Feb. 25, 2010

Green campus projects reap rewards

by Diana Pounds

One team built a solar home on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Another turned a small recycling experiment into a full-blown, residence-wide program in a few months. Still another brought local produce into campus dining centers and diverted hundreds of tons of food waste from landfills.

All three teams were honored Wednesday with Live Green Excellence Awards during ISU's Symposium on Enhancing Sustainability. The awards recognize teams or individuals who are making an impact on campus sustainability efforts.

Winning awards in the first year of competition were the house-building Solar Decathlon Interlock Team, the student-staff residence team dubbed the GreenHouse Group and members of the ISU Dining team.

"We had a spectacular group of nominees for the awards," said director of sustainability Merry Rankin. "Across Iowa State, people are finding new ways to make this a more sustainable campus and the teams nominated for this year's awards are among the leaders."

Award winners

  • Solar Decathlon Interlock House: For three weeks in October 2009, a solar house designed and built at Iowa State sat on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The ISU team was among 20 teams selected by the U.S. Department of Energy for an international competition in sustainable home building. The ISU team, which included faculty and some 200 students, developed and built an 800-square foot dwelling completely powered by the sun. The solar house has found a permanent home at Honey Creek Resort State Park at Rathbun Lake in southern Iowa.
  • The GreenHouse Group: The GreenHouse Group got its start when a small group of students approached department of residence staff about starting a recycling program in campus residence halls and apartment communities. By spring of 2009, residents in selected areas of student housing were tossing paper, cardboard and plastics into new banks of recycling bins. A few short months later, the successful pilot project had grown into a full-fledged program in all residence halls and apartment communities. In addition to managing the recycling project, the group seeks out other projects to promote sustainability in campus housing.
  • ISU Dining: Sustainability has been on ISU Dining's menu for some time. The Farm to ISU program, begun in 2007, promotes the purchase of local foods. Trayless dining encourages diners to reduce food waste and saves water, energy and cleaning supplies. And by sending food waste, napkins and containers to the ISU composting facility, ISU Dining diverts waste from a landfill and food particles from the water supply.


The Live Green awards committee sprang a couple of surprise awards on inhabitants of two campus.

Kildee Hall received a special award for notching energy savings of 23 percent from June through December of 2009.

A second award went to Parks Library, for a whopping 65 percent reduction in energy use over winter break 2009. Staff at the library gave thermostats an extra downward twist during the break, which contributed to energy savings of $1,000 per day.

Other nominees

  • Green cleaning policy: As part of facilities planning and management's green cleaning policy, staff aim to conserve energy, water and other resources and use cleaning products that are certified as "green" or made with recycled materials. One telling example of FPM's green success is its annual purchase of nearly 900 mop heads made from 100 percent recycled plastic pop bottles. Use of recycled mop heads keeps an estimated 3.6 million pounds of plastic bottles from landfills and saves 980,000 gallons of gasoline and 4,000 tons of greenhouse gas.
  • Iowa-Missouri Green Team: In 2008, Extension staff in southeast Iowa joined forces with their counterparts in Missouri to train their staff in sustainability issues. The goals of the Iowa-Missouri Green Team were to help Extension offices become models for sustainability, and to share information and ideas with clients throughout the two states. The team set a green tone in its first in-service training, using an online network to deliver the session to participants through their personal computers.
  • Library sustainability task force: With the formation of a sustainability task force in early FY09, library staff kicked up conservation efforts a notch. A few months later, staff had completed several energy-saving projects in the facility, undertaken conservation measures in their own office spaces and developed an extensive plan for the future (including a 94-item sustainability "to-do" list).
  • Reiman Gardens: With 18,000 plants, flowers and trees on its 14-acre site, Reiman Gardens improves air quality. But the gardens nurture sustainability in many other ways. Environmental controls reduce the use of heat, cooling and water in all glass houses, saving an estimated 20 percent in energy costs. Gardens staff also use capillary mats to reduce watering; compost organic garden materials; collect and recycle glass, paper, cans, and more; use biodegradable, non-petroleum-based cleaning products; sponsor a program to grow and donate food to food pantries; co-sponsor Ames' annual "Stash the Trash" program; and provide eduational information to visitors on green practices.
  • University compost facility: The University compost facility, managed by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, was designed to handle up to 15,000 tons of material per year. In addition to manure from the dairy farm and other animal facilities, the compost site can accommodate waste from biomass research, plant materials and food waste from ISU dining. Completed compost, which is approximately 12 weeks in the making, is used to create enriched soils around campus.