Iowa State University Holds 2nd Annual Sustainability Symposium

ISU set up a solar-powered trash compactor on campus outside Curtis Hall as just one way to increase sustainability. The compactor needs to be emptied once a week; the old trash can was emptied daily. Photo: Wendy Sloan

Iowa State University’s 2010 Symposium on Enhancing Sustainability will be held Tuesday and Wednesday, February 23 and 24, in the Memorial Union on the ISU campus in Ames, Iowa. The event begins at 7 p.m. Tuesday with an opening poster session and speaker, followed by a day of panel discussions and presentations.

ISU’s Live Green Initiative

Iowa State University will host its second-annual Sustainability Symposium this week. Photo: Wendy Sloan

The Symposium is one aspect of the university’s Live Green initiative, which illustrates the campus’s commitment to make its operations and initiatives as environmentally friendly as possible. The initiative began in 2008 when Iowa State University President Gregory Geoffroy challenged the campus to become a leader in sustainability and to realize that every individual makes an impact in achieving this goal.

At that time, the president set up four parts to the project. He established a Live Green revolving loan fund to support future projects. He set up a President’s Advisory Committee on Energy Conservation and Global Climate Change, and he hired a Sustainability Director. Finally, he required an annual Sustainability Symposium to discuss campus activities and projects.

The Sustainability Symposium serves many purposes for the Iowa State campus, according to the university’s Director of Sustainability, Merry Rankin. “It offers an opportunity for folks to learn about the sustainability initiatives at Iowa State from the many people that are doing them,” Rankin said.

Along with a learning opportunity, the Symposium provides a chance for the university to reflect on and celebrate the accomplishments and steps it has taken to become a greener campus. It also serves as an open forum for discussions on further improvements in sustainability.

Tuesday, February 22

The opening poster session on Tuesday is an “opportunity for groups, teams or individuals to inform people about what they have been doing in support of sustainability at Iowa State,” according to Rankin. It is composed of displays showing both research and campus projects that further energy conservation and sustainability.

Session attendees can learn about the many different projects in the university community that demonstrate the commitment of the students, faculty, and staff for the Live Green Initiative.

One such project is a series of sculptures resulting from the Project AWARE (A Watershed Awareness River Expedition) river clean-up. The week-long event, put on by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, is an opportunity for volunteers to paddle or kayak down Iowa’s rivers to search for and remove trash. One aspect of the project involves turning the collected river trash into works of art, three of which will be on display throughout the symposium.

Following the poster session, Yvon Chouinard, founder of the popular Patagonia clothing brand, will speak on the topic of “Innovation and Ethics.” Chouinard will then sign copies of his book, Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman.

Wednesday, February 23

Day two of the symposium will begin at 8 a.m. Wednesday with a keynote address by Leith Sharp, founder of Harvard University’s Green Campus initiative.  Sharp will speak about a “Green Economy Campus,” and present ideas about how colleges and universities can become more sustainable. Sharp’s topic is especially significant to Iowa State as the university’s Live Green Initiative is widely based on Harvard’s program, Rankin said.

One of the university's initiatives involved utilizing wind energy, which can save Iowa State 9,000 tons of coal per year. Photo: Wendy Sloan

The event continues with a progress report on the ISU Live Green Initiative, and a series of panel discussions illustrating green strategies on campus.  Topics were chosen based on the interests of the campus with the intent of creating something for everyone.

During the discussion, Live Green teams will discuss their work and progress to date. The teams are comprised of “groups of faculty, staff and students who have voluntarily come together with the goal of furthering the sustainability practices, policies, behavior and opportunities at Iowa State University,” Rankin said.

One of the presenters is the Solar Decathlon team from the College of Engineering. The team recently participated in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon Competition. Their mission was to create an appealing and efficient solar-powered house.

The final part of the Symposium, led by Rankin, provides an opportunity for attendees to share thoughts, suggestions or questions on the presented material.

Rankin’s expectation is that the Symposium will create awareness about sustainability and result in increased momentum and excitement for the project. “It’s also about taking an opportunity to publicly celebrate all we’ve accomplished,” she said.

The next steps in ISU’s Live Green initiative are to continue to look for ways to increase sustainability, to decrease the university’s impact on the environment and global climate change, and to determine the university’s carbon footprint. Rankin encourages students, faculty, and staff to stay excited about ISU’s green initiative and work toward continued progress.


The registration fee is $65 for the full conference, though fees for ISU students, faculty, and staff will be paid for by the President’s office. The cost includes “a local, sustainable luncheon, all conference materials, and reception and refreshment breaks,” according to the conference website. Preregistration is requested.

Mr. Chouinard’s lecture and book signing on Tuesday, February 23, are free and open to the public.

Wendy Sloan

Contributing Writer

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