Office of the President

June 10, 2007

Office Hours: Preserving Our Environment

Office of the President

VideoIn the last Office Hours video of the quarter, UW President Mark Emmert discusses preserving the environment for future generations and some of the things the UW is doing to address the challenge. He welcomes your thoughts and comments. Watch the video »

  • Isaac Mohar

    I appreciate the recycling efforts by the university, however I’m disappointed that there has not been an effort to collect compostable items. This would reduce the current amount of food waste and soiled paper items discarded as trash. Additionally, the university could switch on-campus eateries/catering to serve food and beverage on compostable items. While recycling is better than discarding, this process still involves substantial processing and energy to make it re-usable. Composting, on the other hand, sends much of this energy back to the earth. The best of course, is not to use disposable items at all, however in lieu of this, the lesser impact is desired.

  • Emma Johnson

    I think that the University of Washington has been a tremendous leader in terms of environmental stewardship in their own operations. You have quite the challenge ahead and I am grateful that you have taken it seriously. Additional opportunities:

    1. Encourage the use of CFLs in student’s on-campus and off-campus housing, via rebates and coupons offered by Puget Sound Energy. Partner with or encourage manufacturers to offer FREE recycling of spent CFLs in order to keep mercury out of the environment.

    2. Work with General Administration to fully include environmentally preferrable products in state contracts, and promote purchase of these products amongst departments and other universities. Toxic products should not be used at the university if there are better alternatives available (which there are many).

    3. Purchase 100% post consumer paper, non-chlorine bleached from the locally-based Grays Harbor Paper.

  • Sheila Lockwood

    The University of Washington Medical Center continues to make progress with regards to Environmental Stewardship. In 2007 the UWMC was recognized by Hospitals for a Healthy Environment as a 2007 Environmental Leadership Award winner

  • Rachael Delgado

    I go to the UWT campus, and there are a couple of things that I would like to see changed. I have see mainenance workers spray pesticides on the grounds, and I cringe everytime I see someone laying in the grass. I would love to lay in the grass, but I don’t need more poison I my bloodstream. Everytime I set my hands on a desk or a table I wonder what toxic chemicals I come into contact with. I use green cleaners in my home, and I would like to feel safe on campus. Some people like me are very sensitive to chemicals, but everyone can benefit,the students, the faculty, the environment, and esspecially the people applying the products.
    Also, I think that the campus needs to look past environmental issues to work on human rights issues as well, particularly labor issues. I won’t wear UW clothing because of the contractors (such as NIKE), and until I can be sure sweatshop labor is not a factor, I cannot show the insignia with pride.

  • Kay

    I have always been impressed with the University’s effort to go green, but I do have some suggestions that I think would make a big difference.

    1. I would appreciate it if campus food services would eliminate their use of plastic utensils.
    2. I would also appreciate it if campus food services would provide food waste receptacles for composting. I watch the garbage cans fill up to the brim in the rotunda and I cringe when I think of the potential for the unused food waste. (Perhaps it is already separated from the rest of the waste, if that is the case, I would love to know what goes on behind the scenes.)
    3. Introduce outdoor waste receptacles across campus where the area for collecting recyclable items is at least as big as the area for waste destined for the land fill.

    Thank you for giving me a forum for my thoughts.

  • Kristin

    I too applaud the UW recycling practices.

    One area that I believe could improve is with the Daily and UW Weekly newspaper deliveries and drops. When I arrive most mornings, there are two or three unopened stacks of Daily’s left over from the day before. If we’re lucky, they’re still strapped together, but that’s not always the case.

    Additionallys, we apparently have no choice but to receive the UW Weekly in our staff/faculty mailboxes. I for one would rather read it in the email I receive. There should be a way for us to choose to receive this paper electronically rather than in print.

    While I’m sure these newspapers are recycled, perhaps we can be more proactive and save some trees by taking efforts to cut back on printing so may unused papers.


  • Lori Tschirhart


    I would like to see the UW campuses utilize green roof technology wherever possible, especially on new buildings and old buildings requiring new roofs.

    As commented above, I would like to see a reduction in our use of disposable products, but I would also like to see the UW generate a bigger demand for post-recycled products, especially for plastics.

    Thank you.

  • Ellen Kaisse

    I’m proud to be a member of a campus community that is devoted to environmentally sound practices. But I couldn’t help noting an irony in two back-to-back announcements a few months ago. The president’s and provost’s offices announced first that the University wanted to solve grand challenge problems such as global warming and pollution. Then came an email inviting the staff and faculty to a celebration where the President and Provost would be serving up —
    burgers! We need to remember how severe an effect the factory farming of animals for meat has on the environment, to think about the continued conversion of rainforest to cattle-raising, and so forth. A celebration complete with food is a lovely idea, but maybe next year the president and provost can serve up something a little more enviromentally friendly!

  • Lena Murillo

    The Medical Center Plaza Cafe has been using styrofoam plates, cups, and bowls as well as plastic cutlery. The amount of non biodegradable garbage this creates must be monumental. They used to use sturdy paper plates so I think they should return to that. Plastic cutlery is a bit more difficult to replace unless people get really good at using chopsticks! Food wastes and paper napkins could all be composted rather than dumped in the garbage.

  • Anderson Arifin

    Music building (in the quad) needs to have recycling bin.

  • L. Fuller

    I’m proud of the school for its concern for environmental issues, but I think there is still a long way to go before we can truly consider ourselves green. I concur with the commenters above, and would add one more suggestion: I regularly see UW gardeners using gas-powered leaf blowers on campus. Even the most efficient gas-powered blowers are serious contributors to greenhouse emissions (not to mention noise pollution). I understand there might be some very specific tasks for which only a high-powered gas leaf blower will work, but I can’t imagine that most day-to-day tasks couldn’t be accomplished with an electric blower (or even a rake!). Please take this suggestion, along with all the above, into serious consideration.

    Thank you.

  • Graciela Matrajt

    I’m glad to read from the President’s of UW that the University
    is concerned about environment and global warming.
    If global warming is a concern, then I think that the University
    should seriously consider to change the format of air conditioning
    that exist throughout the campus. The present format forces the building (and the employees) to have air condition everywhere, even in those places that are rarely visited, or offices/labs that are only used few days/week. This is a tremendous waste of energy ! But worse than that, the temperature is controlled by someone in the building in a global way, which means that if someone feels colder (which
    happens very often), then it is not possible to turn the air condition off or at least turn it down. In my department for instance, we are sereval people with that problem, and what we have been doing lately (because we don’t have any other alternative) is either to wide open the windows or to plug electric heaters and turn them on for a while. I think it is ridiculous to be needing to use electric heaters in summer time ! But we don’t get to have the choice of whether we want air condition or not, and how cold we want to use it. This implies not only that the University is wasting a lot of energy (and directly contibuting to global warming issues) but also not respecting the freedom that each of us should have as to decide the temperature of our own office. Several employees do not feel confortable in their working places because they are unable to control the temperature of the environment where they work. As a result, their actions counter-act the University’s efforts to care about the environment.
    Please take this observations, along with all the above comments, into very serious consideration.

    Thank you very much.

  • Sarah

    I know this has already been mentioned in the above posts, but I wanted to offer a suggestion for composting food waste. A fairly recent development of the city has involved allowing certain food waste to go into yard waste. In Seattle people are pretty good about using recycling, but seem to be unaware of this better waste alternative.
    In addition, using local grown food prevents much of the polution from transportation and supports the area’s community.

  • Albert Larsen

    Just wanted to comment on the video cast. This is really great. I have a Zune (Microsoft’s attempt to trump the IPod) I just downloaded the podcast version to wmf format and imported it into my Zune – worked perfect; full screen and excellent sound. Great job!

  • Robert Norheim

    The University has encouraged people to turn off lights for years, but in many cases it is to little effect. I’m sure that staff is probably better about turning off lights in private offices, but no one seems to want to take responsibility for turning off lights in public spaces, such as hallways, meeting rooms, classrooms, and bathrooms, at the end of the day. When I leave my building at the end of the day, I turn off as many switches in hallways and classrooms as I can. But I seem to be the only one in my building doing this. When several years ago David Hodge made an appeal similar to the one in Office Hours (during the electricity price crisis), I made a suggestion to him that he said was a “good idea” but it apparently never went anywhere. I suggest that the University hire someone, give them a set of building keys, and have them walk around the campus during the evening/midnight hours, enter closed buildings, and search out as many publicly accessible light switches as possible and turn them off. For security purposes, there is no need to give the person keys to get into private offices — there are plenty of light switches out in public that I would suspect that the person’s wages would be easily covered by the savings in electricity. A successful person for the job would be one who envisions it as sort of a scavenger hunt, trying to find as many switches as possible.

    For a start, the University could instruct the person who locks buildings at the end of the day to flip any switches that are near entrances to buildings or in the hallways he traverses going from one door to another. This would add minimal effort to his job but would save significant electricity.

    Also I would love to see some photo-sensor switches installed. For instance, the hallway lighting in the second floor of Winkenwerder is completely wasted during the day when the skylights flood the hall with natural light. Yet I find these lights on almost every day.

  • Liesa

    This was a great start to a university-wide discussion. Good job so far UW!
    I agree with a few comments above:
    1) Add as many food composting bins as possible campus wide. Let’s just start with the HUB and a few other coffee places/ cafes on campus. Why not have every coffee cart discard their grounds into a compost bin? And all the paper pizza boxes, plates, etc. on campus? For those of us who have compost bins at home, it is second nature now to place food soiled paper products, including coffee cups and grounds, into our yard waste.

    2) Pesticide free lawns, and “chemical free” cleaning products. There are a few companies who offer chemical free cleaning supplies. We could ensure that our custodial services use those products and encourage depts who purchase their own cleaning supplies to purchase chemical free products.

    3) Encourage battery, CD, floppy, etc. recycling. The new silver bins on campus are a good start, but no one in my office knew that the bins were available.
    Promote them more!

    Thanks for all you are doing.

  • L. Fuller

    Comment #15 reminded me of another thought I recently had: replacing all bathroom light switches on campus with motion-sensitive switches. I have to believe that the initial outlay would be recouped in energy cost savings in a relatively short amount of time.

    And speaking of bathrooms: some urinals in the Health Sciences Building were replaced with the Water Free variety a few years ago, and then recently changed back to the traditional, water-wasting kind. What happened there?

  • Karen Powers

    In response to your request regarding what the University can do to be an even better steward of our environment, there is one easy but politically sticky thing that we as a University can do. The IMA shower facilities which are heavily used have shower heads that are extremely high flow. Several of us at the University have suggested that the shower heads be changed to low flow shower heads and this has been met with resistance. I am addressing this point again as the city of Seattle is now on a campaign to give our free residential shower heads and to educate the public about low flow (but still high pressure) shower heads. The offer for free shower heads is at: .

    I don’t know if the UW can get free shower heads as this is a residential offer. If not, I am sure that they would be willing to work with the University. Each one of those showers is used many more times in one day than a residential shower head.

    Thank you for considering this energy and water saving idea.

  • Karen

    I would gladly switch offices with Graciela Comment #12. We have the opposite problem. It’s too hot in our building. They insist that they have to keep the temperature between 73 – 77, because people get cold when the temperature gets down to 73. The average high in Seattle in July and August is 75.6, so we are heating our building to extreme temperatures Occasionally it would get up to 78 or 80. One day last July the temperature was 77 when I got to work was and climbed to 80. We then had a three day power outage.

    I use to walk to work, but was hot from walking up the hill and getting into an extremely hot building, that I was losing the first 1/2 hour of work aclimating. So I am driving now. Bus service is poor to get to work, I would have to take two buses and it would take 15 minutes longer than walking.

    It’s so hot here that my feet have dried out and hurt, I had to change facial cleansers(after using the same one for 15 years), my hair has been ruined and feels like straw, my finger nails have ridges, which is a sign of dryness and I am constantly coughing. My cough in October was caused by the dryness combined with Purell and/or cleaning fluid. My current cough (still lingering after six weeks) came when the temperature rose to 78 and some cleaning fluid was in the air. When I complained, I was told I had a disability.

    Those of us who graduated with the UW class of 1975 were taught conservation. We are suppose to turn our thermostats down to 55 at night and 68 during the daytime to conserve energy. We could solve global warming by turning our thermostats down.

    I’ve heard recently that they now make an energy saver flourescent light that doesn’t produce any heat. Maybe we could switch to these.

    We should ban space heaters. I really hate it when people jack up the temperature to 80 (70 is bad enough). It’s very difficult to work in those conditions.

  • Jason

    Great ideas here about green roofs, composting, using less pesticides, etc.

    Something I have noticed in Mary Gates Hall: if automatic flush toilets/urinals and autoflow faucets are to be used, the maintenance staff needs to keep on top of bad sensors. We have had several bad sensors on our floor, and this wastes water pretty quickly.

    As a previous commenter noted, flush-free urinals could be a boon both environmentally and financially (unless there is some hidden drawbacks), and many Seattle public buildings have already implemented these for tremendous water savings.

    Regarding UW Catering, all provided supplies (cups, utensils, napkins, sugar, creamer, etc.) at the end of a catering gig are thrown away, whether they were used or obviously not used. While I understand sanitary concerns, dumping large loads of unused or unopened, still useful products seems counter to best evnironmental and financial practices. Our school has often scavenged these for our own uses to prevent wholesale waste of resources.

    IT departments of campus units often instruct their staff/faculty to leave computers on 24/7 to receive pushed software/operating system updates. This policy could be reviewed campus-wide for better efficiencies and scheduling–i.e., pushed updates when necessary rather than leaving everything on all day, every day.

    Last, design of facilities that incorporate more natural light (while doing a good job of insulating against cold/heat) could both realize better energy efficiencies and increase morale during long, dark winters indoors, and summers spent inside (for staff).

    Keep up the good work.

  • Cathy Tuttle

    A couple of thoughts from Scandinavia, where I’ve interviewed several experts in university sustainability over the past year:

    1. Integrate sustainability directly into the President’s or Provost’s office. While a coordinator needs to keep watch over physical plant issues, a university is more than a set of buildings.

    2. Sustainability issues to be addressed will ultimately cover all aspects of university life including transportation, landscape and water quality, social and economic equity, and so on.

    3. Evaluate the university as a company, using ISO 14001 or other iterative environmental management tool to set targets and objectives.

    4. One physical plant item to be addressed asap: put every department / building on its own utility meters so that line item indicators can be improved over time (if you don’t know how much energy you are using, how can you use less?).

    5. Decide whether ALL undergraduates should leave the university with some level of competence / literacy in the core issues of sustainability.

  • Eric Siu

    Outsourcing the warehousing and distribution of goods will cost the university because it doubles the truck traffic on campus. The end users of the products pay for the fuel for those trucks to come across town everyday. A central store employs an ecomomy of scale so that a larger vendor truck will come onto campus less frequently and a UW Biodiesel Truck would make deliveries more efficiently. Why should the UW pay for daily fuel costs for compressed gasses to be delivered daily from Renton or Tacoma? Outsourced goods have been comming onto campus in small batches and in big trucks, or in twice as many small trucks. The loading docks of buildings are overfilled so there is a truck idling and a trucker not working. The end user of product has to perform the recieving function more often than they would if there was a mixed merchandise, central store/ distribution.

  • Kevin Laverty

    The “University of Washington Climate Partnership” was a 2006-2007 keystone project in the Environmental Management Program (in PoE).

    The project’s report makes recommendations for a strategy to reduce the UW’s greenhouse gas emissions and becoming carbon neutral. Three types of initiatives need to be pursued concurrently: conservation, development of new technologies, and offsets. While the report is not the comprehensive plan for becoming carbon neutral that the UW needs, it is a comprehensive framework that identifies opportunities and obstacles for each of these types of initiatives, plus others such as climate friendly investing.

    Four graduate students wrote the report: Matt Kuharic (Ph.D. candidate, Earth and Space Sciences), Kaia Peterson (MBA), Amy Wheeless (Evans School) and Eli Levitt (Evans School). Eleven other students from five schools also made significant contributions to specific elements of the project.

    The report “From Inventory to Action: ‘Next Best Steps'” and a more detailed report on offsets are online at

  • Greg Barnes

    If you want to help the environment, you should encourage bicycle usage. Unfortunately, the WAC makes it needlessly difficult to commute via bicycle to the UW. Specifically, WAC 478-118-290
    prohibits leaving your bicycle indoors, and leaving it overnight. While I understand that parking bicycles where they can block fire exits is bad for safety, most people who work at the University can find a place to park a bicycle where it will not be a safety hazard. The effect of the WAC is to require everyone who rides a bicycle into work to park it outside where it could be stolen, and to take it home every day. If you could park it in your office overnight, that means you could, for example, ride it in on a cloudy morning, then leave it at the office when it starts raining and bring it home the next day.

    The WAC, as written now, discourages bicycling, and should be amended.

  • Virginia Agostinelli

    I think that it would be great if we used only recycled paper in every copy room of each dpt at UW.

  • Michelle Steik

    I am an employee of HMC and am consistently surprised at the lack of recycling availabilty throughout our hospital campus. Even where there are recycling facilities, it may only be for paper materials in the cafeteria or aluminum cans on a unit (I still haven’t found a bin that takes glass). The bins that are in place, when I seek them out, are consistently filled and are only emptied on a weekly basis in my unit, and I believe, housewide. I believe that many more people would recycle materials if it were convienent to do so. I think that if we placed many types of bins more efficently and they were emptied more than once a week we could make a much larger impact on the environment.

  • Andrea

    I work in the mailroom in one of the larger departments on campus and we get HUGE amounts of flyers, newspapers, save-the-dates, postcards, etc that are internally produced by UW.
    I’d like to see UW send out a limited amount of these notices in order to cut back on waste. We have over 60 faculty members, and 200 staff. When I put out the U-WEEK newspaper (for example) only about 10 of them are ever taken, but I have about 100 on the counter. What can we do to stop these automatically generated mailings from wasting valuable resources (paper, time, delivery costs etc)
    What is even more outrageous is the fact that most of these things are online and could be sent out electronically.
    What can we do to reduce this internal waste created b y automatic mailings? Whenever I try to find a source, I cant….help!

  • L. Fuller

    Andrea (@27): I agree, the huge number of mailings is a problem. You can change your preferences for receiving the UWeek by going to and unselecting the box next to “print.” Then you will just receive it by e-mail. Make sure everyone in your Department is aware of this option.

  • Gary Pennock

    An intriguing article came across my desktop today. It is an idea proposed by Professor Despommier of Columbia University involving the implementation of “vertical farming”. The scale of the project might be too large for university buildings though…

    Here is the link;

  • Christopher Bruno

    I have an idea for a project that would be very environmentally friendly, and would also save the school lots of money:
    replace all CRT computer monitors with LCD monitors.

    I have noticed that many computer labs and work/print stations have CRT monitors that are on all day. Since LCD monitors consume up to 70% less electricity, produce less heat, and lasts up to 18 years longer than CRT monitors, an investment to make the entire campus CRT-free would quickly pay for itself with all the energy savings. It would be a win-win situation for everybody: less impact on the environment from the reduced energy usage and a lower energy bill.

    Such a project would require a lot of time and money but if the University decided to do it, the end result would be a giant leap in the direction of environmental preservation. I have already made an outline and I have several ideas about how such a project could be completed quickly and efficiently, so if the University wants to do this, I would like to be a participant.

    I care greatly about the environment and I want to help in any way possible.

  • Vicki Knapp

    Unfortunately, it’s already too late to preserve our environment. However, with a concerted effort we may be able to restore some of it to a healthy condition. For some parts of the environment, it may beyond being able to save it. We need to focus on pure water for us and the fish! We need to focus on eliminating GMO crops before the honeybee is completely wiped out. Einstein said if the honeybee dies out, mankind will be gone 4 years later. That’s pretty sobering and shows the urgency of our situation since 40% of the honeybees in the US have died (mainly due to the DNA modification of GMO crops). It’s not worth innovation if we kill our selves in the process!

  • Tammy

    One idea for saving resources:

    Utilize electronic resources more frequently during meetings and presentations. At the companies where I previously worked, every conference room was equipped with a desktop computer and/or a wireless connection for a laptop along with an overhead projector. This allowed employees to show presentations, websites and other materials electronically during meetings rather than printing all materials out on paper.

  • Andrea

    THANK YOU SO MUCH L Fuller (#28) for the reply. I’ve sent out a departmental email and I got a huge response from our staff and faculty, saying they are glad to see something can be done about the wastefulness of those papers.
    Thanks again!

  • Evans Grad Student

    I’m excited to know that the University signed the President’s Climate Commitment. Now more than 300 University and College Presidents from around the country have committed to reducing Greenhouse Gas emissions 80% by 2050. This will take tremendous effort and dedication in the coming years – as well as leadership and innovation.

    The climate commitment calls for the university to create a climate change action team within 2 month months of signing the agreement. It also calls for each university or college who participates to develop a long-term plan to become climate neutral. Last I’ve heard from students, staff and faculty – we do not have a climate action team in place at UW. The UW has completed a Greenhouse Gas (GHG) inventory for 2005. However, there is no mid or long term plan in place. When and how will the President’s Office and others launch a climate change action team?

    We have an obligation to our children to address climate change quickly and head on. Dramatically reducing the amount of electricity, water, gas, paper, and plastics used on campus will save the UW money right away and reduce GHG emissions. It makes sense for the climate and it makes money for the university. Building a UW climate action plan will reduce dependence on foreign oil, and help us build local climate solutions.

    Taking action to fight global warming is the right thing to do. Now we need to get moving, to write a consensus based action plan, and to get people excited and ready to take action… I hope the UW gets started on a climate action plan as soon as humanly possible.

  • Eugene Sherman

    I also want to praise the UW administration for a significant effort to reduce waste and use “green” energy. I am wondering why don’t we have machines in the IMA equipped with some sort of power generating devices.
    I am sure the technology exists to convert the mechanical motion into electricity. Store it and use to power AT LEAST the IMA facility if not more. We have the award winning teams in the Mechanical and electrical engineering schools. Is it not time to create a pretty nice 24×7 “green power plant” in the most visited facility on campus?

  • Philip Spory

    Here are some suggestions for making the University of Washington a more eco-friendly school:

    1) The use of leaf blowers has bothered me a lot for many years. Walking through campus can be made quite unpleasant with their pollution, noise and dust. It’s not unusual to see 5 blowers out in just a small area of campus in the early morning. What is wrong with letting the leaves lay on the ground for a few weeks? Do they need to be picked up every other day? Why not use rakes or brooms? The leaf blower is a highly polluting machine as it uses an inefficient 2-cycle engine. They are used on campus year round. It really bothers me to see someone trying to blow wet grass clippings off sidewalks in the rain in the spring and summer. It would be easier with a broom.

    2) Why are lawns watered here? I especially notice the watering south of the Chemistry Bldg and around the Law Bldg. Not only does it waste water, but the lawns need to be mowed more. If the grass dries out in the summer, it will grow back.

    3) Lights are left on in some buildings such as libraries when they are completely closed (even after the janitors are gone). How about installing more motion detectors in buildings and classrooms? Janitors will leave the lights on for their entire shift throughout a building even though they are just working in one room at a time. What about asking the janitors to change this habit?

    4) The night ride shuttle service uses very polluting buses. I walk back and forth to school 30 min each way every day. On school nights, the least pleasant part of my walk is passing by the Burke Museum where those buses are idling right next to a sign that says to not idle your engines. Based on my unscientific nose, I’d say one of those small shuttle buses pollutes more than a huge articulated Metro bus. The shuttle buses usually run close to empty. Why not down-size the service? I bet the UW could get along fine with running minivans instead. For the one wheelchair person that needs a ride once a month, have them get their own bus on demand.

    5) How about improving this web-page so that feedback from people who have the power to implement these ideas can be made? How about publicizing it more too? I feel that comments on this web-page are like throwing a penny in Drumheller fountain and making a wish. An improved web-page could also take ideas for fixing the UW structurally. For example, there has been a couple holes in the walkway leading to the Health Science Building overpass for as long as I can remember. A lot of people must have twisted their ankles or stubbed their toes there over the years. I don’t know if these holes will ever be fixed.

    6) Why not have it be part of someone’s paid job at the UW to read this web-page and follow-up by contacting the appropriate people to address the problems or implement the ideas posted? I believe the UW could save a lot of money by reducing waste, so having an employee spend a half hour a day on the web-page shouldn’t be a big deal. Here’s an example: I noticed last year that the powerful floodlights shining on the flags near Kane Hall were on during the day. It took me quite a while to find out who to contact about the problem. I think a paid UW employee could take a post of such a problem and be able to forward it quickly and efficiently to the right person.

    Thank you for your serious consideration of these ideas.

  • Maureen Nolan

    One place UW might consider starting with green roof technology is the Central Parking Garage. Or, in other words, re-green Red Square! It would look great, be environmentally sound, and would solve the problem of the extremely slippery bricks in Red Square.