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In a rare alliance of economics and environment, Utah businesses and ecofriendly activists descended on Weber State University’s Shepherd Union Building for a two-day conference of lectures and workshops.
The Intermountain Sustainability Summit was held March 6 and 7. The event, co-hosted by the Utah Recycling Alliance, featured Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell as the keynote speaker and addressed environmental issues ranging from air quality to energy efficiency.
“We got the idea when four people from Weber State went to a conference back in D.C. in 2009 called Power Shift,” said Christopher Brown, a WSU alumnus and founder of the summit. “They had 19,000 kids there, all students in higher education, and we found out that this was the only region in the Intermountain West that didn’t have its own specific environmental conference.”
Brown, then a senior, decided to found the summit as a senior project.
“Like all good political ideas, the idea started in a hotel in D.C.,” he said. “And it festered and festered until we realized we could do this. Our first year was just in Ballroom A and we had 68 people from just networking. We had a lecture here and there, lunch was on your own, and we didn’t even have coffee.”
Now in its fifth year, and currently attracting more than 430 attendees, 48 vendors and an array of sponsors, the summit aims to educate students and business leaders alike in better implementing and reinforcing initiatives for a greener future.
“The educational standpoint is the biggest push,” Brown said. “Educate now for the next generation and the generation after that.”
Currently, the WSU Energy and Sustainability Office, which took over the summit in its third year, is taking steps to transform the university into a carbon-neutral campus by 2050.
“The summit has been a big success and a positive thing for the university,” said Jacob Cain, the office’s manager. “It’s a good resource for education and learning.”
From installing bike racks and planting trees to modernizing the irrigation system and building a new chiller plant, WSU intends to raise the bar and set an industry standard for both businesses and other universities to follow.
“You’ve probably noticed lighting being upgraded,” Cain said. “We do building insulation, we’ve improved the tunnels for energy efficiency, and we’ve done a lot of recycling upgrades and improvements as well.”
Through the Sustainability Summit and the Energy and Sustainability Office, with help from local businesses and the Utah Recycling Alliance, WSU strives to prove that business endeavors and ambitions can be pursued without sacrificing environment or economy.
“I applaud Weber State for setting such a great example for sustainability,” said Debbie Lyons, president of the Utah Recycling Alliance. “Weber has a great reputation for their sustainability program.”
However, with new initiatives and advancements in technology, maintaining a sustainable environment remains a community effort.
“It’s step by step and now it’s up to the millennials, the people who were born in 1980 and beyond, to give that education to future generations,” Brown said. “I want to take my kids to Yellowstone and show them everything that I saw, and I hope to dear God that it’s still there.”
Those interested in learning more or volunteering for the next Intermountain Sustainability Summit or the ongoing sustainability effort can visit www.intermountainsustainabilitysummit.com for additional information.