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Petition asks UI president to create stronger 2050 sustainability goals

'We must weave sustainability into our core'

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IOWA CITY — A University of Iowa student has launched an online petition asking President Bruce Harreld to think beyond the institution’s 2020 sustainability goals and work with students to craft a more ambitious 2050 vision.

“I really would like to see our university have stronger sustainability goals,” UI senior Sophia Finster told The Gazette. “I know we can do better.”

The online petition, launched last week, has gathered 45 signatures.

“As a businessman, you understand the importance of looking beyond the next few years to mitigate the documented risk that climate change and the challenges of sustainability present,” Finster wrote in a letter to Harreld. “For long-term success as a university, we must weave sustainability into our core.”

Among their requests, petitioners want Harreld to commit to a series of meetings with sustainability advocates on campus, “solidify a plan of action,” create new sustainability course requirements, and even plant a garden.

Finster, for motivation, pointed to the 2015 Paris Climate Conference last week that resulted in a historic 195-nation agreement to limit global warming through 2100 and a recent goal out of Oberlin College to become carbon-neutral by 2025. Finster said Harreld has not yet responded to her letter or petition.

In a statement through UI Spokeswoman Jeneane Beck to the Gazette on Monday, Harreld said he would be happy to sit down and discuss ways to help the University of Iowa reach it’s Sustainability 2020 goals and begin work on the 2050 goals. Beck said in the statement that Harreld’s office had just received the message from the group and his staff was looking to find room on the calendar for a meeting.

Harreld recently told The Gazette that sustainability is an important campus issue.

“I’m not going to duck it,” he said last month following a taping of “Iowa Press” in Des Moines. “We need to have a dialogue big time.”

In the petition, Finster called it “vital” that Harreld publicly affirm his commitment to the university’s 2020 sustainability goals, which include achieving net-negative energy growth, expanding its energy portfolio, decreasing waste, reducing the carbon impact of transportation and supporting research in sustainability.

But, she said, that’s not enough.

“While much progress has been made toward these goals, 2020 is rapidly approaching and climate action is becoming more urgent,” Finster wrote in the petition. “To maintain a leadership position, we need to identify goals for 2050 and beyond, including healthier and more local food, sustainable purchasing policies and renewable energy on campus.”

The petition asks the university to better equip students to address sustainability in their professional and personal lives by providing education and training on risk mitigation and innovation.

“There are several avenues to strengthen our education, such as course requirements, incorporating sustainability into one or more of the required general education classes, and creating experiential opportunity,” according to the petition.

Finster in the petition referenced former UI President Virgil Hancher’s use of a “victory garden” during his tenure from 1940 to 1964, in part, to rally the campus “in a time of crisis and war.” She suggested Harreld do the same by tending a “showcase permaculture garden” — defined as a garden that emulates patterns in nature.

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