or learn more about the organization.

Anyone interested in participating in future clean-up events can contact Jerrod Bley at the UNMC Office of Sustainability.

Med center holds events to celebrate sustainability

In October, the med center held several events for Campus Sustainability Month, engaging with students and the wider community.

Tree planting – On Oct. 24, the UNMC Office of Sustainability partnered with UNMC grounds to host a tree planting event. Two Autumn Blaze Maple trees were added to the campus canopy. Members of the office of sustainability spoke about the benefits of expanding campus green space, including promoting physical activity, relieving stress and reducing noise and air pollution. Attendees put pins on a campus map to show where they thought they could benefit from active commuting investments. Attendees also suggested names for the trees. Visit the med center’s new trees, Alexis and Leif Erickson, in the green space near the Home Instead Center for Successful Aging, upper lot 16.

Health and home performance – On Oct. 24, the UNMC Office of Sustainability partnered with several community organizations to host an event to educate the community about the connection between health and home efficiency. It was the first event held at the new Community Wellness Collaborative. As temperatures drop, weatherization techniques can help ensure that homes are comfortable and energy efficient. Weatherization provides such benefits as improved indoor air quality, less temperature related-illness and reduced hypertension. Shanda Ross, Nebraska Medicine’s director of engagement, outreach and belonging said, “We are proud to collaborate with the office of sustainability to provide resources to our community to help them better understand how sustainability and health go hand in hand, as well as provide them with support for home maintenance or energy assistance.” Speakers and community partners were:

University of Nebraska Sustainability Summit – On Nov. 15, the University of Nebraska at Omaha was the site for the second annual NU System Sustainability Summit. The summit brought together university sustainability leaders and key parties to exchange knowledge and shape the future of sustainability at the University of Nebraska. Attendees participated in breakout sessions on a variety of topics, including the creation of Omaha’s Climate Action Plan and the role of technology in sustainable agriculture. The keynote address was delivered by Craig Moody, managing partner of Omaha-based environmental consulting company Verdis Group.

 

Sustainability Month offers events, opportunities to take action

October is Campus Sustainability Month, an annual celebration of sustainability in higher education. Campuses worldwide educate and take action during October through webinars, events, challenges and more. The med center is celebrating through some great events and educational opportunities.

Tree planting event – On Oct. 24, the UNMC Office of Sustainability and grounds office is hosting a tree planting event on campus. The event will be held from noon to 1 p.m. in the green space near the Home Instead Center for Successful Aging (upper lot 16). Organizers will be planting an Autumn Blaze Mapletree and offer people a chance to learn more about the importance of trees on campus. Stickers will be offered to everyone who helps plant the tree. Submissions are open to offer ideas to name the tree. Attendees can submit name ideas at the event, and a winner will be chosen later this month.

Health and home performance – On Oct. 24 from 5-8 p.m. at the new Community Wellness Collaborative, located at 2120 N. 29th St., Suite 200, in Omaha, the Office of Sustainability will partner with community organizations to share knowledge and discuss the connection between health and home performance. Weatherization work can provide many health benefits, such as improved indoor air quality, less heat and cold related illness and reduced hypertension, which results in fewer hospital and medical visits. This event is open to the community and will have a variety of educational sessions. This event will have the following speakers and sessions:

  • Health care and sustainability – Jerrod Bley, UNMC Office of Sustainability
  • Lead poisoning prevention program – Anita Whitney, Douglas County Health Department
  • Home repair program – Sara Zivny, Habitat for Humanity
  • Natural gas safety and conservation – Julie Thacker and Ernie Bless, MUD
  • Residential energy efficiency and energy efficiency assistance program – Eric Bensalah and Eddie Clark, OPPD

EcoChallenge – Throughout October, participants can compete alongside peers to be the most sustainable, as well as learn what others at the med center are doing to better the environment. There are a variety of actions people can take to focus on health, education, transportation and more. Click here to get started.

Sustainability Summit – Continue celebrating sustainability into November with the Nebraska University System Sustainability Summit. On Wednesday, Nov. 15, from 1-4 p.m. at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, attendees can find out what is happening on all four campuses, learn from experts and help shape the future of sustainability at the University of Nebraska. To attend the event, register here 

Also take action this October by:

Med center cuts down on waste at campus BBQ

For the past three years, the UNMC Office of Sustainability has strived to make the annual BBQ event zero waste, which means at least 90% of waste by weight is diverted from the landfill.

While the event didn’t reach the 90% goal, the Office of Sustainability was able to save almost 200 pounds from going to the landfill, while also engaging, educating and raising awareness among the med center community about sustainability efforts on campus that directly contribute to the med center’s net zero waste and engagement goals.

On Aug. 23, the campus held the #WeAreUNMC BBQ, where students, staff and faculty could mingle, learn about various groups and enjoy a meal together.

To make this event more sustainable, the Office of Sustainability set up waste stations that included compost, recycling and Hefty Orange bags, along with traditional landfill waste. With the help of volunteers, attendees were instructed on how to correctly sort their waste at the stations.

After the event, the aggregated waste from each station was weighed and recorded. In all, 74% of all waste material was diverted from the landfill, a substantial increase from the 65% diverted in 2022.

The breakdown of waste streams was:

  • Compost: 93 pounds
  • Recycling: 41.7 pounds
  • Cardboard: 32.7 pounds
  • Hefty Renew Bag: 14.1 pounds
  • Landfill: 63.1 pounds

Julie Sommer, research facilities planner and a LiveGreen ambassador who volunteered at the BBQ, said: “I look forward to the UNMC Welcome BBQ every year. Volunteering to help sort waste is a great way to meet people and educate about sustainability on campus. The effort to make this a zero waste event is appreciated by many students and staff.”

Another volunteer, Emily Wiley, office associate for the medical laboratory science program, also had a great experience: “As someone who actively recycles, uses orange bags and composts at home, it was great to assist at this event and help to educate those who were in attendance. I hope that everyone learned something new or was inspired by what they saw to do more in their own home.”

Anyone interested in getting involved in sustainable events can sign up to be a LiveGreen Ambassador, send ideas for events that could go zero waste or sign up to volunteer for this event next year. With questions, email Jerrod Bley.

Med center offers benefits for ‘active commuting’

The results of the 2022 sustainability engagement survey indicated 40% of med center employee commute trips are made in a way other than driving alone in a car. This means employees are taking the bus, biking, walking, carpooling or working from home — and it’s considered “active commuting.”

Active commuting has several benefits, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions, reducing costs to the individual and improving individual and community health

In 2012, only 12% of trips were made to campus in ways other than driving alone by car, and the goal was set to increase this to 20%. Since then, the med center has worked to support active commuters, primarily through the TravelSmart program, and the 20% goal was met in 2018.

The new goal was set at 35% by 2030, and that was achieved far ahead of schedule in 2022 with the 40% result.

This success is primarily due to more employees working from home, alongside small increases in biking, walking and other forms of sustainable transportation. The 35% goal will remain in place for now to account for changes in remote work policies implemented after the survey results were collected.

Data from the next survey, scheduled for 2024, will be used to continuously evaluate this goal. To learn more, check out the sustainability dashboard

Anyone interested in getting involved can sign up for the TravelSmart program. When registering, choose from several modes of transportation and access benefits, including a free Omaha Metro bus pass, one-year Heartland B-cycle pass, reduced parking ratesemergency ride home program, access to secure bike parking, lockers and showers and more.

Important update: Another year of free Heartland B-Cycle memberships is available.

The Heartland B-Cycle program will offer a limited number of free one-year memberships to the med center community. This bike sharing system allows members to easily unlock, ride and return bikes at a network of more than 70 docking stations around the city.

Checking out a bike to travel across campus for meetings saves time and prevents the need to re-park a car. Bicycling also is a great way to reduce someone’s carbon footprint, support cycling infrastructure in Omaha and exercise, all at once. Heartland Bike Share even has electric-assist bicycles, which help with hills.

Click here to find detailed instructions for how to sign up for TravelSmart to get a promo code and activate a Heartland B-cycle membership.

President Carter releases NU System sustainability measures

University of Nebraska President Ted Carter has released a new set of sustainability measures for the NU System, drawn from input and ideas from an 80-member team of faculty, staff and students from across the campuses.

The system-wide set of targets – a supplement to existing sustainability plans on the campuses – includes goals for increasing engagement and collaboration in sustainability efforts, using resources responsibly and continuing to integrate sustainability practices in facilities and procurement work where appropriate.

The goals were developed from more than 100 ideas generated by the President’s Sustainability Council, a group convened last year by Carter to help elevate and unite sustainability efforts across the system. Creation of system-wide sustainability measures is part of Carter’s Five-Year Strategy.

“Our goal is to be the best possible stewards of the resources entrusted to us – both natural and fiscal. I am very pleased to share these sustainability measures that reflect the common-sense values of our university and state,” Carter said.

“Our students, faculty, staff and community members have brought great energy and engagement to this effort, and I am thankful for their leadership. We will continue to work together with all Nebraskans to become even more effective and efficient in our use of our precious resources.”

The full sustainability document is available here. Goals include:

  • Fund and hire student interns across the NU System to support sustainability outreach and engagement efforts.
  • Host an annual Sustainability Summit, rotated among the campuses. The inaugural summit was held this fall at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Innovation Campus.
  • Establish a systemwide award to recognize excellence in sustainability. Details and application information on the inaugural award will be released this fall.
  • Encourage re-use initiatives that reduce waste and support students, like “career closets” and programs that allow students to easily donate or recycle items when moving out of the residence halls rather than throw them away.
  • Set systemwide targets for reducing energy use, water use and waste, and publicize annual progress toward the targets.
  • Incorporate sustainability best practices into facilities planning; for example, prioritizing energy efficiency in university buildings to save costs.
  • Promote more local purchases by adding a designation for “local” and/or “sustainable” products in the university’s procurement catalog.
  • Develop strategies with vendors to reduce packaging waste.

Members of the university community are invited to share systemwide sustainability ideas by emailing the University of Nebraska System at this link.

Med center can bike into fall with free B-Cycle pass

Lauren Klingemann

 

Lauren Klingemann loves using Heartland Bike Share and wants other students and staff to experience the same joy she does riding the bikes around campus.

The second-year student and M1 wellness chair has been at UNMC since August 2022. She enjoys Heartland B-Cycle because she has easy access to a bike and can ride across campus or to different places around Omaha during the week.

“I really enjoy biking on different trails throughout Omaha,” she said. “But transporting my personal bike is often a hassle.”

The med center partners with Heartland Bike Share to offer free, annual passes to students, faculty and staff. At the beginning of the 2023 fall semester, Parking Services, the UNMC Office of Sustainability and the Nebraska Public Health Laboratory joined together to distribute more than 200 passes.

A limited number still are remaining, so sign up today to get a free pass. Click here to find detailed instructions for how to sign up for TravelSmart to get a promo code and activate a Heartland B-cycle membership.

By getting a pass, users have access to Heartland B-Cycle’s 400 electric-assist bikes and 80-plus stations, including several stations around the UNMC campus:

  • 40th and Leavenworth streets
  • 39th and Jackson streets
  • 42nd Street and Dewey Avenue
  • 45th and Emile streets
  • 44th and Farnam streets
  • 40th and Farnam streets

“Because B-cycles are widely available throughout Omaha,” Klingemann said, “having access to a free pass allows me to make the spontaneous decision to go on a bike ride basically anywhere I am at throughout the city.”

These interconnected stations throughout the city have been useful to Klingemann and even have helped her encourage her dad, a pharmacist on campus, to get a pass and ride B-Cycles all over Omaha. Omaha’s system of trails and bike infrastructure gives students, staff, faculty and colleagues another means of travel that is convenient, safe and more sustainable.

 Klingemann also wants to emphasize that biking is just a great time in and of itself.  

“My biggest advice would be to download the app and set up your free annual pass before you leave to ride the first time. I also strongly encourage you to go with friends. It makes biking even more enjoyable, and with the free pass, it gives you an opportunity to be active and have fun with your classmates or co-workers.”

Map of B-Cycle locations on the med center campus