Clean SHiFT Team Wins 2022 EPA Safer Choice Partner of the Year

The products we use to clean our spaces impact not only those who use them, but also the environments into which they are discharged. A multi-disciplinary team has been working to help with the transition to safer chemicals for cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing food trucks in Washington.  

In recognition of their efforts, the Clean Safety & Health in Food Trucks (Clean SHiFT) team received a 2022 Safer Choice Partner of the Year award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

Image of EPA Safer Choice Award poster

The Clean SHiFT team was one of 26 teams across 14 states to receive the recognition. The EPA Safer Choice program helps consumers, businesses, and facility purchasers find products that are safer for human health and the environment.  

The Clean SHiFT team was a 2019-2020 EarthLab Innovation Grantee team that developed tools and educational materials to promote safer cleaning techniques and products in food trucks in Washington State. Many common cleaning products negatively impact the environment and human health. The resulting increases in exposures to chemicals are associated with acute and chronic health problems that disproportionately affect communities of color, women and children. With food trucks growing in popularity not only in our region, but nationally, there is a huge opportunity to help operators improve their health impacts.  

Image of food truck.

Through a collaboration between the University of Washington, the Washington State Food Truck Association, Heritage University, PopUPjustice, and the Washington State Department of Ecology, the Clean SHiFT team conducted a survey in English and Spanish of 49 food truck operators. 

Photo of the Clean SHiFT team members.

The team used the survey results to develop a bilingual online toolkit (English and Spanish) that includes six steps for safer cleaning to improve air quality and reduce respiratory hazards, a storytelling instructional video highlighting the selection of Safer Choice-certified products, and a fact sheet on cleaning and disinfecting. The toolkit also features a bumper sticker that can be shared with customers to access information on safer cleaning products, including Safer Choice-certified products.

“Clean SHiFT demonstrates how valuable EarthLab’s research to practice projects are for reaching small employers and their employees with innovative products that benefit both the environment and public health,” says Nancy Simcox, lead PI of the project.

Hear from Aurora Martin of popUPjustice on what this award means to the team: 2022 EPA Safer Choice Partner of the Year YouTube video.


The Clean SHiFT team includes staff from the University of Washington’s Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Science Continuing Education Program, UW Bothell’s School of Nursing and Health Studies, popUPjustice, the Washington State Department of Ecology, the Washington State Department of Health, King and Yakima County health districts, and students from Heritage University and the University of Washington.  

This work was sponsored by an EarthLab Innovation Grant which supports projects at the intersection of climate change and social justice. To learn more about the Innovation Grants program, including how to apply for the current round of grants, click here.

 


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2022 Innovation Grants Announced

UW EarthLab selects six community-led teams to solve complex challenges at the intersection of climate change & social justice that will make a positive impact on people’s lives and livelihoods

Today EarthLab announced that six transdisciplinary teams have been selected for the 2022-2023 Innovation Grants program. This signature initiative provides essential funding to newly formed applied research teams that are led by and with community partners. Now in its third iteration, this year’s Innovation Grants request for proposals looked for research at the intersection of climate change and social justice. Each team will receive up to $75,000 to generate equitable and actionable science and knowledge that make a positive impact on people and communities. The award period lasts 16 months and final products are due by September 30, 2023. 

Interest in the Innovation Grants program has continued to grow since its inaugural funding round in 2019. This year, for the first time ever, EarthLab was able to expand its Innovation Grants funding from $300,000 to $450,000. In this year’s application cycle, 33 teams submitted letters of intent to apply to the RFP, of which 15 were invited to submit a full proposal. Proposals were evaluated by an 11-member review committee that included faculty and staff from several disciplines and a community member from outside UW. 

“I have loved being involved with EarthLab’s Innovation Grants for the past three years,” shared Kristi Straus, Chair of the Innovation Grants Program Review Committee and Associate Teaching Professor through UW’s Program on the Environment. “EarthLab continues to optimize their approach to applied environmental research funding with this year’s focus on projects that center social justice and climate change. It was exciting to read the grant proposals and learn about so many transdisciplinary research teams and creative research approaches. Many of these projects are collaboratively designed by and with communities most impacted by climate change, which I think speaks to our collective desire to address human-environment mitigation and adaptation to climate change through both an intersectional and interdisciplinary lens.”

Project teams included faculty from a range of disciplines at the University of Washington, including public health, environmental and occupational health sciences, anthropology, civil & environmental engineering, law, marine sciences, landscape architecture, humanities, and more. Community partners include Tribal leaders, public agencies, community organizers and other universities.

In addition to the funds awarded, Innovation Grant recipients receive administrative and communications support throughout the award period. Teams connect as a cohort at workshop-style meetings which are designed to share resources on interdisciplinary and community-engaged research, create the opportunity for co-learning and networking, and to provide a structured space to work collaboratively on their projects.

“This year’s innovation grants catalyze community-led teams working with UW researchers and students on game-changing environmental research,” said Ben Packard, EarthLab Executive Director. “We’re thrilled to support the work being done by these six fascinating cross-disciplinary teams who are all generating critical, scalable solutions in the community.”

EarthLab is an initiative of the UW College of the Environment to solve the biggest problem of our lifetime – our changing environment. EarthLab works across the university to accelerate and focus UW’s broad expertise across multiple fields, amplify engagement between private, public, non-profit and community leaders, and spur the development of co-created, meaningful, science-based solutions to improve people’s lives and livelihoods. The Innovation Grants program is an annual initiative supported by newly raised funds. 

Learn more about the Innovation Grants program here and check back often for news regarding the 2019-20202020-2021 funded projects.

Funded Projects


Our Top 10 Stories of 2021

In 2021, EarthLab welcomed new partners, strengthened our commitment to equity and justice work, and continued our work to inspire and incentivize innovative, community-centered environmental and climate justice research. Explore our top stories below.

10. EarthLab statement condemning violence towards the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community

EarthLab staff stands with the University of Washington and Nature and Health against the racially-motivated violence and hate crimes towards the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.

9. For tribes, climate change fight is about saving culture

Meade Krosby, a senior scientist with the UW Climate Impacts Group, is working with the Tulalips to determine the impacts on tribally important plants. The Tulalips have been leaders in organizing meetings, conferences and workshops around climate change.

8. Innovative new prizes add to competition experience

EarthLab is proud to sponsor a prize at the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge, presented by Foster School’s Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship. The Community Impact Prize recognizes innovation in developing a product, solution, or demonstrated business model that mitigates or makes communities more resilient in the face of climate change while prioritizing equity and justice.

7. How to avoid cabin fever in WA’s pandemic winter

With each passing month, more and more Washingtonians are suffering under the physical, emotional and financial damages of enduring a lengthy pandemic. And as we find ourselves in the coldest, darkest days of the year during the worst-case surge yet, it can feel like a herculean task just to take a daily walk around the block. (Crosscut)

6. Project to create anti-racism education wins Mellon grant

Cleo Woelfle-Erskine, faculty advisor for EarthLab member organization Future Rivers and assistant professor in the School of Marine & Environmental Affairs, is part of a team of academics that was recently awarded $5 million from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to fund an interdisciplinary, multi-year project to advance anti-racist practices and pedagogy in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM).

5. EarthLab and Population Health co-fund pilot grant to improve communication around smoke exposure in rural and tribal communities

EarthLab and the Population Health Initiative have announced a new pilot research grant award to study how Tribal and non-Tribal communities in the Okanogan River Airshed Emphasis Area (ORAEA) receive and communicate information about smoke exposure.

A sunset

4. Burning Embers: Synthesis of the Health Risks of Climate Change

Additional climate change is projected to increase for heat-related morbidity and mortality, ozone-related mortality, dengue and Lyme disease from undetectable to severe risks as the planet continues to warm, according to new research published by the Center for Health and the Global Environment (CHanGE) at the University of Washington.

3. CHanGE comes to EarthLab

New collaboration between UW Center for Health and the Global Environment (CHanGE) and EarthLab will accelerate climate research, action and resilience.

2. EarthLab equity and justice reads: Minor Feelings: An Asian American reckoning

EarthLab has selected Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong for our equity and justice book club this quarter. This book was selected from several works written by and about the Asian-American experience.

1. Announcing the 2021 EarthLab Innovation Grants RFP

The Innovation Grants Program will invest in teams of community partners and academic researchers and students at the University of Washington (UW) who are interested in developing solutions at the intersection of climate change and social justice.


EarthLab Expands 2021 Innovation Grants Program to $450,000

The 50% increase in available funding means more teams will be awarded in this cycle

We are excited to announce that we have increased the total amount of funding available for the 2021 Innovation Grants Program from $300,000 to $450,000. This expansion will enable us to award six teams up to $75,000 this cycle. 

“Scaling our grants program is a key component of our 2021-25 Strategic Plan,” said Ben Packard, EarthLab executive director. “We are grateful to the growing community of EarthLab supporters who believe in our ability to achieve impact through this popular, community-engaged applied research program.” 

This year, the EarthLab Innovation Grants Program is seeking proposals for research at the intersection of climate change and social justice. Projects must show an ability to generate equitable and actionable science and knowledge (i.e., science that is usable and used). Two-page Letters of Intent (LOIs) are due January 27, 2022 at 5 p.m. PST. Learn more about the full program details below.


Announcing the 2021 EarthLab Innovation Grants RFP

We are thrilled to announce the release of the 2021 EarthLab Innovation Grants Program Request for Proposals (RFP). The Innovation Grants Program will invest in teams of community partners and academic researchers and students at the University of Washington (UW) who are interested in developing solutions at the intersection of climate change and social justice. We’re excited to focus of the grants this year to better reflect EarthLab’s strategic vision, mission and priorities.

Goals for the grants program are to fund projects that demonstrate co-creation and partnership between community and UW researchers, interdisciplinary collaboration, action at the intersection of climate (both mitigation and adaptation) and social justice, and the potential for growth of the project or partnership. There is $300,000 available for the current funding cycle, with a maximum budget request of $75,000 per project. Letters of Intent are due January 27, 2022 at 5 p.m. PST

We are hosting an in-person information session on Tuesday, October 5, 2021 from 4-5 p.m. at the Intellectual House, located on the UW Seattle Campus. Additional information sessions for the UW Tacoma and UW Bothell campuses will be held virtually at the end of October.

Learn more, RSVP, and apply


The Spokesman Review: Washington could see more mosquitoes with hotter, longer summers


Crosscut: More mosquitoes in WA could come with hotter, longer summers


New UW collaboratory to support equitable and just climate action


Green ways to keep food trucks clean

This story was originally published by UW Bothell

Nearly everyone who has undertaken a heavy-duty cleaning job with a concentrated chemical has likely gasped for air. Your nose, throat and eyes irritated, you realize why product labels recommend ample ventilation and wonder if you might be doing something wrong.

A common and potentially fatal mistake is mixing ammonia and bleach, which produces a deadly gas. “It happens more frequently than you think, especially in our homes,” said Grace Lasker, teaching professor in the University of Washington Bothell’s School of Nursing & Health Studies.

Harsh cleaners also impact the environment when they go down the drain, she said. But while cleanliness is critical, many people don’t realize there are alternative chemicals that are healthier for workers and the planet.

EarthLab

Emily Wigley of Orca Eats inside her food truck / courtesy photo

To bring attention to effective alternatives, experts from the University of Washington, a state agency and a nonprofit formed a team to identify and promote safer cleaning methods, starting with food trucks.

Why food trucks? Imagine how difficult it must be for the operators, working in confined spaces and now cleaning more often because of the coronavirus pandemic. Food trucks also are a small business for some immigrant entrepreneurs who could use help meeting health and safety regulations.

The team received an EarthLab grant to create a toolkit of resources called Clean SHiFT (Safety & Health in Food Trucks). EarthLab is a UW initiative that connects the College of the Environment and other UW units in partnerships that take on environmental challenges. The Clean SHiFT project received $49,000 in a 2019-20 grant, which was extended into this year because of the pandemic. The toolkit officially launched this month in March [suggest “this month”], said Lasker, one of the project leaders.

Others who drove the shift to green cleaning are Nancy Simcox, assistant teaching professor in the UW Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences; Saskia van Bergen, a chemist with the state Department of Ecology; and Aurora Martin, founder of PopUPJustice, a Seattle community-building nonprofit, and a faculty member at Heritage University on the Yakama Indian Reservation in eastern Washington.

Survey says

The team worked with the Washington State Food Truck Association and health departments in King and Yakima counties to reach food-truck operators. Students from the UW in Seattle and Bothell as well as Heritage University conducted a survey of English and Spanish-speaking operators.

The survey found that most food truck operators clean with bleach. Most weren’t aware of alternative products that also meet regulations. Several people with asthma and other respiratory problems expressed interest in less toxic cleaning methods.

“When they are in poorly ventilated food trucks for long periods of time and doing this cleaning, it’s definitely a worker safety issue,” said Lasker. “You have to make change now for the future.”

Toolkit tips

The Clean SHiFT toolkit integrates food safety and occupational health regulations from the state Departments of Health and Labor & Industries. The resources are available on the website. In addition, Clean SHiFT includes a fact sheet, available in English and Spanish, with a six-step protocol to transition to safer chemicals. Clean SHiFT also recommends third-party certifications of health, environmental and performance criteria. Look for Safer Choice, Green Seal, Ecologo, and Design for the Environment on product labels.

Safer chemical ingredients exist, Lasker said, and companies are using them to create new cleaning products. For example, activated hydrogen peroxide (different from the hydrogen peroxide sold in brown bottles in drug stores) is added with surfactants and other ingredients to make a safer disinfectant that schools and hospitals are starting to use. It is effective, especially when used with a microfiber cloth, said Lasker.

Some other disinfectants approved by the Environmental Protection Agency include ingredients such as isopropyl alcohol and citric acid. And, one of the best methods for cleaning is simple soap and water. That is why frequent handwashing is recommended to help prevent the transmission of COVID-19. Soap inactivates the virus by dissolving the fatty membrane that envelops it.

Good food, thoughtfully

Emily Wigley with cleaning supplies in her food truck / courtesy photo

Cleaning is important for customers but only one consideration, said Emily Wigley, owner-operator of Orca Eats food truck on Vashon Island.

“We need to think about the people on the inside of the truck. We also need to consider the earth when we are choosing our products.” said Wigley, a member of the advisory board for the Washington Food Truck Association who supported the Clean SHiFT project.

Orca Eats uses no plastic packaging or utensils, and Wigley grows some of the food she serves in her “food to fender” operation. “Let’s do our best to take care of the people and the earth and make some good food.”