Over the next year, the UCF Alumni Association staff has pledged to make its workplace, the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center, a more sustainable building, as part of a Green Office Certification pilot program.
This “GreenUP UCF” campaign, which lasts from Jan. 29, 2016, through Jan. 31, 2017, is part of a partnership between the alumni association, UCF Sustainability Initiatives and UCF Utilities & Energy Services.
Once completed, the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center will be the first existing building on campus to earn the Green Office Certification, and will serve as a model for other buildings to follow in its (no carbon) footsteps.
The effort is part of a commitment President Hitt made nine years ago for UCF to become climate neutral by the year 2050. Since then, existing buildings now use 38 percent less energy, and new construction is designed to the highest standards of efficiency from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).
By implementing the Green Office Certification pilot program at the alumni center, we’ll be doing our part to create a more sustainable environment on campus, and in the Central Florida community.
In the coming months, we hope you’ll join us, as we share our progress, along with tips you can incorporate in your home.
Alumnus sets out on a cross-country voyage to bring awareness to sustainability
Stephen Szucs, ’05 | Founder, Sustainable Joes
By Angie Lewis, ’03
From June 2013 to June 2014, Stephen Szucs, ’05, generated only one bag of garbage. After graduating from UCF with a bachelor’s degree in finance, Szucs taught English in Barcelona, led adventure tours across North America, traveled, owned a solar company and bartended. Then, he discovered his real passion. Dedicating himself to living a sustainable life and teaching others to reduce, reuse, recycle and #RETHINK everything, he founded Sustainable Joes in January 2013.
“Sustainability is about more than trees and whales,” he says. “It’s about survival. I want Joes to teach others how to take sustainable action — how to link passion, purpose and profit…good for the Earth, others and yourself. Sustainability is possible, but we must see our diversity as a point of unification instead of division.”
On June 14, 2014, Szucs left Simcoe, Ontario, Canada, in a pedal- and solar-powered ELF tricycle, nicknamed Rita, for the first leg of his #RETHINK tour. He traveled at an average speed of 14.5 mph, making stops in countless cities and towns to talk to people about living sustainably, before arriving in Key West, Fla., on Dec. 20. His six-month and nearly 5,000-mile mission was originally routed from Canada to California, but he says that route would have been heading into the prevailing winds, which makes the ELF difficult to maneuver.
While on the road, he listened to a lot of NPR and music playlists to pass the time, and to help muffle the road and noise and Rita’s rattling.
Along the way, his ELF broke down in Canadian Amish Country, where he met Bev, Dougie and Murph. While making repairs in Burlington, Vt., over a holiday weekend, he learned how to tango with Dave and Carmen. After a 120-mile day, he says he’ll never forget how amazing Scotty’s cornbread tasted and smelled in Lebanon, N.H. Then, there was the People’s Climate March in New York City, which he’ll always remember. And, in Delray Beach, Fla., he was treated to a police escort.
“From big cities to small towns, people who carry guns to the EPA… so many interesting people,” he says.
Szucs never imagined the first leg of the tour would last more than six months, but he says the dream is to fuel sustainable conversation and action around the world, so he’ll stay on the road as long as it takes. He’s currently in the process of planning leg two of the tour.
Going the Distance Q&A
Q. Favorite UCF memory?
A. Over Thanksgiving, two of my best friends and I visited campus and went for a stroll down memory lane. Campus was empty as we sat beside the Reflecting Pond, reminiscing. It was a special moment.
Q. Any special/hidden talents?
A. I can knit, drive a tractor and give really good massages.
Q. If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?
A. Speak every language, dance every dance and learn to swim
Q. Most embarrassing moment?
A. Oh, wow… I’ve had so many of these, I started calling them “growth opportunities.” For example, while learning Spanish in Barcelona, I once ordered a sandwich that made our waiter do a double take. By accident, I had ordered something that included genitals.
Q. Happiest/proudest moment of your life so far?
A. Hugging my best friend at the end of leg one [of the #RETHINK tour] in Key West was pretty special.
Q. What or who inspires you?
A. Elon Musk and every child who hugged me on tour
Q. What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
A. Learn to speak my truth
Q. What do you fear?
A. “Desperate people do desperate things.” I fear the certain global unrest which will occur if collectively we do nothing to combat climate change.
Q. Something you learned in the past week?
A. Recycling five aluminum cans saves enough energy to power a laptop for 24 hours. And, America throws away 30 billion cans annually.
Q. What’s something most people don’t know about you?
A. I’m actually an extroverted introvert.
Alumni best friends introduce high-efficiency water treatment technology to medical marijuana cultivation center
Michael Boyd, ’05 | Senior Sales Manager, Desalitech
Michael Williamson, ’07 | Plant Manager, Kind Love
By Angie Lewis, ’03
Michael Boyd, ’05, doesn’t remember the first time he met Michael Williamson, ’07, but he knew they’d become great friends after a discussion about a soccer match on TV spilled out into the parking lot of the former Underground Bluz, near UCF, for a real game.
“Those impromptu games became late-night traditions throughout the remainder of our college years, and afterward,” says Boyd, who earned his bachelor’s degree in engineering technology.
The guys would eventually become the best of friends, even as their career opportunities later took them more than half a country apart.
Based in Newton, Mass., Boyd serves as the senior sales manager for Desalitech, a $20-million organization that manufactures high-efficiency water treatment and wastewater reuse products.
About six years ago, the company started in Israel, a country built on the outskirts of a desert, with limited access to available water resources, which is why it has become one of the leading water treatment hubs on the planet.
“Between 1930 and 2000, the world population tripled from two billion to six billion, and by 2050, it will reach nine billion,” Boyd explains. “Increased production of food and energy, along with rising economies and industrialization, are all increasing the demand for water. Yet, water resources are overwhelmed, and many are already depleted from overutilization, which leaves desalination and water reuse as the only available new sources of water.”
He says industry is responsible for nearly 60 percent of fresh water withdrawals in the U.S. and in other developed countries, with agriculture accounting for an additional 30 percent. He adds that while reverse osmosis is widely applied for water purification, traditional RO systems can create excess brine waste, do not use water supplies efficiently and consume too much energy.
In contrast, Desalitech’s ReFlex RO systems, featuring Closed Circuit Desalination™ technology, reduce brine waste by up to 75 percent and energy consumption by up to 35 percent, compared to traditional RO designs.
Based in Denver, Co., Williamson is the plant manager for Kind Love, a medical marijuana dispensary, which also includes an 80,000-square-foot hydroponic cultivation center.
Williamson, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis his freshman year of college.
“[The MS] caused me to be temporarily paralyzed from the waist down,” Williamson explains. “With the uncertainty of my future personal health, I changed my major to interdisciplinary studies with a focus on digital media. My thought process at the time was, if I was going to be in a wheelchair from time to time, or permanently, I wanted to make sure I could work, earn, create and contribute to an organization. Digital media gave me the ability to be able to work on a computer from anywhere.”
After many lackluster visits to medical dispensaries as a patient, he and his partners were inspired to create Kind Love in 2009. He says they saw much room for improvement and recognized an opportunity to help the underserved market of women and seniors.
“The cannabis plant is made up of chemical compounds called cannabinoids,” he explains. “Though scientists aren’t exactly sure, it’s estimated that there are at least 85 cannabinoids that make up the cannabis plant. The most well-known and popular cannabinoid is tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. Though THC has medicinal benefits, particularly with gastrointestinal issues and inflammation, it’s most commonly characterized by a psychoactive effect, which is described as a relaxing and cerebral high.
“Currently, most Colorado analytical labs have standards and are testing for four to 12 of the 85 cannabinoids. Thanks to legal access to these analytical labs, the medical community started to notice rare strains of cannabis that were extremely low in THC and elevated in cannabidiol, or CBD. Through selective breeding techniques, cannabis breeders have managed to create new varieties with high levels of CBD and little to no THC.
“After my first high-CBD discovery at our research and development cultivation facility, we started hunting for more high-CBD genetics through breeding and acquisitions with other medicinal breeders. Unlike THC, CBD has no high or mind-altering effects. It’s a non-psychoactive and has a huge range of medicinal benefits and properties, such as antiemetic, anticonvulsant, antipsychotic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-tumor, anti-cancer and antidepressant.”
In fact, Kind Love holds the record for the highest CBD ever recorded, and is helping to treat patients with cancer and MS, as well as children with seizures, and many more. Williamson is working with CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta on many of these high-CBD projects, which should produce results later this year.
While he respects soil growing, Williamson says Kind Love grows its plants hydroponically because it offers more environmental control and sterilization for large-scale cannabis agriculture.
“People forget that organic soil is organic — meaning it’s full of beneficial and non-beneficial bacterias, molds, fungi, and various insects, which can cause serious damage to cannabis crops if not controlled appropriately,” he says.
When the company was in the process of building its new cultivation facility last year, Williamson researched reverse osmosis machines. The best one he could find on the market was recovering 75 percent good water, with 25 percent going to waste. His previous cultivation facilities were operating at 33 percent good water, with 67 percent waste.
Realizing he was looking at the wrong technology, he looked at Desalitech’s ReFlex reverse osmosis system with CCD technology, which would give him 93 percent good water recovery, with only 7 percent wastewater.
Williamson says his friend was originally doing him a favor, since Boyd thought Kind Love’s operation was probably too small to utilize his company’s system, but he flew to Denver anyway to calculate the numbers. To their delight, Kind Love’s new cultivation facility qualified for Desalitech’s smallest full-scale system, which is commonly used as a pilot for large power plants.
“Michael Boyd and I both demand the absolute best of the best when it comes to our projects, and where and with whom we invest our time and money,” Williamson says. “Of course, it was very cool to do business with a dear friend and colleague, but, more importantly, I knew that I had one of the best systems that money could buy, because I knew he wouldn’t associate with or be a part of anything less. I am very grateful for his friendship, his strong communication skills and ability to execute. His general demeanor and hard work ethic continue to inspire me every day to work harder, smarter and faster.”
Meet Kind Love medical marijuana dispensary’s plant manager, Michael Williamson, as he explains his decision to partner with best friend Michael Boyd’s water treatment company, Desalitech:
Alumnus’ passion to hang 10 inspires him to keep an active lifestyle and pursue environmental change
Mitch Varnes, ’85 | President, Smooth Running
By Daniela Marin
The UCF Surf Club is one of the largest non-Greek organizations on campus today, but, nearly 30 years ago, it was the enthusiasm of eight young surfers who laid the foundation for what would become a hub for wave fanatics.
Mitch Varnes, ’85, was one of those students, and went on to co-found the club.
“I think co-founding the UCF Surf Team was probably my first entrepreneurial effort,” he says. “More than anything, it taught me to go out and make things happen.”
Since then, Varnes has additionally founded the Collegiate Surfing Association, the Sebastian Inlet Pro and the Ron Jon Beach ’N Boards Fest.
In efforts to engage his community in an active lifestyle, spur local economic growth and practice sustainability, Varnes currently holds a position as president of Smooth Running.
“I think people should only work at jobs that are fun and that they enjoy,” he says. “I know that sounds altruistic, but it can be done.”
Smooth Running is the producer of endurance events across East Central Florida. Some of these multi-sport events include the Publix Melbourne Music Marathon Weekend, the Ron Jon Cocoa Beach Triathlon and the Rocketman Florida Triathlon, the first privately coordinated sporting event to take place at the Kennedy Space Center.
“Creating events is something I really love to do, and I have formed this career so that I have the flexibility to travel when I want and to spend a lot of time with my children and my wife,” Varnes says.
In 2010, Varnes received the Champion Award from the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce for the economic impact of the Melbourne Music Marathon Weekend.
He additionally received the Entrepreneur of the Year award from Space Coast Magazine, proving his entrepreneurial initiatives while at UCF the first of many.
“I was truly honored to receive that award,” Varnes says. “There are lots of business owners and entrepreneurs here on the space coast so it was a humbling moment for a guy who puts on races, triathlons and surfing events.”
Varnes has been able to incorporate both his passion for surfing and mission for sustainability in the planning and execution of events, such as the Melbourne and Beaches Music Marathon Weekend, which achieved its goal of zero waste in 2012.
“I surround myself with lots of vibrant people in their 20s and 30s, and they have molded our events into among the most sustainable anywhere in the country,” he says.
Varnes and his team recycle everything from water bottles to paper plates and cups, and compost food scraps like orange rinds, banana peels, pizza crust and all else. In 2013, he received the Sustainability Award from Keep Brevard Beautiful.
“I used to think it would be too much work and effort to make sustainability a focus, but it is actually an easy thing once you make it part of your model,” he says. “Now it’s just something we do second nature.”
Contributing to the implementation of sustainable practices is a team of UCF students, which Varnes employs for almost all events. He additionally offers internships to UCF students, and continually speaks at the Devos School of Sports Management.
“It is really inspirational for me to see these students so excited and dedicated to our cause,” he says. “I am very proud of our school and its students.”
Such pride is exemplified by Varnes’ previous involvement in the Space Coast Alumni Board of Directors, on which he served as president for three years, and the Golden Knight’s Board of Directors, the fundraising arm of UCF Athletics.
On Aug. 30, Varnes followed the UCF football team to Dublin, Ireland for its Croke Park Classic game against Penn State. Varnes says that although he is not of Irish heritage, he and his family highly admire the country, and he bought the tickets as soon as they became available.
“We lost that game in the final seconds, but college football does not get any better than that game,” he says. “I think my favorite memory from that game was talking to the Irish people who were just as enthralled with American football and knew all about it. I also enjoyed meeting a couple from Germany who had become UCF fans and traveled to the game with no other connection to UCF.”
Ridin’ the Wave Q&A
Q. Describe a typical day at work. A. There are few typical days for me, but they usually begin with getting up before daylight and always taking my kids to school. I then usually go back home, read, fish, surf, run or bike for a couple of hours and then head into the office by 10:30 a.m. I work six or eight hours a day, but, in the weeks running up to an event, things intensify quite a bit. It’s not unusual for us to work 20 hours straight during an event.
Q. What’s your favorite thing about your job? A.The best part of my job is putting on events that make people and their families happy. People circle the dates of our races and train for them for months. It’s also very satisfying to see the local economic impact of what we do. Our events fill hotel rooms and restaurants all over the Space Coast.
Q. Upon co-founding the UCF Surf Team, did you find that it was a struggle to find fellow surfers or was there already the beginning of a community? A. There was a core group of six or eight of us who actually showed up at every surf contest. We basically would go surf all day at Playalinda [Beach] and come home with a trophy! It’s very cool to see the UCF Surf Team nowadays, and I support them when I can.
Q. How often do you surf? How do you incorporate that into your professional life? A. I surf as I have time or when there are waves. It sounds kind of crazy, but I actually surf more outside of Florida than at home. With work and our kids, it’s actually easier to get away and surf than it is to surf at home.
Q. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? A. I think I want to be a travel photographer and writer when I grow up.
Q. What advice would you give to a large group of people? A. Follow your passion and do what makes you happy.
Q. How do you hope your career will transition/grow over the next five years? A. I plan to still have a few sizable events and to continually fine tune and evolve them. I’m actually pretty comfortable and happy where I am, and just looking to keep things rolling.
Q. How did your education in journalism help get you to where you are today? A. I’ve written and published hundreds of article and photos. Journalism teaches one discipline and the requirement to meet deadlines.
Q. What’s your favorite memory from your time at UCF? A. My favorite memories of UCF were being part of what was then a pretty tight-knit school. I am not exaggerating to say that I may have known more students that I didn’t know at the school. Now, it has a massive student population, which is OK too.
Feeling inspired to volunteer your time for a worthy cause? Check out all of the alumni community service events happening during the eighth annual Knights Give Back on Saturday, Oct. 11.