UNI, Cedar Valley Recycling team up for mixed-recycling initiative

An aerial shot of the University of Northern Iowa. (University of Northern Iowa)
An aerial shot of the University of Northern Iowa. (University of Northern Iowa)

Nick Fetty | September 9, 2015

The University of Northern Iowa has teamed up with Cedar Valley Recycling & Transfers to handle mixed-recycling collected on the UNI campus.

“There is a significant savings recognized by recycling and avoiding expensive landfill fees,” Mike Zwanziger, director of UNI’s Physical Plant said in a press release. “Trees and water are saved by recycling, less oil and other natural resources are used to recycle materials in lieu of using new materials, and less waste is being sent to a landfill, lessening the need to expand or open new landfills.”

Recycling bins are scattered across the UNI campus to collect paper, cardboard, plastic, and metal materials which will then be sorted at the recycling center. Despite being recyclable, the vendor is unable to accept styrofoam or glass containers.

UNI has teamed with the City of Cedar Falls to provide a recycling substation on the southwest corner of campus since 2012. During that time, 411.52 tons of paper, 248.6 tons of cardboard, 128.92 tons of plastic, 52.92 tons of glass, 33.41 tons of tin, and 8.52 tons of plastic bags have been collected.

The Princeton Review named UNI to its 2016 Green College Honor Roll recognizing not only recycling and sustainability practices but also research and outreach initiatives like the Center for Energy and Environmental Education and the Iowa Waste Reduction Center. Iowa State University was also named to the list of the nation’s top 24 environmentally conscious colleges and universities. The list was compiled using several different criteria including efforts to purchase local and organic food, overall waste diversion rate, and amount of campus energy generated from renewable sources.

CGRER 25th Anniversary Profiles: Laura Jackson

Laura Jackson (center) and her students work on a display of a prairie plant root system. (University of Northern Iowa)

Nick Fetty | August 14, 2015

Laura Jackson is a biology professor at the University of Northern Iowa and has been a CGRER member since the the center was established in 1990. In addition to her research, which focuses on ecological restoration of agricultural landscapes and forb establishment dynamics in tallgrass prairie reconstruction, Jackson also participates in outreach efforts to educate the public ecology of Iowa plant systems.

“It’s giving us an opportunity to start a conversation about ecosystems processes and what it means to have a diverse perennial root system in the ground as opposed to an annual row crop system,” she said.

Jackson and her team create plant displays using a special growth medium in 10-foot deep pots. Thus far they have displays in 20 Iowa counties and Jackson said she expects to add an additional 10 counties each year. Part of her goal with the public outreach is to dispel the notion that scientific research is tied to a poltical or ideological agenda.

“There’s a lot of people who don’t understand how science works at all and they are encouraged to think that it works like politics works, you try to prove your point somehow,” she said. “Showing people that science is really a process of trying to eliminate as many biases and inaccuracies as possible and that it doesn’t set out with any other agenda than to understand better what’s going on and that’s just as true for environmental science or ecology as it is for medical science, probably more so in fact.”

This article is part of a series of stories profiling CGRER members in commemoration of the center’s 25th anniversary this October.

UNI event focuses on solar energy


Nick Fetty | June 4, 2015

An upcoming event at the University of Northern Iowa aims to educate the public about solar energy, its economic feasibility, and other related topics.

The Solar Energy Fair is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday at Center for Energy & Environmental Education on the UNI campus. The event “is intended to make solar energy accessible and easy to find; to connect businesses and homeowners with local and regional solar installers and contractors; and to show that solar energy systems are available, practical and cost-effective.

Scheduled speakers include Mike Barnes of Hawkeye Community College, Warren McKenna of Farmers Electric Co-op, and Pete Olson of Cedar Falls Utilities as well as representatives from the UNI Center for Energy & Environmental Education and the Iowa Waste Reduction Center.

The event coincides with an announcement by Cedar Falls Utilities to construct a solar energy garden expected to produce roughly 500 kilowatts of energy which is enough to power about 100 homes for a year. The project – Simple Solar – will take up as many as 8 acres in Prairie Lakes Park, about three miles south of the UNI campus. Cedar Falls residents can purchase a share of the garden for $399. The utility is providing about 3,000 shares with each share expected to provide about 2.5 percent of an average home’s electricity consumption. Construction on the project is expected to be completed by mid-2016.

Saturday’s event is free and open to the public. Funding was provided by the Iowa Energy Center.

UNI event focuses on ethics of energy production

The Campanile is a major landmark on the University of Northern Iowa campus. (Madmaxmarchh/WikiMedia Commons)

Nick Fetty | April 17, 2015

An event hosted by the University of Northern Iowa on Wednesday focused on ethical implications in the production of energy.

The event – “Ethics of Energy Production” – examined “economic effects, environmental impacts, legal aspects, agricultural viewpoints and employment prospects” in regard to how energy is produced in Iowa and abroad. Speakers addressed a handful of issues including: Concerns about how Iowa and the U.S. will meet future energy needs, the proposed Dakota Access oil pipeline and Rock Island Clean Line projects, the approval process for proposed energy production projects, and how to have your voice heard in the discussion.

Attorney Justin LaVan discussed concerns Iowans have about the proposed Rock Island Clean Line which would pass through 16 counties in the state. According to the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, LaVan – who represents an alliance of landowners opposed to the proposed pipeline – pointed out that the project has received easement approval from 176 landowners. The project needs approval from 1,540 total landowners in order to pass. A February poll by the Des Moines Register found that the majority of Iowans support the pipeline but are against using eminent domain to accomplish the project.

David Osterberg – a clinical professor in Occupational and Environmental Health at the University of Iowa – served as a panelist at the event and discussed the impact that energy production has on climate change.

“[T]his particular industry is the bane of our existence in Iowa, because it hurt everything else, not only wind but also ethanol. They’re bad guys. Don’t give them a pipeline,” Osterberg said.

UNI business professor Craig Van Sandt was an organizer of the event and he focused on the impact that current energy production practices will have on future generations.

“They are going to affect our children, our grandchildren — and depending on your leanings — they affect animals in the environment as well,” he said.

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.

Iowa State University ranked “greenest” college in Iowa

Nick Fetty | July 26, 2014
Image via eCollegeFinder
Image via eCollegeFinder

The annual Iowa-Iowa State football game is still seven weeks away but the Cyclones recently beat the Hawkeyes in a different kind of contest.

Iowa State was ranked as the “greenest” campus in Iowa according by a list compiled by College Prowler. The website did not provide the criteria used to judge each school but stated: “These days, schools boast a high number of LEED-certified facilities and sustainability initiatives. The following colleges and universities are striving for a more eco-friendly future.” Pitzer College – a liberal arts college with 1,084 undergraduates located in Claremont, Calif.  – took the top spot on the list with a perfect score of 10.

Iowa State was 46th overall with a score of 9.19. Other Iowa schools to make the list include Grinnell College at 64th (9.04), Luther College at 66th (9.01), Central College at 85th (8.93), the University of Northern Iowa at 134th (8.75), and the University of Iowa at 279th (8.45).

Iowa State University has two buildings that have achieved platinum-level LEED certification, three at the gold-level, and one at silver. The university also has several LEED projects currently under construction. In 2013, Iowa State received gold certification from STARS (Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System) because of its sustainable programs and initiatives.

The University of Iowa has two buildings with platinum-level LEED certification, six at gold, and several projects in the works. Iowa also received golf certification from STARS and continues to work on various sustainability projects.

The Cyclones and Hawkeyes will duke it out for state bragging rights on gridiron on September 13. This year’s contest is in Iowa City and kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m.

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.