Education

University of Iowa aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half

Campus debuts 2030 sustainability goals

Steam rises from the University of Iowa Power Plant in Iowa City. The university this week released its sustainable ener
Steam rises from the University of Iowa Power Plant in Iowa City. The university this week released its sustainable energy goals for the next decade and reported the progress made on sustainability goals set in 2010. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa on Thursday unveiled new sustainability goals for the next decade that — if accomplished — would cut its greenhouse gas emissions in half from a decade ago and transform the campus into a “living laboratory for sustainability education and exploration.”

But the goals fall short of what a collective of Iowa City “climate strikers” have demanded for more than a year — that the UI end coal burning immediately at its power plant, commit to using only renewable energy by 2030 and unite with the city of Iowa City in a “town-gown” climate accord.

“It’s ridiculous for the UI to announce a 2030 climate plan as it continues to burn coal for years and burn methane-spewing natural gas for decades at its power plant,” said Massimo Paciotto-Biggers, 14, a student at Iowa City High and member of the Iowa City Climate Strike group.

The university’s new 2030 goals piggyback off its 2020 goals, which former UI President Sally Mason announced in 2010 in hopes of integrating sustainability into the campus’ mission.

Her goals included consuming less energy on campus in 2020 than in 2010, despite projected growth; diversifying the campus’ energy portfolio by using biomass, solar, wind and the like to achieve 40 percent renewable energy consumption by 2020; diverting 60 percent of solid waste; reducing the campus transportation carbon footprint with a 10 percent cut in per capita transportation and travel; and increasing learning and research opportunities.

The university, according to a new report made public Thursday, met or surpassed many of those goals — including, among other things, a slight dip in total energy use, despite 15 new buildings and major additions across campus.

The campus also reported 40 percent of its energy consumption comes via renewable energy sources, and it reduced annual coal consumption 75 percent.

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As for waste production, the university diverted 43 percent from the landfill and reported diverting 70 percent more waste than in 2010.

2030 Plan’s first phase HAS FEWER HARD PERCENTAGES

In just the first phase, the new 2030 goals — a result of collaboration across campus involving a 2030 UI Sustainability Goal Setting Task Force — involve fewer numbers and hard percentages. Aside from the aim to cut greenhouse emissions by 50 percent compared to a 2010 baseline, the phase one goals aim to:

• Institutionalize and embed sustainability into campus culture, allowing individual units across campus to develop plans to meeting campus sustainability goals.

• Expand sustainability research, scholarship and other opportunities.

• Use the campus as a “living laboratory” capable of improving campus sustainability and ecosystems.

• Prepare students to live and work in the 21st century through sustainability education.

• Facilitate knowledge exchange among the campus community and with the state, nation, and world.

PHASE 2 EXPANDS ON GOALS

As the campus moves into phase two of its 2030 plan, it will expand on first-phase goals by identifying specific and measurable tasks and metrics.

Leadership plans to finalize that second phase later in the fall semester.

“This approach has meant including units engaged in activities such as academics, research, operations, planning, engagement, athletics, and student life,” Stratis Giannakouros, director of the Office of Sustainability and the Environment, said in a statement.

‘Ambitious and forward-looking’

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, who serves as outreach and community education director for the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, told The Gazette the new goals are “ambitious and forward-looking.”

“The new goals will engage students and research faculty to help build a sustainable path for the campus and broader community,” he said.

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The university recently made big news on the utilities front by entering a $1.165 billion deal with a private French company to operate its utility system for 50 years. The deal nets the university a massive upfront lump sum it can invest and pull from annually. It gives the private operator decades of reliable income.

And the university, in making the deal, mandated its new provider pursue ambitious sustainability goals — promising to impose penalties if it failed to do so.

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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