Planet Forward: Emergency on Planet Earth


EL PASO, Texas — The University of Texas at El Paso is “walking the walk and not just talking the talk.”

A famous quote by Henry David Thoreau states : “Thank God men cannot fly, and lay waste the sky as well as the earth.”

When it comes to concern about the environment; UTEP’s answer:  build three new multi-million dollar construction projects. UTEP’s ongoing construction projects all have green initiatives, including locations for cyclists to come and relax, take a shower, and place their personal belongings in new lockers.

Rooftop of the Biology building at UTEP. (Theresa Valenzuela/

Rooftop of the Biology building at UTEP. (Theresa Valenzuela/

This supports the concept that students should ride their bike to UTEP instead of driving their car. Ed Soltero, UTEP’s director of planning and construction promises, “one day UTEP will eventually be off limits to cars, it will become strictly students.”

Currently, UTEP proposes to be in the vanguard in helping to preserve the environment in the southwest. “UTEP has most certainly been at the forefront of these sustainability issues,” according to Soltero.

From recycling old carpets, buying carpets made of recycled plastic bottles, eliminating artificial light and introducing more natural light into the three new buildings, windows with a special type of glass that will filter out UV rays. All these innovations will create a huge savings in energy costs, experts say.

Other improvements will include recycling metal casework in the current science labs and reusing it in the new labs, reducing the light fixtures in each classroom from 18 to 12 light fixtures, and using new environmentally friendly concrete into the construction as well.

The new environmentally friendly construction is in addition to the ongoing campus projects that should be completed in 2011:

Swimming and Fitness Center expansion, cost $32 million, 90,000 square feet.

College of Health Sciences/School of Nursing Building, cost $60 million, 130,000 square feet.

Chemistry and Computer Science Building the projects include the Biomedical Engineering and Bioinformatics Annex, the Research and Academic Data Center, the W.M. Keck Center for 3-D Innovation expansion and the Center for Space Exploration Technology Research Propulsion Lab, cost $69.2 million, 140,000 square feet.

Ed Soltero, UTEP’s director of planning and construction, is excited about the landscaping that will run along Hawthorne Street from the planned Chemistry and Computer Science Building north to the Physical Sciences Building.

“It will be a small oasis on campus,” he said, describing the area that will feature shade trees and colored concrete-pattern walkways. “There will be lots of benches and lots of shading. That’s the beauty of it. We’re very keen on developing public spaces.”

Green Roof

A green roof is an environment plants grow on rooftops, thus replacing the vegetated footprint that was destroyed when the building was constructed.

Over 9,156- square feet of UTEP’s Biology Building rooftop has been covered with plants, making it El Paso’s very first green roof with hopefully more to come. The motivation behind this green idea was to fight both carbon emissions and the heat island effect. This green roof will reduce immediate surrounding temperatures causing a decrease in high summertime energy demands; land will lower UTEP’s carbon emissions.

Environmental Science professor, Craig Tweedie, checks on the status of the plants that includes South African Bulbine, Red Yucca, New Gold lantana, white evening primrose and sun gold Gazania, among others. (Theresa Valenzuela/

Environmental Science professor, Craig Tweedie, checks on the status of the plants that includes South African Bulbine, Red Yucca, New Gold lantana, white evening primrose and sun gold Gazania, among others. (Theresa Valenzuela/

The green roof also develops student research opportunities in sensor related technologies and provides a perfect environment for educational activities. The rooftop can be visited by accessing the stairwell on the Westside of the Biology Building.

UTEP’s environmentally friendly building practices follow Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) principals that promote environmentally sustainable construction. LEED principles provide standards for efficient use of air, water, energy and materials.

It is not only UTEP administrators who propose transforming UTEP into a greener environment. The Environmental Advocates is a UTEP student organization whose sole purpose is to bring attention to having UTEP “Go Green” in all aspects. They recently created a referendum through SGA having a Green Fund pass in the spring of 2010.

Zuly Masucci, an Environmental Advocates member stated, “I have only heard about the UTEP Green Roof, I personally have not seen it. I think that it’s only open to science students. In my opinion, UTEP should have another one for all of the students to enjoy and maybe the general public also. I am also excited that UTEP is building “greener” buildings and they will certainly be more environmentally friendly.”

Approximately 9,156-square-feet of the Biology Building’s roof is covered with such plants as South African Bulbine, Red Yucca, New Gold lantana, white evening primrose and sun gold Gazania to improve the building’s energy performance, create biodiversity, and extend the roof’s life span.

The Biology Green Roof is a joint venture between UTEP’s Planning and Construction, The Department of Biology, and the College of Engineering. “This green habitat is a great teaching research platform for the Environmental Science students here at UTEP, along with support from Dr. Natalicio and it being funded by the National Science Foundation, and the Cybershare Center for Excellence we are very lucky to have this opportunity to be able to have the green roof because it looks great and it is good for the environment,” stated Dr. Craig Tweedie UTEP Asst. Professor of Environmental Science.

Before the roof became a “Green Roof” it had to be re-sealed with an environmentally friendly lighter density concrete, so it would not be heavy and cause the roof to leak. There were engineering students who helped with monitoring the growth process of the plants using anchor points and had developed robotic training systems that consists of a modular tray system that sits on top of the roofing membrane with all of the different types of plants. The pre-planted trays are attached to an irrigation system that runs on a watering cycle. The green roof is expected to moderate the building’s temperature by reducing heat gains and losses, which can then decrease the building’s energy costs. The roof also includes a 6,304-square-foot research plaza where faculty can perform environmental research.

Dr. Robert A. Kirken was instrumental in opting to have the “green roof” atop of the Biology building. Robert A. Kirken, Ph.D., Professor and Chair, Department of Biological Sciences. According to Dr. Kirken, “ The ‘green roof’ on our Biology Building represents a small slice of UTEP’s efforts to conserve our natural resources. This includes reducing the energy needs to heat and cool the building, prolong the life of the roof, but also remove certain pollutants from the air and water such as carbon dioxide and heavy metals. It also has another advantage for us in that it can be used as a learning and research tool for training students.”

With all of these “going green initiatives” UTEP certainly has a bright future in sustaining a lifelong advantage for future generations of students to enjoy and partake in. Something good is happening at UTEP with the whole “reduce, reuse, recycle,” attitude it has adopted with its new green friendly buildings that will help the environment for years to come.

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