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Sustainability key in new panel: Geoffroy creates new energy conservation group

By Virginia Zantow

Issue date: 2/12/08


ISU President Gregory Geoffroy has formed a committee to measure and control energy use on campus as well as educate students about energy and global climate change issues.

"We ought to be as passionate about conserving energy on our own campus as we are about solving national energy problems through our work in biorenewable fuels," Geoffroy said in a news release.

The new 16-member committee, formally titled The President's Advisory Committee on Energy Conservation and Global Climate Change, will be asked to "conduct a full-scale university energy audit" and to develop plans and guidelines for reducing energy use.

Geoffroy has also said he wants the committee to "ensure that students are well-informed" about energy and climate change issues, according to the news release.

The committee's first meeting will be held at 2:30 p.m. Feb. 25 in 1750 Beardshear Hall.

President Geoffroy will be discussing his new advisory committee on Iowa Public Radio's "Talk of Iowa" program on Thursday from 11 a.m. to noon, said Shirley Knipfel, administrative specialist for President Geoffroy.

"I think [global climate change] is a very serious issue that we, as a world, are going to face, and are starting to face," said Tahira Hira, executive assistant to President Geoffroy and member of the committee.

Hira said the committee will come up with strategies in the areas of education and behavior that will make Iowa State a "university that is very serious about [energy conservation and climate change] and is taking some significant steps."

Floyd Barwig, another committee member and director of the Iowa Energy Center, said he thinks the idea of a university-wide energy audit is a good building block.

"You need to know what you're using and how you're using it before you can make any large decisions," Barwig said.

Looking at "everything at once" in the university, he said, will be a chance to take a systematic approach, where several different opportunities to save energy may become evident.

Barwig said reducing carbon usage by the year 2050, a goal widely discussed in general by the state of Iowa, is complicated by technological and communication challenges.

"Finding ways to motivate the entire community to get behind this message will be a big challenge," Barwig said.

Gene Takle, interim director of agronomy and geological and atmospheric sciences, will be a member of the committee. Takle said the new group is part of a movement across the country in which many campuses are "taking on the challenge" of facing energy and climate change issues.

Takle, who studies global climate change, said although reducing costs will be one goal of this committee, a big overarching goal will be to limit the campus' impact on climate change.

"Since we are an educational institution, we also want to use this as a model for how [conserving energy] should be done," Takle said.

Devin Hartman, senior in political science, will provide one of the two student perspectives on the committee.

"This isn't just fluff talk anymore," Hartman said of the goals of the new committee.

He said Geoffroy has taken a bold stance on reducing greenhouse gases.

"We'll have a good idea by the end of this semester of some areas we'll want to address specifically," Hartman said. "We'll come up with specific targets this semester, having that institutional commitment to the future to continue to reform our energy practices at Iowa State."

Hartman said gaining support and momentum at Iowa State will be the first challenge for the group, which he said is "going to be a group that definitely wants to move forward."

He said he hopes to see more students getting involved in environmental groups, to "have a sense of hope that they can address this issue."

Geoffroy said in the news release that he is thankful for groups such as the Council on Sustainability and the Energy Conservation Task Force, which have already been put into place in the ISU community.

Jeri Neal, member of the Council on Sustainability and ecological systems research program leader of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, said she is confident the university "can make great strides" in energy efficiency and reducing its carbon footprint.

On the other hand, she said, embedding the idea of sustainability into plans and values is a bigger task, and she isn't as confident about "how far we're going to go into making ISU sustainable."

"I think if you live in a way that systematically erodes the capacity to meet the future, then that's not sustainable," Neal said. "And that pretty much describes where we are right now as a culture, and as a society, and as a world."

Neal said the concept of sustainability is not necessarily the same concept as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and that sustainability is more of a process than an end-goal.

As far as goals specifically related to reducing emissions and conserving energy are concerned, Neal said she thinks those goals are great, and they are also necessary.

"I think getting on track with that is very achievable," Neal said.