green for green

University of Houston-Downtown receives $250,000 gift to go greener

UHD's science building has received funding from a nonprofit affiliate of Green Mountain Energy to install green energy technology. Courtesy of NRG

The University of Houston-Downtown has gotten some green to make its new College of Sciences & Technology Building even more green.

The Green Mountain Energy Sun Club, a nonprofit affiliated with the Green Mountain Energy utility provider, has pledged more than $250,000 to UHD for installation of solar panels at the building, as well as the purchase of photosynthesis equipment.

Akif Uzman, dean of UHD's College of Sciences & Technology, says in a release that the Green Mountain Energy Sun Club gift propels "our drive to show students and our local community our commitment to energy conservation and sustainable energy practices."

By the spring of 2020, UHD will install a 54-panel, 16.7-kilowatt, off-grid solar system that will help power two environmental science teaching labs in the College of Sciences & Technology Building. One of the labs, the Green Mountain Energy Sun Club Environmental Science Lab, will host classes by next year's spring semester.

"Our mission is to change the way power is made, and we share UHD's dedication to renewable energy, environmental education, and reducing carbon emissions," Mark Parsons, vice president and general manager of Houston-based Green Mountain Energy, says in a release.

Houston-based NRG Energy owns Green Mountain Energy.

Donations to the Sun Club come from Green Mountain Energy and its customers and employees. Since 1997, Green Mountain Energy has promoted energy efficiency, conservation, and environmental stewardship.

The Sun Club gift also will help buy a portable photosynthesis system. Michael Tobin, associate professor of biology, says the equipment will take measurements of plants in courses such as Plant Biology Laboratory, General Ecology Laboratory, and Environmental Lab and Field Studies. In addition, it will be used by students conducting faculty-guided research projects.

"A research-grade instrument to make photosynthesis and water use measurements will enhance students' research experiences and increase the likelihood that their project results can be published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal," Tobin says in a release.

UHD opened the College of Sciences & Technology Building in August. It's the first University of Houston System building constructed to meet LEED Gold standards, reflecting a commitment to sustainability features such as energy-efficient lighting, recycled construction materials, and "smart" design components.

Spanning 105,000 square feet, the College of Sciences & Technology Building contains nearly 30 labs for teaching and research, as well as classrooms, meeting and study spaces, and a café. UHD envisions the building will be a "model for sustainability in Houston."

Environmental highlights of the building include a 6,000-gallon cistern that provides water for the outdoor urban gardens, and the addition of native grasses in the surrounding landscape to create a micro-pocket prairie and, in effect, an outdoor classroom.

Aside from classes and resources for students and faculty in biology, biotechnology, biological and physical sciences, and chemistry, the building houses UHD's Center for Urban Agriculture & Sustainability.

The center is "a game changer for UHD initiatives and scholarly activities centered on sustainability," Lisa Morano, director of the Center for Urban Agriculture & Sustainability, says in a release. "It also serves as an example of how planners and architects can incorporate environmentally sound decisions in the design and construction of academic facilities."

Juan Sánchez Muñoz, president of UHD, says the College of Sciences & Technology Building is a hub for academic exploration and a catalyst for community collaboration.

"Its labs and learning spaces will elevate UHD's ability to prepare the next generation of Houston's scientists and innovators. The facility also will serve as a place where Houstonians can gather to address issues affecting our city and to learn how UHD is leading positive change in the region," Muñoz says in a release. "It's a major addition to our campus and an incredible asset to Houston."

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As of this week, Lara Cottingham is the chief of staff at Greentown Labs. Photo via LinkedIn

The country's largest climatetech startup incubator has made a strategic new hire.

Lara Cottingham is the new chief of staff for Greentown Labs, a Boston-area company that opened in Houston earlier this year. Cottingham previously served as the city of Houston's chief sustainability officer and the chief of staff for the city's Administration and Regulatory Affairs Department for the past seven years. In her new role, Cottingham will oversee the day-to-day operations and communications for Greentown's CEO Emily Reichert, along with key stakeholder engagements and strategic initiatives for the incubator.

"Lara brings a tremendous wealth of knowledge and experience to our team from her dynamic leadership role at the City of Houston," says Reichert in a news release. "Her breadth of knowledge in sustainability, climate, and the energy transition, and her expertise in regulatory and stakeholder aspects of the energy industry, will be incredibly valuable to our team and community."

Under her leadership at the city of Houston, Cottingham was the chief author of Houston's Climate Action Plan, an initiative aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Houston, and getting the city to a point where it meets the Paris Agreement goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. Cottingham helped the city move to 100 percent renewable electricity, according to the release, and helped turn a 240-acre landfill into the nation's largest urban solar farm.

"In leading the Climate Action Plan, Lara helped spark Houston's leadership in what has become a global energy transition and was a passionate advocate for climate action in Houston," says Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner in the release. "While she will be missed, this new role will only strengthen our partnership with Greentown. I look forward to working with Emily, Lara, and the Greentown team to meet our climate goals and make Houston the energy capital of the future."

Before her work at the city, Cottingham worked at Hill+Knowlton Strategies' Houston office range of clients across the energy sector. Earlier in her career, she served as communications director for two congressmen in the U.S. House of Representatives. She began her work with the city in 2014.

"In working with Mayor Turner and Climate Mayors across the U.S., I saw how important partnerships are to helping cities decarbonize," says Cottingham in the release. "There is no better partner or place for climate action at work than Greentown Labs. Greentown is 100 percent committed to attracting and nurturing the energy companies of the future and making Houston the energy transition capital of the world. I'm excited to join the team and see how climatetech can help cities reach their climate goals."

Greentown Labs first announced its entrance into the Houston market last summer. The new 40,000-square-foot facility in Midtown across the street from The Ion opened its prototyping and wet lab space, offices, and community gathering areas for about 50 startup companies opened in April. Greentown was founded in 2011 in Somerville, Massachusetts, and has supported more than 400 startups, which have raised more than $1.5 billion in funding.

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