Sustainability Blog

Need More BAS (Building Automation Systems)

BY: RAHEEL JAFARANI, SUSTAINABILITY INTERNSHIP PROGRAM, 2017

Interning for the Office of Sustainability makes me appreciate all the work that is done behind the scenes in each building at UIC. It gives me a different perspective as to how everything works and that we should not take all these resources for granted. My project focuses on automating the HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems in the Science and Engineering Lab (SEL) building. The project is an important step in making UIC more sustainable because it utilizes more advanced technology to make the building more efficient and conserve energy.

After working on these buildings for a few weeks, I now realize how aggressively UIC is pursuing sustainability. Building Automation contributes to this by using improved equipment that reduces the environmental impact caused by the older systems. Projects like the Building Automations System are a pivotal step in fulfilling UIC’s climate commitment to become a Carbon Neutral Campus. It also makes the campus more sustainable by allowing energy conservation, efficiency, and a smaller footprint on the environment. The element I enjoy most during my internship is the combination of indoor and outdoor work. The work is split between working on a computer to monitor the equipment and then checking the equipment itself during building walk-throughs to make sure that it matches the software. This balance provides an exceptional learning environment and makes the overall experience very hands-on and rewarding. Interning for the Office of Sustainability has been an incredible experience thus far and I am beyond excited to continue learning more in the weeks ahead.


Summer 2017 Internship at Ameresco

BY: ZAHRA AHSAN, SUSTAINABILITY INTERNSHIP PROGRAM, 2017

My internship during the Summer of 2017 is based at a company called Ameresco, a leading developer of renewable energy projects that offers comprehensive solutions for maximizing energy efficiency.  The organization has offices throughout the United States and some international locations.  I am assigned at the Engineering intern division in Oakbrook, Illinois and work with four other interns on various projects. Some activities include reading through contracts, and preparing documents with activities and time frames for team members. I am assigned to another project where I work with other interns to maintain a spreadsheet with counts of structures that would need to go through the LED retrofit process. Throughout my time in the internship, I have not only enriched my knowledge about renewable energies and sustainable processes, but also became acquainted with business-related activities. For example, I was able to read through contracts and proposed schedule to understand the scope and timeline of deliverables on several projects.  This allowed me to get a complete picture of each project, identify dependencies between activities, and understand strategies for implementing tasks to meet deadlines.

In order to reduce the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical experience, engineers and project managers at the company try to bring interns to sites of projects they work on when opportunities arise.  I joined teams to survey several sites where solar panels would be installed on roofs. These hands on activities help me to understand opportunities and constraints in practical setting and assist me in performing tasks more effectively.

I feel that the new information that I am learning will benefit me as I undertake new initiatives. I have learned the benefit of being aware of the bigger picture while working on a smaller component. In the case of renewable energy and energy efficient industries, I believe  it is important to develop a long term comprehensive plan that incorporates all components of an integrated system.  Since budgetary constraint is one of the major hurdles in system or process upgrade initiatives for many organizations, it is important to develop a picture of long term benefits to acquire funds. As I expand my understanding of energy efficiency, renewable energy, and other initiatives through Ameresco and the Office of Sustainability, I become even more motivated to continue to share what I have learned with others and promote a healthier environment.

 


Natural Ideas for Chicago’s Water Challenges

BY: RUDOLPH REPA, SUSTAINABILITY INTERNSHIP PROGRAM, 2017

When I was younger my parents and I would always be out in the garden. My favorite part of being outside on hot summer days was when I turned on the hose; the clear, cold, and comforting water was always a treat. Now that I look back on those moments, I realize how lucky we are in the Chicagoland area to have such an abundant natural resource.

Yet our clean and cheap water supply is at risk. Chicago’s infrastructure relies on a combined sewer & rainwater runoff system. So when there are large storm events, the excess rainwater-sewage mix gets dumped into the Chicago River. This can lead to pollution, disease, and lower quality of life for those along the waterways. Thus, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago awards grants to projects that can reduce Combined Sewer Overflows.

That’s where UIC’s commitment to a Net Zero Water Campus comes into play. Together with the Sustainability Office, our committee is looking at ways to better improve UIC’s water resources and drainage capabilities. While there are a variety of ideas that can move our project towards its goal, one of the simplest ways to capture stormwater runoff is through native plantings. Earlier this summer, the Sustainability Office toured the James Woodworth Prairie Reserve–an undisturbed natural prairie—in Glenview, IL. Not only was the natural ecosystem beautiful, but the prairie acted as a sponge which soaked up rain. It is this type of simple & elegant solution that will most help UIC and its commitment to a Net Zero Water Campus.

From installing cisterns to capture rainwater for use on UIC’s sports fields, to reducing the number of safety concerns surrounding standing, stagnant water on Campus; we in the committee are looking at new and innovative ways to combine green technology, native ecology, and smart engineering to not only improve UIC, but for Chicagoland as a whole.


Used Water – Collected Water = 0

BY:MOHAMMED HAMEED, SUSTAINABILITY INTERNSHIP PROGRAM, 2017

The UIC campus is spread out over the city of Chicago covering 240 acres of land. This land receives about 250 million gallons of water through precipitation (rain/snow) every year. Now, imagine if we could capture that enormous amount of water by going into the sewers and reuse it within the campus. That is the goal I am trying to accomplish this summer along with my fellow interns at the Office of Sustainability. Our first goal is to reduce the consumption of water on campus. Currently, the campus consumes about 500 million gallons of water every year. Once we manage to reduce that amount so that it equates to the amount of water received through precipitation, we reach to a point which we can call Net Zero Water- where we utilize only the amount that we receive through precipitation. Apart from saving water, our project will also help mitigate flooding and storm water runoff by retaining water on-site. This will be done by building permeable structures in the form of gardens, walkways, and parking lots. Moreover, we also plan to explore opportunities to design underground cisterns and storage vessels which can hold water and reuse it for irrigation purposes. Our goals to conserve and reuse water also help us fulfil the UIC Climate Commitment of Net Zero Water and make our campus a more sustainable and greener place to study, live, and enjoy ourselves.

 

 


Redefining Sustainability

 

BY: MARGARET ALLEN, SUSTAINABILITY INTERNSHIP PROGRAM, 2017

Participating in the Office of Sustainability Internship Program (SIP) allowed me to expand upon my own knowledge of environmental conservation and explore why and how sustainable choices are implemented, particularly in institutional settings.  With a modestly privileged childhood of playing outside, recycling regularly, and learning about water conservation, I saw environmental stewardship as the primary goal behind being sustainable.  In our first SIP seminar, multiple definitions of sustainability were presented;my personal favorite came from the UN’s Brundtland Report from 1987, which highlights meeting the world’s current developmental needs “without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” However, many other sustainability definitions include three purposes, not one: environmental, social, and financial.

The variety of discussions held within SIP seminars, field trips (like to Lakeshore Recycling Systems) and other UIC sustainable facilities planning meetings (for my internship, regarding implementing green infrastructure) has opened my eyes wider to what this “triple bottom line” means. Optimistically, social justice should follow naturally from environmental justice. Pessimistically, people in industry only care about their profit. Yet realistically, every solution should start by accounting for these three components to create change that is fair to all.  Additionally, achieving global sustainability will require substantial negotiations between cultures and nations to define what truly is “fair.” By adjusting my definition and approach to sustainability, I can ensure my future career’s work in civil and environmental engineering is more comprehensive, far-reaching, and sustainable.


On Wheels: My Summer as a Biking Intern

BY: CAROLINA GALLO-VILLALOBOS, SUSTAINABILITY INTERNSHIP PROGRAM SUMMER STUDENT, 2017

My job with this internship is to create biking safety and accessibility and you cannot do that unless you address the issues of equity, not just for UIC students and staff, but for everyone. As someone who is a community organizer, the accessibility for all is my primary goal as an intern. This is the reason why I decided to do Chicago Bike Week and provide UIC students, staff, and bikers that ride through the UIC’s Medical Campus information on biking safety and coffee with Cliff Bars. Having such a great turn out of people being interested on biking in UIC motivated me to work with my mentor for the summer Kate to have a roundtable discussion with at the Latino Cultural Center at UIC. Where we will be bringing in a Divvy representative to talk to a group of people, on how they plan to expand Divvy and make it more affordable for low income Black and Brown neighborhoods. Recently, “Divvy’s Unfair Share” was published in the Chicago Reader, by John Greenfield which talks about the how even though Divvy launched Divvy for Everyone, a program for families and individuals making less than $35,000 year, most of their members are white middle to upper class with college degrees. This comes to no surprise to me, especially since there is no Divvys in my neighborhood of Chicago Lawn. As a Divvy member, I would have to take the bus for 1 or 2 miles from my house to reach the nearest station. That is why for me it is beyond creating a biking culture at UIC through my internship. For me is about how we are making sure that biking culture is accessible and safe for all in not just at UIC, but in south side communities- like Englewood and mine Chicago Lawn.

Furthermore, being a biking intern has taught me the work that goes into to maintaining bike racks and adding bike racks for the university. Something that sounds simple, but requires a lot of organization, planning, and physical labor. This summer I learn to not just be a better and safer biker through biking around campus locating bike racks and keeping inventory of all abandoned bikes, locks, and bike rack maintenance. This process took a month and a half and was honestly one of the largest data projects I’ve done to date. Also, I realized how much I learned in Geographic Information Systems, GIS and how I can apply it to the work force. GIS skills that I am using to help update the bike rack map for the UIC. Working as an intern has prepare me to work in my field as a future urban planner and motivated me to get my masters in urban planning.


Restoring What Was Once Lost

BY: KATHERINE FIEDLER, SUSTAINABILITY INTERNSHIP PROGRAM SUMMER STUDENT, 2017

The central sustainability issue behind my internship project is biodiversity. Biodiversity is one of UIC’s four Climate Commitments. There is lack of biodiversity throughout Chicago due to preference toward aesthetics rather than what is native but with my project I’m slowly changing that. With the help of a grant through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, UIC is able to restore 0.25 acres of prairie. Hundreds of species call a prairie their home along with an abundance of plants native to Illinois, Before I joined, the initial plants were already in, so my job is to maintain the area. This includes weeding, watering, and adding new plants. Through my project I’ve learned about the rarity of prairies and how difficult they are to restore.

I also visited the James Woodworth Prairie in Glenview, Illinois. The 5 acre plot of land began its restoration journey in 1966. It had never been developed and is a remnant of a time before settlement. Today,visitors can see what a full-fledged prairie looks like and how volunteers help maintain it. It is also owned by UIC which allows researchers to study the area. It will be about 3-5 years before UIC’s prairie is fully restored and I’m excited to see the final product. I’ll have graduated by then but I plan to come back and visit.

Along with the restoration of the prairie, I amhelping draft a Pollinator Protection Plan to support the recognition UIC received from BeeCampus USA. This plan correlates well with the prairie restoration because it will be an oasis for pollinators. I’m happy to put my writing skills to use and I enjoy every day I’m outside, in the sun, working to restore the prairie.


Volunteers help to recreate a prairie at UIC

by: Katerina Fiedler, Sustaianbility Internship Program Summer Student, 2017

When it comes to conservation, many people think about preserving forests or natural wonders such as the Grand Canyon, but what about prairies? Prairies haven been threatened since the settlement of the west began in the United States. Farmers considered these indigenous plants to be weeds and used the rich soil for farming. The overuse of the land eventually led to catastrophic events such as the Dust Bowl. Now, there are better framing practices in place but what about the prairies? Restoration of this significant ecosystem has been taking place in many areas throughout the Midwest. One such restoration is happening on UIC’s west campus.

UIC received the Five Star and Urban Waters Restorations Grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The goals of this grant is to “develop nation-wide-community stewardship of local natural resources, preserving these resources for future generations and enhancing habitat for local wildlife.” On May 15, UIC used this grant to restore 0.25 acers of prairie behind the School of Public Health and Psychiatric Institute building at 1601 W Taylor St.

With the help of volunteers and a team from FedEx Cares, the area is on its way to becoming a fully restored prairie. “Every spring, FedEx delivers money and muscle in support of urban environmental sustainability projects in numerous cities in which team members live and work,” said Sabiena Foster, head of the FedEx Cares team. “We truly enjoyed the experience and hope to do it again.”

Prairie plants are vital to the Midwest for many reasons. They’re roots go deep, about 10 to 15 feet into the ground. This helps top soil from being blown away as well as water retention when larger storms enter the area. “This particular prairie garden”, says UIC CME graduate student Nick Haas, “should capture about 2,000 gallons of stormwater each year, even without amending the soil.”

The biodiversity of prairie plants also breaks up the monoculture aesthetic of a city such as Chicago. These plants support local insect and animal populations, providing a natural habitat for them to thrive in. “Urban areas like Chicago have seen multiple species of pollinators”, says Alan Molumby, UIC Biological Sciences professor and Bee Campus USA chair, “but it is our job to help attract additional pollinators by creating close-to-natural habitats.”

“The event was great as we had amazing volunteers from FedEx!”, said Amanda Madrigal, a volunteer. “I think the restored area will be great for student research and access to natural space, especially in an urbanized area like Chicago.” The restoration of this prairie will not only contribute to the grant’s goals but also aid achieving the goals of the UIC Climate Commitments. It will take about 3 to 5 years before the restoration is complete. If interested in seeing what a fully restored prairie looks like, head over the James Woodworth Prairie in Glenview, Illinois.

See more photos from the event on the UIC Office of Sustaianbility Facebook page.


UIC Earns Tree Campus USA Certification for 6th Year in a Row

The University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) is among the few universities that participate in the Tree Campus USA program, which promotes effective tree management, campus community involvement, and nature connectivity among faculty members and students through forestry efforts. UIC has been recognized as Tree Campus USA every year since 2011.

In order to maintain our Tree Campus USA status, UIC must hold an arbor day observances annually and conduct service learning projects each year. In 2016, UIC planted 2 trees in April as our arbor day observance event. Read all about it here: 2016 Arbor Day Observance. We tagged many trees with students from UIC College Prep as our service learning project. Read all about it here: 2016 Service Learning Projects.

UIC will be celebrating the 2017 arbor day observance on Friday, May 12 as we plant 30 trees in the Grove along with volunteers form Enablon, Chicago Tree Initiative, and American Forest. See the event information here.

Exciting news to be added to our 2017 recertification is the addition of the UIC Tree Inventory! UIC recently fostered a partnership with Bartlett Tree Experts in order to build and maintain our inventory of trees. This inventory provides valuable information on the number of diverse species, total canopy coverage, and the health and age of all trees. This information can be used in order to develop practical and beneficial management practices. Want to look up a specific tree on campus? Now you can! Read more about the tree inventory, as well as the benefits of maintaining a tree inventory here.


Prairie Restoration and Bee Campus USA Internship, Summer 2017

The Office of Sustainability obtained a small grant to restore a prairie area on the west side of campus.  This internship supports this project and the Bee Campus USA initiative currently underway.

Responsibilities Include:

  • Complete installation of prairie plants as needed
  • Watering and general maintenance of prairie restoration site
  • Develop content for Bee Campus USA website
  • Help coordinate and/or promote events(s) related to building and/or installing native bee houses around campus
  • Potentially researching Service-Learning projects

 

Preferred Skills

  • Interest in native plants and native pollinators
  • Interest in green infrastructure and natural systems restoration
  • Good research skills
  • Ability to work independently
  • Some knowledge of plants a plus

This position will be a member of the Sustainability Intern Cohort. The Sustainability Internship Program (SIP) is an initiative through the Office of Sustainability that offers hands-on learning experiences that help achieve the UIC Climate Commitments and sustainability within our core functions of teaching, research, and community service. The program consists of weekly seminars and field outings on a range of educational and skill building topics including: environmental and energy sustainability issues, cultural sustainability issues, institutional challenges and change management, campus structure and administration, campus sustainability programs and job readiness. The SIP requirements include: meeting weekly work plan goals, frequent meetings with project supervisor, attendance at weekly seminars and outings, blog posts and a final poster presentation.

This paid position requires 15 hrs/week during the summer term including time in the seminar. Students could receive internship credit hours (student must confirm with their academic advisor).

Undergraduates from all disciplines are encouraged to participate.