University Sustainability Charter Committee welcomes new members


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In order to reach the goal of 40% renewable energy by 2020 at the University of Iowa, the Office of Sustainability spearheaded many biomass projects. The university has planted 2,500 acres of mescanthus across the state in order to produce about 22,500 tons of renewable biopower feedstock. (USDA/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | September 21, 2016

The University of Iowa’s Office of Sustainability has welcomed new team members with a diverse set of skills and backgrounds to continue working toward the 2020 Sustainability Vision.

The 2020 goals were established by President Sally Mason in 2010 as a means to recognize successful sustainability initiatives and to “expand sustainability efforts in several key areas of operations, research, education, and outreach.” Some of the targets include achieving net-negative energy growth, decreasing waste production, reducing the campus’ carbon impact due to transportation, and to support and expand interdisciplinary sustainability-related research.

The Sustainability Charter Committee, overseen by the Office of Sustainability, is comprised of faculty, staff and students that assist in the implementation of sustainable practices within existing campus systems. Tony Senio, sports turf manager for the University of Iowa recently joined the committee, becoming the first person to represent the Athletics Department in the group. Senio has managed all of the Athletic Department’s plants and turf since 2008. He said, “Sustainability can be a weird thing for people. It almost comes off as a negative word, but it’s about perspective. I feel like it’s more about doing the right thing; it’s about simplicity.”

Amanda Bittorf, marketing specialist for University Housing & Dining, also joined the group, becoming the first housing and dining representative to serve on the committee. Bittorf has worked at the University of Iowa for two years and said that she has led several sustainability initiatives. “With housing about 95 percent of the first-year class, I really do think we play an instrumental role in introducing students to sustainable practices and creating habits,” she said.

To round out this year’s new members, the Office of Sustainability also welcomes a new recycling coordinator, Beth MacKenzie. MacKenzie first began working in the recycling industry in 2006 for the City of St. Louis, where she said that she dramatically increased the waste diversion rate for the city. While MacKenzie’s background is primarily in municipal government and non-profit organizations, she said that she’s excited to join the University’s team. “It just has a more vibrant culture that I think will be a fun opportunity to work in. Just being around young people; young people have really great ideas and a fresh perspective on things,” she said.

Climate Narrative Project – Spring 2015


(Photo gallery by Bethany Nelson)

Nick Fetty | May 9, 2015

Fellows with the spring 2015 Climate Narrative Project presented their works on Thursday night at Art Building West on the University of Iowa campus.

The Climate Narrative Project is “a special media arts initiative in the Office of Sustainability at the University of Iowa, designed to reach across academic disciplines and chronicle regenerative approaches to energy, food, agriculture, water and waste management, community planning and transportation.” Fellows participate in a semester-long graduate-level workshop where they developed ideas ranging from documentary films to dance performances. This semester the fellows focused on “regenerative agriculture, urban farming and food policy, with a special focus on schools.”

During Thursday night’s event – Urban Farms, Real Food, Edible Campus: An Evening of Film, Art, Dance and Storytelling – I was the first one to present with a documentary entitled “Soil Mate: It Takes A Teacher.” The film focused on Iowa City soil educator Scott Koepke and the influence he has had on children in the area. Koepke stresses with his students the importance of organic gardening techniques, composting, and healthy eating.

Anna Kilzer (Photo by Bethany Nelson)
Anna Kilzer talked about possibilities for an edible campus concept at the University of Iowa (Photo by Bethany Nelson)

Anna Kilzer presented next with her project “Edible Campus: Beyond a Public Health Building” in which she laid out ideas for planting vegetables and other plants near the UI’s new College of Public Health building with the hope that the rest of the campus would eventual embrace this concept. Kilzer presented her project in the form of a monologue, describing what the UI’s campus would look like if it emulated edible campus models such as the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

“I can see Pawpaw trees and raspberry bushes outside McBride Hall stretching down the sidewalk like a corridor to Clinton street. The wind carries the aroma of basil, thyme and rosemary, as leafy greens reached out of raised beds with the gentle pokes of kale, spinach, and arugula. . Students swing in the Hammocks studying and napping between classes. And those famous writers at their workshop – they were meeting in the middle of rooted vegetables and walnut trees, bookended by pages of lettuce. Engineering students argue over the water irrigation system, as the math assistants measured the perfect amount of water to each vegetation. The PE students lounged on the chairs and benches designed by the 3D design students on display for the general public to enjoy. And down below, the Iowa River teems with life and as the boats cart the boxes of fresh veggies, and food carts and truck lined up with the fervency of filling sand bags–though this time, filling bags of real food from the Edible Campus to feed students, faculty and community members of Iowa City.”

Sophia Finster produced a dance project in which the characters debated over processed versus unprocessed foods. (Photo by Bethany Nelson)
Sophia Finster produced a dance project in which the characters debated over processed versus unprocessed foods. (Photo by Bethany Nelson)

Sophia Finster then took the stage for a dance performance entitled “The Dinner Party: Processed vs. Unprocessed Food.” The performance consisted of four dancers and their struggles to eat healthy unprocessed food when faced with the monetary constraints and the busy lifestyle of being a college student. The story was told through the medium of dance but also used statistics and facts about the environmental impact of processed foods.

“Forty percent of food grown, processed, and transported in the U.S. will never be consumed. Every year 60 million tons of food waste is generated in the U.S. and nearly 40 million tons of that goes to the landfill. Unprocessed food often has much less packaging than processed food and around 45% of our food system’s carbon emissions arises from the production of food that is never eaten. But that’s another conversation for another time. What’s really in our food, safely sealed up in crinkly bags and flashy boxes?”

Audience members to the stage at the end of Sophia Finster's performance to enjoy some locally- and -organically-grown produce. (Photo by Sarah Nagengast)
Audience members to the stage at the end of Sophia Finster’s performance to enjoy some locally- and -organically-grown produce. (Photo by Sarah Nagengast)

The night concluded with Bridget Fonseca and her project “Don’t Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Farmers: Women Farmers Respond,” a question and answer session between herself (an aspiring farmer) and four characters who played the role of real-life female farmers in the Iowa City area. Fonseca asked the farmers about monetary and other struggles they face to maintain a sustainable operation. At the end, she reflected on her project and reevaluated whether or not she wanted to pursue a career in farming.

“Over this journey, I’ve gained a new perspective on the realities of owning a far. It’s not as flexible [or] glamorous as I initially though. Farming is hard work and the answer is hot that we all have to become farmers to save the food system. What we need is more support for out farmers, for our environment, and for our health.”

Climate Narrative Project fellow Bridget Fonseca presented her project “Don’t Let Your Children Grow Up To Be Farmers: Women Farmers Respond.” (Photo by Bethany Nelson)

The Climate Narrative Project is currently accepting applications for six fellows for the fall semester. Those interested in applying should contact UI writer-in-residence and workshop leader Jeff Biggers (jrbiggers[at]gmail.com).

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April is Earth Month at the UI


(University of Iowa Office of Sustainability)

Nick Fetty | April 9, 2015

April marks Earth Month at the University of Iowa with environmentally-focused events taking place all month long.

The month-long celebration officially kicks off today with the Feeding the World symposium, sponsored by the Public Policy Center and the UI Water Sustainability Initiative. The daylong event will take place at Old Brick (26 E. Market St.) and will take a “past-present-future approach” to agricultural practices, water conservation, and climate change. Several public health, engineering, and conservation experts are scheduled to present at the event including a keynote address by Des Moines Water Works CEO Bill Stowe. Interested attendees can register at the event. The cost is $25 for the general public and free for students.

The UI Environmental Coalition, Alpha Kappa, Alpha, and 100 Grannies for a Livable Future have teamed up to sponsor the Reusable Bag Campaign which will take place on Friday. Those interested can stop by the ped mall between noon and 4 p.m. to exchange plastic shopping bags for reusable ones. The plastic bags will be donated to a local food bank for reuse.

The Earth Month festivities will conclude with Funk, Friends, Farm at the Mill on April 30. The event will feature performances from local acts including Soul Phlegm, Alpha Bet, Addison Payne, Lyle Smithe and the Mobile Sweaters, and a stand-up comedy routine from Eric Holthaus. Admission to the event is $4 and all proceeds will go to the Iowa City-based organization Field to Family.

For a full schedule of events visit of the Office of Sustainability website. Also check back to Iowa Environmental Focus throughout the month for more information about upcoming events.

Conserve electricity over spring break


Photo by functoruser, Flickr.
Photo by functoruser, Flickr.

The University of Iowa Office of Sustainability is reminding students and faculty members at colleges to “power down” during spring break.

In order to not waste electricity, they recommend that people leaving their living space or work space over spring break should turn off and unplug personal electronics, close and lock windows and outside doors and turn off research equipment, if possible.

Read more here.

UI to increase recycling efforts at Kinnick Stadium


Trash left outside Kinnick Stadium by tailgaters. Photo by Phil Roeder, Flickr.

The University of Iowa Office of Sustainability, Athletics Department, ECO Hawk student organization and Delta Tau Delta fraternity are working together to increase recycling at the university’s Kinnick Stadium.

Recycling station will now be available both outside and inside the stadium to accommodate tailgating and concession waste. Volunteers will work at these stations to help sort the recycling.

Read more about the University of Iowa’s efforts here.

UI holding green events in lead-up to Earth Day


Earth Day is just two days away, and The University of Iowa is celebrating with a series of green events, which include tree planting, a waste audit and a bike to campus event.

Here is a summary of this week’s activities: Continue reading