On the edge of the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts, in the heart of the Southwest agriculture and ranching community and surrounded by the majestic mountain ranges known as sky islands, Tucsonans cultivate a ripe appreciation for Earth's natural landscape and resources.
Earth Day is a prime event at the University of Arizona, the No. 1 university in the U.S. and the second-ranked university in the world for environmental research publications, according to a report in the journal Science of the Total Environment.
The annual UA Earth Day festival attracts thousands of people to campus to learn about sustainable companies and products, participate in games and listen to outdoor live music as the sun sets in the desert sky. The festival, free and open to the Tucson community, will take place April 22 from 3-7:30 p.m. on the UA Mall.
"Earth Day is a celebration of the Earth and how to protect it," said Crystal Davis, chair of the Earth Day committee and an undergraduate in UA Eller College of Management studying business management and environmental sciences.
Festival attendees can browse vendor booths showcasing products for a more environmentally sustainable lifestyle, or wander into the research tent to view presentations by UA faculty members and graduate and undergraduate students discussing topics such as renewable energy, eco-friendly practices and observed impacts of human activities on the planet's resources.
Entertainment will include a "sustainable art" contest for faculty and students, bike art, face painting, a rock wall and cooking demonstrations. Live music by local bands beginning at 5 p.m. will serenade the setting sun.
At the end of the event, the UA Astronomy Club will bring out telescopes and point them skyward as the first stars begin to appear.
The Earth Day festival is organized by UA students participating in the UA’s Students for Sustainability, which aims to empower student leadership, promote institutional sustainability and increase environmental awareness in the UA community.
"I want to highlight groups that practice sustainability and environmental consciousness in a variety of ways," said Davis. "Sometimes students and local neighborhoods do not realize UA groups, as well as Tucson organizations, that work hard to accomplish these basic goals. This is a great time to present what they do."
The UA was recently named by the Princeton Review as one of the nation's top "green" colleges. Also, in 2012 the UA became one of only 30 institutions in the U.S. and Canada to earn a gold rating for sustainability from the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System, or STARS.
The UA supports many environment-friendly efforts, including installing solar panels, a bike and car share program and a variety of sustainable student organizations.
Among its programs aimed at promoting environment-friendly practices is the UA's Green Fund, which allocates $400,000 each year for use in sustainable projects on campus. Compost Cats, a student group under Students for Sustainability, collects food waste from Tucson businesses and sustainably composts it, with the resulting fertilizer going to local agricultural and gardening groups.
The UA's Waste Reduction Team aims to reduce waste produced on campus and encourage recycling in the UA community. The Food for All project advocates for local food and nutritious meals to be made available throughout the Student Union. Garden in the Desert is a group of UA students that aims to transform unused spaces on campus into verdant organic gardens for the University community.
Additionally, the UA's Residence Life has won national awards for efforts to promote sustainability and social justice on campus. Programs such as Recycle Mania and Battle of the Utilities encourage students to think about the impact their everyday actions have on the environment around them.
UA programs for sustainability have reduced thousands of pounds of garbage that would otherwise have made their way into landfills. Compost Cats alone has reduced more than 50 tons of food waste since it was started in early 2011.
Many of the UA's sustainable organizations and groups will be present at the Earth Day festival, with events, activities and information for festival attendees. Said Davis: "It's essential to make Earth Day interactive and fun while being informative to our community."