Friday, February 11, 2011

Thank you very much for inviting me to share some brief remarks with you today. And I would like to extend my thanks to everyone involved with this important forum—the organizers, the speakers and guests, and all attendees. The UI’s commitment to sustainability is strong and grows all the time. And the dialogue that is happening at this forum is exactly the kind of conversation we need to have—between our students, our faculty and staff, the business community, and all those outside the University who are dedicated to a greener, more sustainable world.

Last fall, the University Lecture Series and our Office of Sustainability welcomed one of today’s most prominent environmentalists, Bill McKibben, to speak to our campus and community. Bill McKibben is one of the most ardent public voices speaking about the need for change because of climate change and other environmental problems. McKibben’s book The End of Nature, one of the earliest calls for concern over global warming, was first published in 1989—that’s 22 years ago. In that book, McKibben says, "There is a tendency at every important but difficult crossroad to pretend that it's not really there." We are fortunate that McKibben did not pretend that the problems he saw weren’t there. That’s a lesson we must all take to heart as we face the challenges of sustainability—we must not ignore the right and necessary path when we come to an environmental crossroad.

That is why, three years ago this coming spring, on Earth Day 2008, and not long after I became President of this institution, I challenged The University of Iowa to make sustainability central to its mission. As McKibben said, it’s easy to pretend that difficult problems don’t exist. But when it comes to sustainability, it’s also easy to claim to be “green” by making a few token gestures. The more difficult—and far better—path for us to follow is to weave a commitment to sustainability into the fabric of the University enterprise. That is the path we chose to follow nearly three years ago, and the one we remain committed to today.

This commitment informs how we construct and power our buildings. That is why every new construction and major renovation project is now based on LEED principles, and why our LEED-certified facilities staff has more than tripled in the past year or two. That is why we continue to build on our tremendous success with the use of oat hulls as a biomass substitute in our power plant, and why we are exploring more use of biomass, geothermal, solar, wind, landfill gas, gasification, and other emerging energy technologies to shift away from our dependence on fossil fuels. And that is why we created an Energy Control Center to help monitor and manage our energy use on campus with ever-greater precision.
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 is also about providing our researchers with resources and support to explore the frontiers of energy and environmental science. That is why, in the space of only a couple of years, the University has created a living-learning community for students interested in sustainability, established a sustainability certificate, established a graduate-level wind energy management program, created the Iowa Flood Center in the wake of the 2008 flood, and created our first interdisciplinary researching and teaching cluster, focused on water sustainability.

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. As I suggested earlier, that is why meetings and conversations like this Net Impact Sustainability Forum are so crucial.

We’re only getting started in our efforts to make The University of Iowa one of the greenest campuses anywhere. That is why we always need to set our sights further. The crossroad that McKibben talked about is actually with us every single day. We must make decisions and chart directions continuously, being careful to choose the best path, day in and day out, for a world that is sustainable not only today, but for future generations.

An important milestone for charting our future directions in sustainability occurred last fall, when we unveiled “2020 Vision,” a new roadmap to help focus and guide the UI’s sustainability efforts over the next decade. And on the same day we premiered “2020 Vision,” I also signed a Sustainability Partnership Program agreement with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 7 Administrator Karl Brooks, which established the UI as the first university in EPA Region 7 to sign this voluntary compact.

I won’t go into a lot of detail, but let me outline the basic goals of 2020 Vision. I’ve been asked to share with you today the UI commitment to sustainability, and I think these goals perfectly capture our ambition, our vision, and our dedication to the cause.

Goal 1. We will become a net-negative energy consumer, meaning that we will consume less energy in ten years than we do today.

Goal 2. We will draw 40% of our energy on campus from renewable sources by 2020.

Goal 3. We will decrease our production of waste by diverting 60% of our waste from the landfill by 2020.

Goal 4. We will reduce emissions of fossil-fuel-produced carbon dioxide from University-related transportation and travel by 10% per capita.

Goal 5. We will increase the number of opportunities for students to learn and practice the principles of sustainability, through even more career-related certificate and degree programs, internships, and research experiences, and by further incorporating sustainable practices into student campus activities, living and learning communities, food service, and health and wellness programs.

Goal 6. We will continue supporting and growing interdisciplinary research in sustainability-focused areas.

And Goal 7. We will develop partnerships with businesses, governmental agencies, and other educational institutions to advance both academic and operational initiatives. In particular, we 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.

“2020 Vision”—and all of our sustainability initiatives, projects, and activities at the UI—show that we are serious about finding concrete solutions to complex issues. Our plans require innovation and dedication across our campus community and in our partnerships with external businesses and organizations. We at the UI are not pretending that the crossroad we have come to isn’t there. In fact, we are facing it head-on, embracing its challenges and opportunities full-force, and embarking upon the best path as leaders who want to blaze the trail for a clean, prosperous, and inspiring sustainable future.

Thank you again for inviting me to speak with you today, thank you for the remarkable work you are all doing in sustainability, and best wishes for a very productive rest of the day.