Session Abstracts

Social Sustainability - SS

Economic Sustainability - EcS

Environmental Sustainability - EvS

Project Management - PM 

Future of Sustainability - FS

Session 1

Sustaining Our Desert Beauty with Strategic Intent, EvSScott Cutler

Acacia Room


The Frontera Land Alliance (Frontera), a non-profit 501c3 organization, began in 2004 when community members realized there was an urgent need to preserve some of the important remaining natural and working lands in the greater El Paso and southern New Mexico region. The Frontera Land Alliance has developed the knowledge and expertise to provide guidance to land owners wanting to maintain the character of their land. This presentation outlines Frontera's strategic plan in working with government, non-government and private land owners to preserve their land with conservation easements. The Frontera Land Alliance believes all citizens have a shared responsibility to protect their natural world: to use what is needed, make smarter choices, and pass onto future generations the beauty, wildlife, water and natural resources existing today.

WATER MATTERS: Rainwater Harvesting in Colonia Las Pampas, EvS - Dr. William Hargrove

Templeton Suite


Las Pampas is a small colonia outside of Presidio, TX, on the U.S./Mexico border, where mostly elderly residents rely on hauled water. The Center for Environmental Resource Management (CERM) at UTEP proposed rainwater harvesting as a means of reducing the amount of hauling done by residents. In collaboration with our ESW Chapter, we installed rainwater harvesting demonstrations at two residences. The demonstrations were completed with donated labor, supplies, and very limited financial resources from CERM. The Coca-Cola Bottling Company in El Paso donated 27 275-gallon tanks. ESW volunteers donated labor as a service project. We installed each of the two systems on the weekend, the first one on April 28-29, 2017, and the second on November 10-12, 2017. The residents are using the water for gardening, landscaping, and small livestock. We estimated that the amount of hauled water was reduced by about half, or reducing the number of trips from 2-3 per week to one per week. An environmental benefit of the rainwater harvesting system is the reduction of roof runoff that contributes to localized flooding. These systems could be replicated in other colonias or low-resource communities. As a result of this demonstration, one resident and one local business (the municipal airport) have contacted us with interest in installing their own systems. The systems not only have educational value in the community but also have value in providing opportunities for engineering students to learn how to install the systems. At the breakout session, we will detail how this project was implemented, some lessons learned in working with low resource communities, and the benefits of the project to the ESW students who participated.

Sustainable Water Treatment: Finding ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle water resources, FS - Malynda Cappelle

Andesite Room


Freshwater supplies are becoming more stressed in more areas because of population increases, decreases in the amount and quality of water supplies, climate change, and increased competition between user groups is becoming more common. Desalination, will play a role in increasing and diversifying city and regional water supplies. Conventional desalination processes like reverse osmosis and electrodialysis have been around for decades and the cost has decreased substantially. Typical RO plants are limited (at least on a practical level) to 75-80% recovery without increasing the complexity of the plant design. Additionally, acceptable brine disposal options are often limited in these areas, presenting a major obstacle to implementing membrane-based desalination technology. Development cost effective water treatment strategies, including desalination strategy, could improve water, energy, and food security, and improve health outcomes. With the right type of desalination process and membranes employed, it is possible that desalination could be a tool that could be used to supplement or replace current water sources. Many factors affect the cost of desalination systems, but some general trends are observed when comparing systems. Novel thermal approaches such as membrane distillation are sometimes reported to have a lower cost per unit of product water; however, they generally have very low flux and low recovery. Much of the literature describing pilot testing, or renewable/remote desalination systems have been installed, show intentionally low recovery. Lower recovery can allow the concentrate to be used for other non-potable purposes such as toilet flushing, showering, and feed stock or can be disposed of with less environmental impact. One must optimize the water recovery with capital and operating costs so as to maximize the amount of water produced from brackish groundwater while minimizing the impact of concentrate disposal. This talk will present several case studies in order to facilitate a discussion on desalination as a way to provide water for municipalities, agriculture, industry, and the environment.

Building Resilience on the Border, PM - Lauren Baldwin

Cactus Flower Room

After working for the local government for six years and hearing directly from over 12,000 El Pasoans and Juarenses about resilience and sustainability, it becomes more clear what is needed to build resilience and create a sustainable community. This session will provide a public sector and private sector view of how to drive change in a positive way. Oftentimes, very well-intentioned people with great ideas just need a little bit of direction or repackaging to move their mission forward. This session will also touch on successful local sustainability programs and the great work of the EPA's Good Neighbor Environmental Board.

Sustainable Infrastructure and Development, EcS - Kyle Ibarra and Michael Villa

University Suite


Sustainability was first introduced to the City of El Paso through the implementation of four bus rapid transit system corridors throughout the city. This new transit service consists of various components that make the system rapid and efficient. These four corridors serve as the backbone for development along the five major regions of El Paso: the west-side, downtown, northeast, east-side, and lower valley. Route terminal nodes are established through the development of transfer center and transit-oriented develop, creating the sustainable goals of creating urban zones at each node that include mix-use development, mixed-housing types, and transit anchors creating the hub for the development. Performance measures for these endeavors were developed as a means of ensuring the program and developments meet established goals and ensuring their performance as sustainable development. The goals developed from these performance measures have now been expanded for sustainable energy operations sub-portfolio within the department. Sun Metro has aspirations and preparations for moving sustainability further in other areas currently not addressed.

Session 2

Mobilizing Hope & Restoring Futures, SS - Andy Farias

Cactus Flower Room 


Homelessness has not always been an issue that has afflicted people in the United States. Urban development has evolved over time but our approaches to housing and general welfare has lagged to the point of severe personal and societal detriment. Homeless people have become increasingly visible for a number of recent decades and its resurgence has been more noteworthy as cities struggle to balance quality of life with quality of place leaving men, women, and children vulnerable to socioeconomic variables beyond their means. Indicators have shown the problem in disrupting and ending homelessness is breaking its cyclical nature. Shelters and congregal places are not rehabilitative by design but meeting people experiencing homelessness where they are, engendering trust through generosity, developing relationship between human services nonprofits, and ultimately influencing the choice of housing are proven factors to restore people out of lived homelessness and into a growth track filled with hope.

Engineering a Circular City: El Paso, TX, EcS - Silvia Leahu-Aluas

Tempelton Suite 

I will lead a workshop with the objective of creating a layout for El Paso as a circular city, sustainable, self-reliant, resilient using the principles of open source of collaboration, sharing of ideas, technologies, solutions, amongst the city’s citizens and with cities around the world. We’ll answer together the following questions: 1. What is a circular city? 2. How to dream, design and manage it as an engineer? 3. How to ensure an ecological footprint within local and global resource budget? 4. How to rely only on renewable, clean, socially good resources? 5. What area will the city occupy while allowing for several “belts” around it for wilderness farming, transportation? 6. What economic activities are necessary, feasible and sustainable? 7. How does every citizen have a good and happy life, while living and working in a sustainable community? At the end of the workshop, we’ll have a map of El Paso, TX as all the workshop participants envision it.

A tale of two cities: point-of-use drinking water treatment, EvS - Dr. Shane Walker

Acacia Room 

Billions of people have access to water that lacks adequate quality for drinking. One possible solution is point-of-use (POU) water treatment devices, and this presentation contrasts technical and social considerations in two economically disadvantaged regions. Through charity-based partnerships, teams from El Paso, Texas have collaborated with community leaders in El Recreo, Ecuador (5 km east of Guayaquil). Many urban residents receive intermittent supply (several days per week) of piped water, while most of the suburban residents rely on truck-hauled water stored in used 200 L drums. Sawyer PointOne filters were provided house-by-house to hundreds of residents in both the urban and suburban areas, and the residents have responded very positively to the taste of the filtered water and are agreeable to the responsibility of regularly backwashing the filter. Based on work in El Recreo, research was performed to help residents of colonias in the region of El Paso, Texas. Focus group discussions revealed that most of the participating colonia residents who live west of El Paso rely on private wells, while most who live east of El Paso rely on hauled water. Water samples were collected from residences in colonias across the El Paso region, and analyses revealed that most samples (from both wells and hauled water) had total dissolved solids (TDS) concentrations greater than 500 mg/L, the EPA secondary limit for drinking water. POU RO systems have been installed in colonias in the El Paso region. Comparison of post-surveys to pre-surveys reveals that colonia residents approve of the POU RO systems and have decreased their bottled water purchases.

Challenges and opportunities of sustaining agriculture in drylands: an environmental perspective, EvS - Dr. Lixin Jin

Andesite Room 

Drylands cover more than 40% of the terrestrial land surface and host more than two billion people, with most living in developing countries. The combined increase in population and food demand has converted natural dryland to irrigated agriculture coverage. Agriculture in drylands including those along the Rio Grande valley, loads salts through irrigation and leads to elevated soil salinity, sodicity and alkalinity. To slow the rate of deterioration of soil quality, local producers in the El Paso region annually use soil amendments and irrigate during non-growing seasons. All these activities add cost and make farmers vulnerable in the market, while challenging the agricultural sustainability and economic stability for the region. Thus, it is much needed to combine cutting-edge hydrological science, engineered desalination technology, remote sensing, and marginal benefit modelling, and integrate essential data across geoscience, engineering, and economics and social science. In addition, we are well poised for training the next generation of STEM experts at UTEP that are capable of analyzing, modeling and solving such sustainability issues in the region and in the world.

Interdisciplinary Sustainability Discussion Panel, FS - Dr. William Hargrove, Dr. Stacey Sowards, Dr. Jules Simon, Dr. Deana Pennington, Dr. Rigo Delgado, and Dr. Ron Wagler; moderated by Miguel Fraga

Union Cinema


The grand challenges our world faces today: climate change, depleting natural resources, environmental degradation, global spread of pollutants, and the underlying links between these environmental issues and social, economic, and political complexities, require a new interdisciplinary approach to understand and solve. However, this is no easy task. Disciplinary paradigms, biases, and perspectives vary greatly, and interdisciplinary professionals must be willing to step far outside of their comfort zones if they might transcend these foundational differences. At this interdisciplinary sustainability discussion panel an enriching discussion on today’s most pressing sustainability challenges will be addressed by The University of Texas President’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability. This committee is tasked with assessing and evaluating UTEP's current sustainability practices and advising the President on policies to create or revise and actions to take to further promote sustainability. The Committee is currently working on initiatives to develop sustainability curriculum, coordinating with UTEP Facilities and Food Services to foster sustainability practices, and developing other initiatives to promote sustainability awareness on campus. This committee is rich in interdisciplinary perspectives on sustainability due to its diverse members that range from engineering, philosophy, environmental sciences, business, communication, and education backgrounds of experience.

Session 3

Building better designers and societies through the practice of diary writing, SS - Paul Hotchkin

Templeton Suite 

Do you keep a diary, or have you ever thought about keeping a diary? How can diary composition relate to improving one’s thinking and designing skills? This workshop introduces powerful strategies for improving the observational skills that lead to better thinking and designing. After first describing the principles and techniques used by some of history’s most accomplished scientists, designers, and diary writers, we will immediately practice these composition techniques by writing short diary entries of our own during the workshop. If you are interested in improving your skills of observation, thinking, writing, or designing, then this diary composition workshop is for you!

International service projects, PM - Molly Williams, Jonathan Ortiz, Suzzan Nieto, Yomara Rios-Laurenzana, Selena Solis, Indira Aguirre

Cactus Flower Room


Describing the process of designing, fundraising, and implementing an international community service project based on sustainable infrastructure for rural communities.

Sustainability After Graduation - ESW-HQ

Acacia Room 


Come here some HQ folks discuss their experiences after graduation with sustainable jobs, opportunities and professional societies. Including the wonderful opportunities at ESW Headquarters!

Whither Environmental Cooperation in North America, EcS - Irasema Coronado and Silvia Nunez Garcia

Andesite Room


This presentation will focus on the past and future of trilateral cooperation in North America. In 1994, Mexico, Canada and the United States signed the North American Free Trade Agreement; the three governments also became signatories to the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC). The NAAEC resulted in the creation of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, an institution that has yielded positive outcomes related to cross border environmental issues. In 2018, the three countries signed a new trade agreement- The United States, Mexico and Canada Agreement (USMCA) and a new trilateral Environmental Cooperation Agreement (ECA) superseding the NAAEC. ECA will take effect upon entry into force of the USMCA. What does this mean for the future of the environment of North America? Will the ECA capitalize on the long history of trilateral cooperation to reduce pollution, strengthen environmental governance, conserve biological diversity, and sustainably manage natural resources?

Integrating Ecosystem Restoration into Water Management in the Paso del Norte Region: Rio Bosque Wetlands Park, EvS - John Sproul

University Suite


In an arid region with multiple competing demands for limited water resources, securing water to achieve environmental benefits is a challenge. Rio Bosque Wetlands Park is a 372-acre park next to the Rio Grande in El Paso, Texas, that The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) manages under a long-term agreement with the City of El Paso's Public Service Board. In 1997, a project was initiated at the site to restore native river-valley ecosystems, most notably wetland and riparian ecosystems. For over a decade, lack of water during the growing season stymied progress restoring these water-dependent systems at the park. In recent years, that has changed, as regional water-management agencies and other project partners have cooperated to make year-round water available. The result has been a transformation in the Rio Bosque landscape.

Session 4

The Geopolitics of Energy, EcSRobert Foster

Acacia Room


Climate change is primarily linked to the burning of fossil fuels to provide energy for modern society. The problem is rapidly getting worse and time is running out to end business as usual. Renewable energy is the key solution for halting climate change. Fortunately, the renewables revolution is on. Photovoltaic (PV) module prices have dropped by 90 percent over the past decade and are expected to drop by half again in the next ~5 years. It is already cheaper to generate your own power on your rooftop than purchase power from the utility. Texas installed its first windfarm in 1994 and now leads the US in wind with about 23,500 MW installed producing ¼ of the nation’s wind energy. We will discuss global and local energy trends, challenges, and opportunities for reducing our carbon footprint.

Sustainability: A Multidisciplinary Approach, FSHelen Geller, Karina Garcia, Bryanna Neria, Kelsi Oyler, Eric Suh, Christy Adame and Jessica Salcido

Cactus Flower Room


The pursuit of global environmental sustainability is now more than ever a major issue that brings attention to individuals worldwide. As these challenges become bigger and bigger, so do the responsibilities of the next generation of scientists and STEM leaders. We believe that in order to successfully find solutions to these phenomena we must take a different approach that looks at the common linkage and utilizes knowledge from different disciplines and specializations to solve these challenges. At this session a group of students from diverse disciplines will discuss the benefits of a multidisciplinary approach to divergent research studies taking place at The University of Texas at El Paso. This group of students currently works on a range of research studies in the departments of Biology, Engineering, and Geology. Some of the current projects include installing water filtration systems in the Colonias of Hueco Tanks, implementing floating islands in Ascarate Lake with plants designed to help clean and filter the lake water to kill off golden algae, and biodiversity studies of pollinators to name a few. The work of these students provide different viewpoints in regards to achieving sustainability, and are also a great example of finding solutions via a multidisciplinary approach.The knowledge from diverse disciplines like biology, chemistry, engineering, physics, and geology allow for the students to fully immerse themselves into these projects, and successfully elucidate the different interconnections that their project entitles.

Regulation’s Rickety Bridge: Lessons from El Paso ASARCO, PM Elaine Hampton, Danny Arellano, Cynthai Ontiveros, and Carlos Rodriguez

Templeton Suite


Interactive session where participants hear stories from ex-employees of El Paso’s ASARCO smelter to examine abuse of environmental regulations in the metal industry. They re-imagine these histories using the context of current environmental regulations for metal industries. The goal is to understand the role of and complexities surrounding regulating industries and protecting the workers, the communities, and the Earth itself.

University at Buffalo ICECAP: A case study of how to create a climate action plan, FS Austin Izzo

Andesite Room

In 2009, the University at Buffalo committed to creating a net zero carbon campus by 2030. Now 10 years later this plan is being updated and revitalized with current technology and knowledge. The Integrated Climate and Energy Collaborative Action Plan (ICECAP), is the new updated plan being developed by a collaboration between UB and CannonDesign. This session will be an overview of the extensive data collection, findings of this data, and a walk through of the proposed carbon reduction strategies aimed at reaching net zero. This talk will be focused on walking through the strategies of such a large scale carbon reduction project but most importantly will also provide students the resources to partake in similar, smaller campaigns on other campuses across the nation. A brief discussion of the interactive interface being used to display the collected data will also take place (made with PowerBI).

Student Design Reviews 

University Suite


Checkout some of our student projects! Give advice, ask questions and get some ideas for projects of your own. You can see student abstracts here

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