Students learn about sustainability


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Tina McPherson thought sustainability was just about being green.

But after the business graduate student attended a lecture Thursday, hosted by a vice president of the Fortune-500 company that makes Post-Its, she realized, “It’s much more than that.”

The lecture called “Sustainable U” was one of a two-part series in which the UI College of Engineering invites sustainability experts from corporations to talk about practical green applications.

In a full Shambaugh Auditorium on Thursday afternoon, Jean Sweeney joked as she tested her microphone, telling the audience she’s not a professor and doesn’t have a voice that can “clear a room.”

Sweeney, a vice president of environmental, health, and safety operations, came to the UI from the 3M company to share her experiences of getting friendly with the environment.

“It’s a long haul, and it’s not something you can do overnight,” she said. “It’s a decision you have to make every day over a period of time.”

Sweeney said sustainability is important because it provides a benefit in the marketplace, and affects how investors, new recruits, and customers view a corporation.

She explained how 3M began a program in 1975 to prevent pollution rather than react to it. Since then, she said the company has prevented more than 3 billion pounds of pollution and saved more than $1.2 billion.

Fred Streicher, the director of marketing and communications for the College of Engineering, said hosting the “Sustainable U” seminars is a way to promote environmental thinking on campus; the next lecture will take place next semester.

“This university is committed to both teaching and [conducting] research to make sustainability a priority,” Streicher said.

He hopes exposure to corporate officials will cause students to look into sustainability as possible long-term career paths.

Liz Christiansen, the director of the UI Office of Sustainability, agreed students could benefit by learning from people such as Sweeney.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for students to learn how a large company is taking on these challenges,” she said.

The corporations can be large users of resources, she said, and students from numerous disciplines can “learn what a company is doing and how it is changing.”

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