On any given weekday, around 50,000 students, faculty, and staff members travel to the University of Utah’s campus and associated facilities. Given the sheer size of the U’s operations and commuting numbers, there is no question of whether the University’s population contributes to the air quality issues in the Salt Lake Valley. With the increasing awareness of the air quality problems and the mounting evidence of its negative health effects, Vice President Arnold Combe and Senior Vice Presidents Vivian Lee and Ruth Watkins organized the Air Quality Task Force. In 2015 the task force released its report, which described more than 30 strategic initiatives to reduce the U’s contribution to poor air quality events.
One of those initiatives was a wintertime commuter challenge, which came to be known as Clean Air for U: A TravelWise Challenge.
In 2016 the University of Utah Sustainability Office launched Clean Air for U using the same platform as the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce’s Clear the Air Challenge. Clean Air for U is a month-long, campus-wide behavior change campaign to reduce single-occupancy vehicle trips and the associated carbon emissions. Unlike Clear the Air, the U’s challenge takes place during the winter inversion season when students are on campus. The campaign emphasizes multiple ways to reduce trips, including walking, biking, riding transit, carpooling, and trip chaining in order to engage the widest audience possible. Opportunity drawings for prizes are done weekly and monthly, and in order to keep all of the community engaged, the drawings are targeted at giving everyone a chance to win—participants are eligible for weekly prizes if they log one trip that week and are eligible for challenge-end prizes for logging at least 15 trips. Additionally, the top 5 participants are invited to dine with the University’s senior vice president and chief sustainability officer, with whom they can discuss campus sustainability issues.
This year, the Sustainability Office has taken a more aggressive and integrative marketing approach for its Clean Air initiative, using a combination of strategic digital contact through email newsletters and social media and in-person contact through frequent tabling events throughout the challenge. One such event was the U of U Clean Air Expo on Jan. 24, where several on- and off-campus organizations shared a variety of solutions to the valley’s air quality issues. The Sustainability Office staff used an oversized chalkboard to engage with the community and gauge, record, and display public commitments to actions to improve the air. So far, Sustainability staff and interns have personally spoken to more than 600 people about the challenge. These in-person engagement efforts, in tandem with consistent online social media and video promotion of the challenge, have helped to increase our community’s awareness of how their choices impact the air we breathe.