Private and community colleges in Iowa focus on green initiatives

Nick Fetty | July 15, 2014
Stewart Memorial Library on the Coe College Campus. Photo by Swagato; Flickr
Stewart Memorial Library on the Coe College campus.
Photo by Swagato; Flickr

Private colleges in Iowa are keeping up with the national trend of increased green initiatives at private colleges and universities.

Coe College in Cedar Rapids is undergoing an effort to decrease consumption of electricity (by 25 percent) and natural gas (by nearly 50 percent) on campus. This is expected to save the college roughly $220,000 annually in energy and operational costs and also reduce Coe’s carbon footprint by about half. Coe along with three other higher education institutions in the state have joined the Alliance for Resilient Campuses.

Green initiatives are taking place at other private schools in Iowa including Luther College which currently has the state’s largest array of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels. Central College is gradually moving toward an all-electric/hybrid fleet of vehicles and Grinnell College is planning a wind farm north of campus that is expected to produce 80 percent of the college’s energy consumption.

Iowa’s community colleges are also adopting sustainable practices. Cedar Rapids-based Kirkwood Community College is utilizing solar panels and wind turbines to generate energy. More than 675,000 square feet of building spaces is heated and cooled using geothermal energy and a new trash diversion program has decreased the amount of waste sent to the landfill by 80 percent.

The state’s public universities have also embraced sustainable practices. There are currently six gold-level LEED-certified buildings on the University of Iowa campus and two buildings that have received a platinum rating. Next year Iowa State University plans to replace the coal boilers at its power plant with boilers powered by natural gas while the University of Northern Iowa plans to retrofit three buildings in fiscal year 2014 to achieve greater energy efficiency. All three public universities were named to the The Princeton Review’s Guide to 322 Green Colleges.

Central College becomes fourth Iowa school to join Alliance for Resilient Campuses

Nick Fetty | July 10, 2014
Central College Pond on the Central College campus in Pella, Iowa. Photo by Central College Alumni; Flickr
Central College Pond on the Central College campus in Pella, Iowa.
Photo by Central College Alumni; Flickr

Central College has become the most recent higher education institute in Iowa to join the Alliance for Resilient Campuses.

Central – a liberal arts college with 1,486 undergrads located in Pella, Iowa – is among 35 other colleges and universities across the nation that aim to “respond to the challenges of climate change and work to ensure greater community resilience.”

In 2003, the Vermeer Science Center at Central College became the first building on an Iowa campus to achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

The Alliance for Resilient Campuses is an initiative by Second Nature, a nonprofit Boston-based organization that aims “to create a sustainable society by transforming higher education.” The group was founded in 1993 and the Alliance for Resilient Campuses was started in May of this year.

Three other Iowa institutes are members of the Alliance for Resilient Campuses: Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Drake University in Des Moines, and Iowa Lakes Community College with campuses in Algona, Emmetsburg, Estherville, Spencer and Spirit Lake.

Nitrogen pulse bad news for Gulf of Mexico

Gulf of Mexico. Photo by Amy Heather; Flickr
Gulf of Mexico. Photo by Amy Heather; Flickr

Researchers at the University of Nebraska, the University of Iowa, and Coe College have been studying a major nitrogen pulse in the Cedar and Iowa River watersheds. This release of excess nitrogen, mostly from agricultural runoff, may be partially responsible for the increased expansion of the Gulf of Mexico’s dead zone, which has doubled in size since last year. Continue reading

On the Radio: Drake and Coe Lower Bottled Water Waste

Water bottles
Photo by Bryan Peters; flickr

Listen to this week’s radio segment here, or read the transcript below. This week’s segment covers the efforts of Coe College and Drake University to reduce bottled water waste on their campuses.

Drake University and Coe College are among the many Iowa schools cutting down on bottled water waste.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Continue reading

Drake and Coe cut down on bottled water waste

Photo by djwaldow, Flickr.
Photo by djwaldow, Flickr.

Similar to the University of Iowa’s efforts, Drake University and Coe College are cutting down on bottled water use.

At Drake, a student initiative has led to a bottled water ban on campus starting next fall. All new Drake students will receive a reusable bottle at the start of the school year.

Coe College has been giving out reusable bottles to its students for the past five years. Both Coe and Drake have installed “hydration stations” on campus that make it easy to refill bottles.

Read more here.

On the Radio: Coe College reduces environmental impact on-campus

Photo by indoloony, Flickr.

Listen to this week’s radio segment here or read the transcript below. This week’s episode highlights the sustainability efforts of Coe College.

Over the last handful of years, Coe College in Cedar Rapids has enacted a series of sustainability measures to reduce the school’s environmental impact.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus on sustainable communities.

In 2008, Coe’s dining services began sending its cooking grease to a business in Wisconsin that converts grease into bio-diesel. This results in over 20,000 gallons of recycled grease every year. The dining hall has also been trayless since 2009, which reduces food and water waste in the cafeteria.

Additionally, Coe College is working to decrease the impact of technology on their campus. When replacing outdated electronics, the school works with a company that specializes in recycling e-waste. Coe College also has all of their campus computers set up to shut down when idle for more than one hour. This saves the college $10,000 per year in electrical use.

Go Kohawks!

For more information on Coe’s efforts, visit

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

Talk at Coe College will focus on Iowa’s flooding potential

Cedar Rapids during the 2008 floods. Photo by looondawg, Flickr

This Thursday at 4 p.m., Iowa DNR Geological and Water Survey research geologist Keith Schilling will speak at Coe College about Iowa’s flooding potential.

Schilling’s talk will discuss results from watershed modeling, and what changes could reduce Iowa’s risk of flooding.

The event is free and open to the public.

Read the full press release of the event at The Gazette here.

Coe College builds their first rain garden

Coe College is in the midst of constructing their first rain garden. The garden is funded by the Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency and donations from 2008 Coe College graduates.

Rain gardens typically contain deep-rooted plants which capture rainwater runoff before it reaches a sewer system.

The Coe College rain garden serves a second purpose of providing an area for Coe’s students to study environmental issues.

More information on Coe College’s green efforts is available here.