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Discussion: Sustainability on Campus - Iowa Colleges and Communities

posted on March 27, 2009 at 1:11 PM

Clearly conservation is not about deprivation but rather is an intellectual pursuit.  The reasoning is there is so much waste, that conservation is relatively easy and painless to implement if we all embrace it. 

The question that we're going to talk about tonight is, how can more people be brought into that process?  The other question is, what strategies offer the best return? 

Joining us tonight in studio, Jerry Kelley is the Mayor of Indianola.  He is also overseeing the integration of conservation efforts between Indianola's Simpson College, the city of Indianola and also Warren County. 

Also on the program tonight is Kevin Nordmeyer, he is Director of the Iowa Energy Center. 

And also on the program is Kathryn Lisk.  She is from Boulder, Colorado and a junior at Simpson.  She has been instrumental in developing the school's conservation policies.  So, to the three of you thank you very much for coming in to the Iowa Journal tonight. 

Paul Yeager: Mr. Kelley, welcome back to you.  First of all I need the mayor to lay out a definition for us.  When we're talking about sustainability what exactly are we talking about?

Jerry Kelley: You mentioned conservation in your opening and sustainability is much different than conservation. 

Conservation is kind of like when I taught school we used to not do as much of this because it made us feel good.  Sustainability is the concept that what we are doing now is not going to negatively impact those that follow us, that we are looking at the entire spectrum of how do we live in our environment.  It's not just we're going to save some pop cans and we're going to do a little less Styrofoam and use a little less toilet paper, it's much beyond that. 

It's an integration of all of the things that make up the way we live.  Sustainability to me is a declaration of interdependence.  It's the recognition that all of us live within a very small envelope and we do not compete against each other, we sustain each other and that interdependence is the idea that I think young people are bringing forward and the rest of us are needing to react to but it's a good thing.

Paul Yeager: What took the time to get your arms around that this definition is changing and it's not just conservation, it's not just we're green, we're good?  Where did that come in?

Jerry Kelley: It's an interesting thing.  If you look at history, the broad spectrum, every conflict we've ever had has to do with you've got something that I want, you can sustain something that I can't sustain whether it's energy or land or water or whatever it might happen to be. 

Sustainability looks at you remove that conflict and we live better.  When we started looking at our gas prices are going up because we don't have enough of a particular kind of energy well, do we go and declare war to get it or do we find a way to sustain our population on a different form of energy? 

So, sustainability is a recognition that if we're sustainable we are not in conflict whether it's city to city, person to person or country to country.  And I think that's a shift from when I was growing up which is use as much as you want because that's good for the economy to how do we sustain our world for the next group.

Paul Yeager: Kevin, I know you're new to the Iowa Energy Center but you're not new to this concept of what we're talking about.  There are folks out there that you probably already have come across.  Jerry talks a little bit about how some of the thinking about this has changed.  There are people that might just be signing petitions and say we're a green campus.  That's not enough.  Do those people, that some could be called pretenders by the hardcore folks that are involved with this, does that help or hurt the cause of sustainability and spreading that across the state?

Kevin Nordmeyer: I think there's so much of a ground swell in the topic of sustainability and doing sustainability.  As we were talking prior to this from the grassroots up and the students up there are so many people whether they're following through designing buildings or developing buildings or campus policies with the right motives or not, I don't know that I can answer that directly, but I think the main goal is that the students are driving the agenda here in terms of what campuses are doing and following through with energy efficiency, recycling programs, campus competitions like you saw in the preview.

Paul Yeager: You talked about the Iowa Energy Center was involved with the work that Wartburg and Luther were doing.  Would you like to see every school that has a rival do something like that?  How do they take that to the next step then?

Kevin Nordmeyer: The regents institutions, in particular the green institutions have the mandate of applying the knowledge and transferring that into the communities and I think that is absolutely key in terms of taking the student's energy, if you will, and their activity in this topic and getting them engaged in the communities, within their campuses but then within their communities as well as they're trying to do in Indianola too.

Paul Yeager: Kathryn, we keep bouncing around you here, we keep talking about students and their involvement and you've been nodding your head I noticed a couple of times.  Why are students like you involved in what's going on here?

Kathryn Lisk: I think it's an issue of we've grown up seeing that this is more and more of a problem especially lately with gas prices going up and both presidential candidates talking about the importance of this issue.  And so growing up and hearing so much about it, it just becomes important to you. 

And for me it's not -- this isn't a fad, this isn't something that's just happening now and a few years later in the next presidential election this is going to go away.  This is something that needs to happen and the change needs to happen but needs to continue.  And so I think since we are just starting out in this world and just kind of looking forward to our futures we want to start that right and kind of get that on the right track.

Paul Yeager: We told everybody that you're from Boulder, Colorado.  Boulder has a reputation of being a very green, forward thinking, sustainable type town.  How does Boulder compare to what you've seen in Iowa?

Kathryn Lisk: I'd say we have work to do in Iowa but I would also say that for me that's exciting.  For me coming from having this background, having all this knowledge about just recycling as a community and even getting into composting and getting into all sorts of other ways to do that it has given me a challenge to bring that to Simpson and just to bring that to a new place and get people excited and enthusiastic.  So, it's not just somebody telling you what to do but it's a passion that you have and something that you want to get involved in.

Paul Yeager: You do know you're surrounded by two teachers, Kevin has done some class work, Jerry has done some class work.  But the Iowa Energy Center is in Ames and you've done some work in the classroom when you were an architect.  Talk about do you agree on the state level from at least the students that you have encountered?  Do you agree with what Kathryn's saying there?

Kevin Nordmeyer: Absolutely.  I think the student's energy level right now on this topic is absolutely a testament to the quality K-12 education that has happened I think in our country.  The students absolutely want to learn more about how to be more socially aware, they have a social consciousness that just hasn't been generationally part of the previous few decades.  I think the moment is just absolutely right until you engage students not only in real world applications with this topic outside the classroom but also in the classroom as well.

Paul Yeager: Jerry, you were agreeing earlier when we talked about the bottom up -- why is that so important from where you stand as someone who is at the top as a mayor and you've been in the classroom ...

Jerry Kelley: You've never been mayor, have you?

Paul Yeager: You do get the phone calls, I understand that.  We'll get into that later.  But dealing with the president of Simpson -- they're at the top, the presidents are at the top of this and they could just say do it, implement it but why is it so important to not be that way?

Jerry Kelley: Colleges, private colleges particularly reflect their students.  They are a mirror to what their students are, it's not the other way around.  We don't take the students and say this is what you're going to become to become a Central student or a Simpson student.  The institutions say this is what is coming here and they're coming here for a reason and this is one of those Bob Dylan things, we either have to lend a hand or get out of the way.  Now, if this is what students want then what can we do to lend a hand? 

The president's climate commitment, which 600 institutions across the country have signed and ten in Iowa have signed, says that we will as an institution strive for carbon neutrality within the next several decades but we will begin to become aware of what we are doing in terms of sustainability, what we are doing and how we use energy. 

You asked about Boulder, Colorado -- for an example a Simpson student uses 4.6 metric tons of carbon -- a student at Boulder 1.2 metric tons.  Yale, by the way, is 25 metric tons so we're way ahead of Yale. 

But those are measurements by which you can say, okay, here is where we are and here is a goal and the students are the ones that are going to achieve that but we have to create a framework from which they can do it which means you don't stand in the way when they come up with what to you may sound like that isn't going to work -- you say, great, let's try that. 

Kathryn not long ago said to me what if we dumped out all the garbage and sorted it and I'm thinking, this is not a good idea or at least wear gloves.  But visually it's going to be impressive to do it.

Paul Yeager: Why did you want to do that?  I heard that -- Jerry has told that story.  Why?

Kathryn Lisk: I wanted to show -- for me it's a passion, for me I care about it but there's plenty of people who don't -- so I wanted to show students that when there's a recycling bin right next to the trash can and they made the decision to throw a bottle of water in the trash how easy it would have been.  And so to have this big demonstration to show one bottle may not seem like a lot but when it's every student giving one bottle twice a day it really adds up.  So, I just wanted to see it on a grand, just on a bigger scale.

Kevin Nordmeyer: I think as well that what you're talking about there is key in terms of understanding that we all live in some level of community with one another which goes back to your original definition of sustainability. 

I think students are realizing that there are ramifications to the actions that we have every day and that we are part of a community, we're part of a collegiate community, a statewide community, a global community even in that everything we do has an impact. 

It can either have a positive impact or a negative impact and so we need to teach people to have as many good decisions as possible in this realm of sustainability to help improve the planet and the quality of life.

Paul Yeager: Now, you're an organization that could -- call it a policy organization but it's not -- but we talk about policy a lot on this program of that's how you change things.  That's not what sounds like is going to change because it has to be more than just policy -- it's more than policy that's driving this.

Kevin Nordmeyer: Right, absolutely.  Just in terms of green building in Iowa -- the United States Green Building Council Iowa Chapter is the local organization of the national not-for-profit that founded the LEED protocol, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and I'm the founding chair of that organization in Iowa and three years ago we had six projects certified in Iowa. 

Ayear ago we had fourteen projects.  A year ago we also had about fifty registered projects, those in process going through the LEED program.  Today we have over a hundred in process.  It's absolutely growing exponentially in this state. 

You're right, most of those projects in Iowa have been in the public sector, colleges, that's where this sort of momentum is growing from, government and colleges and universities.  But we're starting to see more private development, private developers, office buildings, interior projects also embracing this notion of building green, if you will.

Paul Yeager: It's a little more expensive -- there's heavy cost on the front or that's a notion that's talked about.  So, why is that changing?

Jerry Kelley: This is one of those esoteric things -- we put in geothermal heat in one of the dormitories -- I think you live in it don't you?

Kathryn Lisk: Mm-hmm.

Jerry Kelley: And low flow water, all that kind of stuff -- 1.8 years payback.  With everything there is a significant payback, there are reasons to do it beyond payback, but there are certainly reasons to do it because there is a payback.  Being more efficient may cost a little more here but the reward is staggering.  One of the things, you mentioned community, you can not do these things in little islands. 

A little island can be an example, Simpson College can be an example to somewhere else, the city of Indianola can be an example to somewhere else but you have to educate people and you have to get the examples out and visible.  And one of the ways you get them out and visible is the Kathryn's of the world.  Get it out, visible, go out and deliver the message and it's delivering the message to not policymakers but the people that you make policy for.

Kevin Nordmeyer: The one thing here about LEED and green building, LEED has been around since 2000.  Central College building the science building there was one of the first in the country in terms of the LEED certification process and so we have about nine years worth of data on the cost of green.  The energy aspects of a building, making it more energy efficient, applying renewables, those things do cost more but those are the things that have measurable paybacks. 

What people hardly ever talk about are the benefits.  A day lighted school -- there's at least two research reports that have shown that a day lighted school building test scores on math and verbal tests goes up between 20% and 25%.  There's fewer sick days and higher productivity levels in office buildings and so forth.  So, it's not just about the costs, it's the cost of if we don't do this there's also ramifications as well.

Paul Yeager: Kathryn, you get the final fifteen seconds, if you had to make two quick pitches to students and those outside of students what would you make about getting involved with this?

Kathryn Lisk: It's an issue that will be relevant for hundreds of years and it's just important that everyone gets involved and participates.

Paul Yeager: Kathryn Lisk, she is a junior at Simpson College from Boulder, Colorado.  Thank you very much.  Kevin Nordmeyer, Director of the Iowa Energy Center.  Kevin, I'm sure we'll have you back on the program because we need to hear more about the energy center itself.  Jerry Kelley, Mayor of Indianola and also involved with Simpson College.  As always, thank you for stopping by all three of you on The Iowa Journal tonight.  That will do it for us tonight. 

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