April: Happy Earth Month!

Happy Earth Month, Live Green! Enthusiasts!  

It’s Isabelle, Live Green! Social Media Engagement Intern. I hope March inspired zero-waste habits for you — and don’t forget, it is an ongoing process to achieve a zero-waste lifestyle! This month is dedicated to Earth month and all the ways we celebrate sustainability, exhilarate ourselves and others by caring for the earth and innovate creative solutions, big and small, to minimize our environmental impact. 

In 1970, two separate individuals created the concept of Earth Day: peace activist John McConnell, who hosted an Earth Day celebration during the Spring Equinox on March 21, 1970, with help from the United Nations; and U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson, who hosted an Earth Day celebration on April 22, 1970, which more than 20 million Americans participated in. Fifty-two years later, this beloved holiday is coordinated by the Earth Day Network and celebrated by more than one billion people in 192 countries across the world. Shortly after Earth Day was created, Congress authorized the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency to address the national concerns over air and water pollution. Learn more about the origins of Earth Day on the earthday.org website. 

Photo courtesy of Alumni Park

Live Green! began hosting an annual Earth Day Celebration event in 2010 and we are excited to celebrate the 52nd anniversary this year! Mark your calendars for April 22, 2022, and join ISU’s celebration from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., located on the South Library Lawn. There will be opportunities to learn about sustainability-focused clubs and organizations on campus and in the Ames community, enjoy refreshments (including Insomnia cookies!), play lawn games and earn green-minded prizes! Visit the Events Calendar for more information. We hope to see you there! 

Even though the Earth Day Celebration happens only once a year, we encourage you to celebrate Earth Day every day. During Earth Month, in Ames, that is especially easy to do. View the Live Green! Earth Month Calendar of Events on the Live Green! website for environmental, economic and social sustainability activities happening throughout the entire month of April. There is absolutely something for everyone!

This time of year we remind ourselves of all the commitment and dedication taking place at ISU every day to create a sustainable future. From sustainability-focused research and courses that incorporate a sustainability lens to a number of day-to-day commitments in campus operations and management, let’s take a moment to acknowledge our impressive and collective commitment.  

As a Tier 1 research university, Iowa State offers endless research opportunities that contribute to creating a sustainable future. There is an extensive list of faculty and staff across 50 departments, with over 50% of university faculty members focusing on sustainability-related research. Find the full list on the Office of Sustainability website. Research by students, faculty and staff takes place in 100 research centers and institutes on campus. University research aims to contribute to our overall exploration and understanding of five ‘grand challenge’ themes, as defined by Iowa State. One example of a grand challenge is “building sustainable human and natural ecosystems.” Iowa State professors worked alongside Ames Laboratory to address this area of interest by researching how to repurpose plastic. Through their research, they have already developed a catalyst that is able to break down polyolefin plastics, found in plastic grocery bags, milk jugs and shampoo bottles and repurpose the components to be used in fuels, solvents and lubricating oils. For more sustainability research happening at Iowa State, visit the VP for Research portal

In addition to research incorporating sustainability, there are also many sustainability-related and focused courses in every department at ISU. Over 900 sustainability connections are possible through courses, including Plants and People (BIOL 355), Sustainable Event Management (EVENT 378), Social Entrepreneurship (MGMT 410), Environmental Planning (CRP 293), Globalization and Sustainability (MAT E 220), Dress and Diversity in Society (AMD 165), Climate and Society (MTEOR 140) and Introduction to Animal Welfare (VDPAM 312); There is something for everyone, no matter what college you are in! Browse the Live Green! Sustainability Course Directory on the Sustainability Courses webpage of the Office of Sustainability website. 

Not only are faculty commitments outstandingly impressive, ISU students have also dedicated themselves passionately and enthusiastically to creating a sustainable future. Every month the Live Green! newsletter highlights the unique and diverse contributions in which Iowa State students work towards a sustainable future in the ongoing series, “Students Living Cardinal, Gold and Green.” This month’s newsletter themed, “Celebrate, Exhilarate, Innovate,” features College by College Pitch-Off competitors, proposing sustainability-related business ideas. Read the full newsletter article on the Office of Sustainability website. Additional articles from past newsletters, showcasing students contributing to the greater goal of economic, social and environmental sustainability, can be found on the Students Living Cardinal, Gold and Green webpage on the Office of Sustainability website. 

It is vital to the university that our commitment to sustainability not only resonates through research and academics, but is also showcased in our spaces, through the impressive dedication of university staff. For example, Iowa State has 23 LEED-certified buildings, the most LEED-certified buildings of any Iowa Regent university. LEED, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a national third-party certification system that awards buildings with Silver, Gold, and Platinum certifications – determined by a verification process managed by the US Green Building Council. Read more about LEED and Iowa State’s goal of LEED gold for all new construction and major renovation projects on the Buildings & Grounds webpage of the Office of Sustainability website.

Once buildings are built, to ensure a sustainable campus, it is necessary that sustainability considerations are also incorporated into their operations. With over 160 buildings, it is challenging and there is no “one size fits all”; however, a diversity of initiatives do offer a collective sustainable commitment to operations. 

Related to energy, as well as an ongoing consideration related to energy efficiency, a commitment to increasing sustainability within our energy portfolio is a priority. In 2009, Iowa State and the City of Ames partnered with a local wind farm to purchase wind power equivalent to 10% of ISU’s electrical consumption. Recently, ISU also contracted to purchase over a third of the energy produced from the City of Ames solar farm. In addition, through the University’s Strategic Plan for Sustainability in Operations, the Iowa State University campus will end the use of coal by 2025 and collectively through all energy initiatives, achieve a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Delve more into energy and climate at Iowa State on Energy and Climate webpage of the Office of Sustainability website. In addition to energy, a commitment to third-party certified green cleaning products and indoor air quality policy – for all campus buildings, round out an ongoing consideration of sustainable operations.

In addition to our buildings, you have probably noticed how beautiful Iowa State’s outdoor spaces are… that is no coincidence! Iowa State University is a Tree Campus USA recognized campus, a distinction awarded by the Arbor Day Foundation. The award is determined by five standards: the creation of a campus tree advisory committee, a campus tree care plan, dedicated annual expenditures for the campus tree program, hosting an arbor day observance, as well as completing a service learning project. With over 12,500 trees on the ISU campus, a walk to class does not feel too much different from a walk in the park! 

Photo courtesy of Cappex

As with any forest, there are instances when trees must be removed, but even in those cases, no tree goes to waste, at ISU. When trees are downed or damaged, they are used to make mulch or repurposed for the University’s TreeCYcle program. The impact of this program is both impressive and beautiful. As described in an Inside Iowa State article from 2017, the program really got its start in 2005, after a tornado ripped down 70 trees, including the largest scarlet oak in the state. ISU Professor Chris Martin was tasked with turning the trees into beautiful furniture to be put in the Christian Petersen Art Museum as part of the Morrill Hall renovation. 

Photo courtesy of Iowa State Daily

In 2012, when the university began removing ash trees and replacing them with a diversity of tree species, in response to devastation being caused across the country by the emerald ash borer, the removed trees were given new life through the TreeCYcle program. To date, more than 450 pieces can be found across campus – including an accent wall and bench seating in Geoffroy Hall to walnut counters in the Friley Windows Dining Center. These are just a few examples of how Iowa State has found a creative, sustainable solution for trees that otherwise would have gone to waste. As you are out and about on campus, keep an eye out for more TreeCycle applications.

Photo courtesy of Iowa State Daily

In addition to ISU buildings and grounds initiatives with sustainability in mind, transportation is another commitment undertaken on campus and in the community. Cy-Ride,  the City of Ames bus system and collaboration between the City of Ames, Iowa State University and ISU Student Government, is making moves toward more environmentally-friendly transportation. Having already made the commitment to hybrid (Cybrid) buses in 2010,  CyRide recently received a $3.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Grants for Bus and Bus Facilities Competitive Program to make the leap to electrify buses. Funding will support the purchase of  three battery electric buses and two articulated buses to replace five diesel buses that are at the end of their life. The grant will also fund two additional battery electric buses, expected to arrive in June 2022. By making the switch to cleaner and more efficient infrastructure, ISU is able to offer an even more sustainable transportation option for students, faculty and staff, and the City of Ames is able to reduce its carbon footprint and improve air quality. 

Photo courtesy of City of Ames

In order to quantify and objectively measure sustainability performance and commitment on campus, Iowa State has utilized the STARS criteria (Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Reporting System), facilitated by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). Credits are awarded in four categories: academics, operations, engagement and planning/administration and additional credits can be applied for in an innovation/leadership category, toward achieving bronze, silver, gold or platinum certification. Iowa State has achieved three consecutive STARS gold certifications, in 2013, 2016 and 2019 – and keeps striving for platinum. 


For more examples of how Iowa State has contributed and plans to continue to contribute toward a sustainable future, visit the Live Green! website, sign up to receive our monthly newsletter (delivered directly to your inbox) and stay connected to Live Green!’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Speaking of connecting, this is such a great month to be connected! As well as staying updated on all the MANY events and opportunities happening on campus and throughout the community, there will also be an opportunity for you to share how you are going to spend Earth Day on our social media and be included into a drawing for one of four greener living prize packages! And remember!!  SAVE THE DATE to celebrate Earth Day 2022 at ISU!!

We are looking so forward to honoring the Earth with you this April and every month after that! 

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