President Wendy Wintersteen has endorsed a five-year Strategic Plan for Sustainability in Operations (strategic plan), which identifies overarching strategies through 2025 that reduce the impact of campus operations on the environment. A longer-term goal is carbon neutrality.
The new plan outlines objectives in five areas: energy use and emissions, building operations and maintenance, waste reduction and recycling, grounds maintenance and water use. With a cost-neutral impact to the university, results achievable by 2025 include:
- Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% with the conversion of the last two coal-fired boilers to natural gas. Estimated fuel savings would pay back the project cost in four years. Three boilers already are fueled with natural gas.
- Triple the use of renewable energies.
- Reduce annual building energy consumption by 5% from a 2012 baseline through policy and operational changes and energy-efficient design and construction.
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"The strategic plan upholds our mission to 'create, share and apply knowledge to make Iowa and the world a better place,' fostering a culture of innovation dedicated to sustainable operations," Wintersteen said. "We all must contribute to efforts that respond to the increasing impact of climate change on society, and the strategic plan will guide the Iowa State community on how to do our part.
"I look forward to working further with the University Sustainability Committee and all of you to further the goals of the sustainability framework in the Strategic Plan for Sustainability in Operations as we move to a campus that reflects upon and responds, in our uniquely land-grant way, the path forward on mitigation of climate change."
Endorsing the strategic plan was the first recommendation of the University Sustainability Committee Wintersteen appointed last winter. Meteorology professor Bill Gutowski, a climate expert, chairs the committee of 20 faculty, staff and students.
In its recommendation, the committee encouraged Wintersteen and senior leaders "to keep an open mind about issues that involve budgetary concerns; some measures of the plan will require funds but others will save money, and those can be implemented first."
The strategic plan itself was drafted, presented to campus groups and revised from 2017 to 2019 by director of sustainability Merry Rankin and the advisory committee on sustainability, variations of which have operated on campus for more than a decade. During this same window, the Student Government and Faculty Senate approved resolutions supporting a carbon neutral university.
Rankin said the strategic plan is tied closely to university applications to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education's STARS (Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System) program. She pulled out five program areas that best fit the university's mission while offering opportunities to excel operationally. Rankin called STARS "the only recognition program that provides a full campus perspective benchmarking -- the breadth and depth of environmental, economic and social sustainability," and reflects not only leadership on policies and procedures but also individual consumption choices.
Iowa State earned three consecutive STARS Gold certifications (2013, 2016, 2019), the most recent valid through 2022. Rankin said achieving goals in the strategic plan will move the university toward STARS' highest level, platinum. And by linking the strategic plan to STARS certification, Rankin said the university has a two-tiered benchmarking system: year-to-year changes and collective gains since 2012, the date of the first STARS application.
She said the advisory committee on sustainability, with a subcommittee structure mirroring the strategic plan's five areas, is prepared to carry out the research, planning and educating required by the strategic plan, in collaboration with the University Sustainability Committee. Plans and procedures still need to be developed to achieve noteworthy, university-wide efficiency in the operational areas of waste reduction and diversion, water conservation and grounds maintenance.