Friday, October 29, 2010

I would like to extend my warmest welcome to our special guests and to all of you gathered here today for this exciting and important ceremony and announcement. I would also like to welcome a very special guest: Karl Brooks, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Region 7, who will be speaking about an exciting new partnership with The University of Iowa.

Just over two years ago, on Earth Day 2008, I challenged The University of Iowa to make sustainability central to its mission. It’s easy to claim to be “green” by making a few token gestures. The more difficult—and far better—thing is to weave a commitment to sustainability into the fabric of the University enterprise. That is the path we chose to follow over two years ago, and the one we remain committed to today.

This commitment informs how we construct and power our buildings, like this beautiful LEED-certified boathouse. But our sustainable university initiative also is about how we equip our students to solve the problems of a world facing complex—and increasing—environmental challenges. Our commitment to sustainability must also provide our researchers with resources and support to explore the frontiers of energy and environmental science. And we must also partner with businesses, as well as other private and public organizations, to find ways to apply our knowledge for the benefit of the people of Iowa, the nation, and the world.

Only two months after I issued this call to action, our campus was hit by the Flood of 2008, the most devastating natural disaster in the University’s history. In spite of that disaster, and in part because of it, the University has already made important strides in sustainability.

In 2009, the state established and funded the Iowa Flood Center on the University of Iowa campus. The Center is working on flood projects throughout Iowa, such as designing and installing a network of sensors on bridges to closely monitor local river flows.

The University also created a living-learning community for students interested in sustainability, established a sustainability certificate, and created an Energy Control Center to help monitor and manage our energy use on campus with ever-greater precision.

We’re only getting started in our efforts to make The University of Iowa one of the greenest campuses anywhere. Today, we’re setting our sights further—ten years into the future, to be precise. “2020 Vision” is a new roadmap to help focus and guide the UI’s sustainability efforts over the next decade. I won’t go into a lot of detail now, as copies of our full plan are available here today and online. But briefly, here are our 2020 Vision goals:

Goal 1. Become a net-negative energy consumer, meaning that we will consume less energy in ten years than we do today. We will ramp up energy conservation efforts, build all new facilities following LEED principles, modernize our aging building systems, and nurture a culture of conservation.

Goal 2. Draw 40% of our energy on campus from renewable sources by 2020. We will build on our tremendous success with the use of oat hulls as a biomass substitute in our power plant, and pursue a renewable energy supply strategy that shifts us even further away from our reliance on fossil fuels. We will explore more use of biomass, geothermal, solar, wind, landfill gas, gasification, and other emerging energy technologies.

Goal 3. Decrease our production of waste by diverting 60% of our waste from the landfill by 2020. We will continue to foster a culture of recycling and other green practices.

Goal 4. Reduce emissions of fossil-fuel-produced carbon dioxide from University-related transportation and travel by 10% per capita. We will employ increasingly efficient fuels and technologies, expand a growing alternative fuel vehicle fleet, further encourage car pools and public transportation, and take other measures, such as our e-car charging station.

Goal 5. Increase the number of opportunities for students to learn and practice the principles of sustainability. We will offer even more career-related certificate and degree programs, internships, and research experiences. We will further incorporate sustainable practices into student campus activities, living and learning centers, food service, and health and wellness programs. And we will establish a student sustainability activity fund to support these efforts.

Goal 6. Continue supporting and growing interdisciplinary research in sustainability-focused areas. In particular, we will pursue international prominence in water sustainability education and research, exploring everything from water availability and water quality to the economic and health impacts of floods, flood control, and water conservation. We especially look forward to expanding our efforts to increase awareness in Iowa about the shared value of Iowa’s water resources and the impact of land use in river watersheds.

Goal 7. And finally, develop partnerships with businesses, governmental agencies, and other educational institutions to advance both academic and operational initiatives. In particular, the UI will work individually and collaboratively with Iowa businesses and community colleges to meet the demands of supporting the workforce and economic development needs of green industries in Iowa.

This isn’t just a bulleted list. This is a set of goals that show our beliefs and commitments over the next ten years. They show that we are serious about finding concrete solutions to complex issues. The goals are ambitious. This plan will require innovation and dedication across our campus community to reach our targets by 2020. Ten years may seem like a far-off deadline. But the time will pass quickly. Work needs to start today—and, in fact, is already well under way in many areas.

Sustainability is a challenge best faced in partnership. I’m therefore very excited to have Karl Brooks from the Environmental Protection Agency here with us today to share some important news. Liz Christiansen, Director of the University of Iowa Office of Sustainability, will introduce our very special guest.