UNI ranked third most affordable eco-friendly college in US, ISU 12th

The Campanile is a major landmark on the University of Northern Iowa campus. (Wikimedia)
The Campanile is a major landmark on the University of Northern Iowa campus. (Wikimedia)

Nick Fetty | October 31, 2014

The University of Northern Iowa is the third most affordable eco-friendly college in country while Iowa State University took the number 12 spot according to BestChoiceSchools.com.

Efforts to save energy at UNI helped it to take the third place ranking. UNI’s Multi-Modal Transportation Center utilizes 960 photovoltaic (PV) panels. These solar panels generate enough energy to power between 75 and 100 average homes. The on-campus organization CARE (Creating a Responsible Environment) promotes sustainability through various campus initiatives such as composting. UNI also has a Sustainable Action Committee (SAC) which is “charged with identifying, considering, and recommending strategies that will enhance environmental awareness and energy conservation efforts on campus.” In 2013 UNI received gold-level status from the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS). Tuition at UNI is $15,232 per year.

Iowa State also achieved gold-level status from STARS in 2013, through efforts such as recycling its old marching band uniforms and turning them into merchandise such as tote bags and iPod cases. The state’s largest public university also requires that construction and major renovations projects be designed to achieve LEED Gold certification. There are also several student environmental groups on campus including the Solar Decathlon team, The GreenHouse Group, and Keep Iowa State Beautiful. Tuition at the Ames university is $19,281 each year.

UNI and ISU were the only two Iowa schools to make the list. Berea College in Berea, Kentucky took the top spot with a tuition rate of $6,900 per year.

Students, other volunteers plant more than 70 trees in Creston

Creston is located roughly 70 miles southwest of Des Moines and has a population of about 7,887 (Jeff Gitchel/Flickr)
Creston is located roughly 70 miles southwest of Des Moines and has a population of 7,887 (Jeff Gitchel/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | October 30, 2014

Earlier this month the Southwestern Community College Agriculture Department and the Creston FFA (Future Farmers of America) Chapter teamed up to plant more than 70 trees in their community.

Twenty evergreens and 52 deciduous trees were planted on the campuses of Creston’s high school, middle school, and elementary school as well as the Southern Prairie YMCA, McKinley Park, Graceland Cemetery, and the Southwestern Community College campus. The trees were valued at approximately $9,860 and the “Branching Out” grant (which is a collaboration between Alliant Energy and Trees Forever) provided the funding. Volunteers from the community selected the planting sites, the trees species, and worked on other logistical components of the project.

The Creston FFA has worked on tree planting efforts since 1992 and Southwestern Community College got on board in 2010. This joint effort has led to the planting of nearly 3,000 deciduous trees, more than 700 evergreen trees, and just under 800 shrubs for a combined value of more than $500,000. Additionally, the FFA chapter has also planted more than 100,000 evergreen and deciduous seedlings to provide windbreaks and wildlife habitat in the community.

This fall, the Branching Out program provided $105,585.94 for projects in 23 Iowa communities. Since the Branching Out program started in 1989 more than 1.4 million trees have been planted all across the state. The program aims to plant diverse tree populations in an effort to combat pests such as the emerald ash borer.

Galen Zumbach – an agricultural sciences instructor at Southwestern Community College – recently applied for another grant to plant more trees and will be notified if he is approved next spring.


Grinnell College blown off course on campus wind energy project

The John H. T. Main Residence Hall on the Grinnell College campus. (Wikimedia)
The John H. T. Main Residence Hall on the Grinnell College campus. (Wikimedia)

Nick Fetty | October 28, 2014

Plans for a 5.1-megawatt wind farm on the Grinnell College campus have come to a halt after officials with the college and its utility provider were unable to reach an agreement.

Officials from Madison, Wisconsin-based Alliant Energy said that if the plans for the wind farm were to go through, Alliant would “have to curtail much of the project’s energy production” to accommodate for another wind energy developer which applied for an interconnection agreement before the private liberal arts college which serves approximately 1,721 students. The company, Optimum Energy, would have priority for generating and selling energy back to Alliant, according to Alliant Energy policy.

The Grinnell College Board of Trustees first approved of the plan in February 2011. The $13 million project consisted of a three turbine wind farm which was expected to provide the college with more than half of its energy consumption. Research by Grinnell College alumnus Mia Devine led to the 2007 installation of a wind turbine on the Conard Environmental Research Area, a 365-acre field station about 11 miles west of campus. The wind farm project was based off of similar projects at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa and Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota.

The utility board will examine interconnection issues in an attempt to resurrect the plan but Grinnell College Environmental and Safety Coordinator Chris Bair thinks it is unlikely the project will move forward. Officials with the college have considered other energy alternatives such as solar panels and biogas.

On the Radio: Bitter and snowy winter predicted

A snowy farm in rural Iowa. (Alexandra Stevenson/Flickr)
A snowy farm in rural Iowa. (Alexandra Stevenson/Flickr)

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at brisk temperature and precipitation predictions for the coming winter. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.


Iowans should brace for another “bitter and snowy” winter if predictions from the Farmer’s Almanac are correct.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The Farmer’s Almanac was first published in 1792 and supplies farmers with weather predictions using its own unique formula which takes into account temperatures and precipitation levels as well as sunspot activity over the past 30 years. This year’s forecast calls for the coldest period to be between early December and about halfway through January.

Snowy periods are expected to hit mid-December, early February and again in March. Temperatures in April and May are expected to be higher than usual while precipitation levels look to be below normal.

Last winter was the coldest Iowa has seen in 35 years and ranked as the 9th coldest winter in Iowa since record keeping began in 1872.

For more information about these weather predictions, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.


EU officials set plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

CO2 and other greenhouse gases billow from a smokestack at a factory in China (Climate and Ecosystems Change Adaptation Research University Network/Flickr)
CO2 and other greenhouse gases billow from a smokestack at a factory in China (Climate and Ecosystems Change Adaptation Research University Network/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | October 24, 2014

Officials with the European Union reached a deal early Friday to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the 28-country pact by at least 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.

Additionally, the EU agreed to 27 percent targets for “renewable energy supply and efficiency gains” though some leaders questioned the cost effectiveness of this strategy. This builds upon the EU’s goals for 2020 which aimed for a 20 percent boost in renewables such as solar and wind as well as a 20 percent increase in energy efficiency.

These agreements come on the heels of an international environmental summit which will take place in Paris in November and December of 2015. The 28 countries that comprise the EU account for approximately 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. China produces the greatest amount of greenhouse gases of any single country at 23 percent while the United States accounts for 19 percent. Non-EU member countries such as China and the United States are expected to use these newly set EU goals as a measuring stick when drafting its own plans for reducing carbon emissions.

Earlier this year the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed nationwide goals for reducing greenhouse gases and utilizing more renewable energy in the U.S. by 2030, allowing each state to set and achieve its own goals. Iowa – which ranks second in the country for the amount of wind energy produced – is well on its way to meeting these goals.

Iowa and Iowa State celebrate Campus Sustainability Day

The University of Iowa ranked second - behind Purdue - in the 2014 RecycleMania Big Ten rankings (Wikimedia)
The University of Iowa ranked second – behind Purdue – in the 2014 RecycleMania Big Ten rankings (Wikimedia)

Nick Fetty | October 23, 2014

The Offices of Sustainability at the University of Iowa and Iowa State University held events this week to celebrate Campus Sustainability Day 2014: Empowering Change on Campus and in the Community which took place on Wednesday.

The University of Iowa decided to turn the one-day event into a week long celebration. Students at the UI can stop by the Main Library between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. today or at Kautz Plaza on the T. Anne Cleary walkway during the same time on Friday to take a survey and calculate their carbon footprint. Yesterday’s event included a webinar which featured “higher education sustainability leaders discussing ways in which students can make a difference, be a part of sustainability solutions, and build a career in the sustainability field.” Various UI student organizations participated in the event including the UI Environmental Coalition, Eco-Hawk, the UI Student Garden, and UI Student Government.

“It’s important for students to be educated on this topic so when they leave our campus, they can help build a sustainable world,” director of the UI Office of Sustainability Liz Christiansen said in an interview with The Daily Iowan.

Iowa State University provided students with free coffee mugs and bike tune-ups to celebrate Campus Sustainability Day. The day also served as a food drive for the SHOP (Students Helping Our Peers) food bank. More than a dozen student groups and local businesses participated.

Campus Sustainability Day began in 2003. More than 70 colleges and universities across the country hosted events to celebrate this year’s event.

Flood sensor expansion continues

A stream sensor attached to a bridge, placed by the Iowa Flood Center. (Iowa Flood Center photo / Flickr)
A stream sensor attached to a bridge, placed by the Iowa Flood Center. (Iowa Flood Center photo / Flickr)
KC McGinnis | October 22, 2014

The Iowa Flood Center is dramatically expanding the scope of its river and stream sensor network across the state this fall.

The Flood Center, which has installed 200 river and stream gauges since 2010, will add an additional 50 sensors in collaboration with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. These gauges monitor water levels in real time and send the data back to the Iowa Flood Information System (IFIS), which can be viewed by the public. Citizens, landowners and governments can then use this web-based tool to look for flood warnings, monitor water levels upstream from their location, and see exactly how far flood waters will reach in a given situation.

The sensors, which are usually installed on bridges, measure the distance to the water by sending an electronic pulse every 15 minutes. The availability of such precise measurements has already had a significant impact on local businesses, especially those located in floodplains. The sensors, which cost around $3,500 each, can save businesses thousands more by preventing losses in production and labor during flood season.

Iowa Flood Center staff and students will install the new sensors over the coming weeks. Watch the video below to learn more about how these sensors are installed across the state.