On the final day of the two-day new student orientation, students are outside of the Main Lounge in the Iowa Memorial Union for the information fair. Doors are kept closed, keeping the anticipation high, as members from dozens of University of Iowa student organizations file in. Armed with their best information, organizations are just as eager to meet new students and inform them on the opportunities that await them this fall.
The Office of Sustainability has been fortunate once again to participate in the new student information fair. We want to educate all students and parents what we are about, our mission, and how we are getting there, but the most common question leads us to the beginning: what is sustainability?
In my opinion, that is one of the hardest questions to answer. While many have the connotation that sustainability is “go green” all of the time, the University of Iowa has made long-term decisions that have benefited them financially, the city overall, and, of course, environmentally. Some of the actions regarding energy efficiency, in particular, have proved to save the University millions of dollars, presently and in the future. With collaboration from City of Iowa City, the partnered initiatives are transcending beyond the University campus and into surrounding residential communities. These two programs combined are improving the surrounding environment.
While the Office of Sustainability certainly supports waste-free campus events (like Dance Marathon during spring 2011, which diverted 1,440 pounds of waste from the landfill), recycling and composting whenever possible, we are also concerned with improving quality of life for students and residents. This means while we implement “reduce, reuse, recycle” in campus buildings and during events, we must see the bigger picture and move beyond utilizing that single technique, which is exactly what our office works to do.
As an office, we work together with many University of Iowa departments and UI student organizations to make the most financially sound decisions with the biggest sustainable reward. While that takes effort from multiple people at all levels in the University, the support from students, with their innovation and knowledge, is what drives us — without it, it would be extremely difficult to accomplish the Unviersity’s sustainability framework for the future.
Ultimately, the University of Iowa is acting on the “triple bottom line.” If you haven’t heard of the triple bottom line, it is used to measure not only the profitability of a business, organization, etc., but also the social and environmental success. It is often times referred to as “People, Planet, Profit.” While the University of Iowa has to adhere to a yearly budget, their decisions and actions are going beyond profit and finance, into the realm of social and environmental responsibility.
Whether you are a business oriented individual, concerned with society’s well-being or the quality of the environment, you have a stake in sustainability. Sustainability is not limited by just this or that – it encompasses aspects from multiple fields and there is a place for you in University of Iowa’s sustainability vision.