By Donna Kemp Spangler
Utah’s journey toward environmental sustainability has its challenges, and sometimes that journey can be downright discouraging. And then the best and brightest minds come together, and it all seems so achievable.
And come together they did last week at the Intermountain Sustainability Summit (Summit) at Weber State University (WSU) – the sixth year Utah Department of Environmental Quality, along with our many partners, has sponsored the summit.
David Orr, professor of environmental studies and politics at Oberlin College in Ohio, the keynote speaker at this year’s summit, likened sustainability to “going to Montana,” a reference to Larry McMurtry’s “Lonesome Dove” novel about a cattle drive to uncharted grasslands in Montana: the opportunities are endless, but you really don’t know what you will find when you finally get there.
It also got me thinking about the Summit itself, and how our partners help Utah become a better place to live.
The Intermountain Sustainability Summit took shape in 2010 when WSU students and an educator, along with a former DEQ recycling coordinator, brought together the best minds in recycling and waste reduction to develop new strategies for home owners and businesses. By 2011, the Summit included sessions on developing new strategies for implementing sustainability in homes and businesses.
Each year, a committee that includes DEQ’s own Frances Bernards, brings in nationally renowned speakers like Orr — Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell was the keynote speaker last year — to inspire the rest of us to commit to sustainability. This year the committee had help from Emily Mead, conference coordinator for WSU’s Energy and Sustainability Office.
The two-day Summit featured four tracks on waste and recycling, energy, sustainability, and food and agriculture, with break-out sessions that included air quality and pollution (featuring Robert Grow of Envision Utah presenting Governor’s Clean Air Action Team’s recommendations); water supply needs and conservation; recycling and waste reduction; and sustainable food and agriculture.
The Summit draws businesses, organizations, government and educational institutions. This year Summit sponsors, besides DEQ, included iUtah, Weber State University MBA Program, WattStopper, Catalyst, Codale Electric Supply, Inc., UAMPS, Weber-Morgan Health Department, >Architectural Nexus, Utah Office of Energy Development, PathoSans, and AMD Architecture.
Exhibitors included: Momentum Recycling, Grounds for Coffee, Hunt Electric Inc., Clark’s Quality Roofing, National Energy Foundation, Utah Clean Energy, Southern Utah Sustainable Operations Partnership, Tree Utah. SLCGreen, EPA Region 8, and Weber State University Continuing Education, among many others.
Virginia Till, recycling specialist with EPA Region 8, said it best: when the journey to sustainability seems mired in policy and politics, the Summit offers promise and hope that motivates all of us to continue the journey.
Although the journey to sustainability seems daunting, it doesn’t have to be. “Think about the journey as a journey of celebration that brings beauty, art and culture together,” Orr said. He spoke about the Oberlin Project, a collaborative venture between Oberlin College, City of Oberlin, schools, and the private sector to install solar panels on buildings and other projects aimed at building a “prosperous post-fossil fuel community.”
The Summit gave me hope and renewed appreciation for our partners. DEQ isn’t alone in its journey for a sustainable Utah. In fact, our success depends on all of us working together.
I am the Communications Director for DEQ and write a monthly blog post.
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