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Sustainable Solutions

By UCLA Chancellor Gene Block

Published Jul 1, 2018 8:00 AM

All across our campus, researchers are working toward helping Los Angeles County transition to complete use of renewable energy and local water by 2050.


Photo by Ted Catanzaro.

Here in Los Angeles, where our freeways and traffic are as iconic as our beaches or the Hollywood sign, how we move around our city not only impacts our time, but it also largely impacts our health.

While tougher vehicle emissions standards and greater public transit investments have helped, UCLA faculty like Professor of Environmental Health Sciences Yifang Zhu Ph.D. ’03 are closely studying how increased use of renewable energy to power our transit system can improve public health outcomes.

Meanwhile, our region continues to import most of its water from sources hundreds of miles away, a process that uses a tremendous amount of energy.

Efforts to treat local wastewater for reuse have long been inefficient, since the filters typically clog. But Chemistry and Biochemistry Professor Richard Kaner may have found a solution, now that his lab has developed a groundbreaking, anti-clogging filtration system that produces more fresh water at a lower cost.

In fact, all across campus there are efforts under way in schools and departments as diverse as law, public health, engineering and the social sciences designed around one central and increasingly critical issue: sustainability.

That’s where we saw an opportunity, as a major public research university, to use UCLA’s tremendous resources to take on tough issues and offer solutions.

The goal of our Sustainable LA Grand Challenge is to help Los Angeles County transition by 2050 to complete use of renewable energy and local water, while enhancing the health of our ecosystem.

This, of course, is one of two Grand Challenges at UCLA, with the other focused on better understanding depression and offering improved treatment.

The Sustainable LA Grand Challenge, which we announced in 2013, involves 25 departments and 180 researchers all working toward this common goal.

It’s especially exciting and meaningful given our partnerships with the city of Los Angeles. Mayor Eric Garcetti and I co-chair the L.A. Sustainability Leadership Council, a group of local leaders helping to guide the region’s sustainability efforts through collaborations with business, academia and community organizations

Our work at UCLA directly feeds into the region’s effort, and we have already marked several important achievements, including:

• Developing and releasing a five-year work plan that identifies more than 100 innovative research recommendations critical to sustainability in L.A. County.

• Implementing an undergraduate research scholars’ program that has trained 147 students across 44 majors, matching them with faculty in 25 departments.

• Organizing and co-hosting 10 sustainability workshops across Los Angeles, including “Future L.A.: Engineering a Sustainable Supercity,” a series currently ongoing at the Hammer Museum.

As the most populous county in the nation, with more than 10 million people, and with a city that’s active on the global stage with a commitment to uphold the Paris climate accord, the stakes are high — and our potential is even greater.'

As we find meaningful and achievable solutions that advance our sustainability goals, UCLA and Los Angeles have an important opportunity to lead the way for the rest of the country and, in fact, the world.