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UI senior hopes to merge music, sustainability interests

BY MARISSA MEHALEK | FEBRUARY 23, 2012 6:30 AM

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Renewable energy gets Elliott Beenk excited. Especially when music is involved.

Beenk, a UI senior engineering student and guitarist for the band Chasing Shade, plans to marry his two passions in a hybrid career. And he hopes his work so far might get him chosen as America's Next Eco-Star.

The sponsors of this prestigious national award are the U.S. Department of Energy and SmartPower, a nonprofit marketing firm focusing on environmental issues. Winning the award would allow Beenk to travel to the 2012 Sustainable Futures Academy in Salzburg, Austria this summer; it would also bring recognition to the UI for its sustainability efforts. President Sally Mason would also be invited to the Academy if he wins.

"I have gained great experience and resources here at the University of Iowa," said Beenk, who is an intern with the UI's Office of Sustainability, and works directly with their Vision 2020 project. "If I won this award, I would be able to gain international knowledge and learn how sustainability affects other parts of the country."

Beenk, who possesses a shock of long, red curly hair, is one of several other candidates up for the award, which is now in the "public phase," meaning fans can vote for their favorite contestant via the UI's Sustainability at Iowa page.

His vision is to promote environmentalism among musicians and at music festivals. Last summer the 21-year-old started a sustainable consulting company that works with concerts and music festivals to increase environment efficiency. And he's had some success — as shown by the implementation of a recycling and compost program at Camp Euforia, an annual independent music festival near Lone Tree. There, he says, the program conserved 32 percent of the waste — a number he hopes to increase in the future.

His environmental adventures have also taken him outside Iowa's borders — perhaps most notably in researching the effects of the BP oil spill on Louisiana salt marshes.

"This was a chance for me to personally get involved and gain experience," Beenk said. "This spill was shown all over the news, and I was able to go down and investigate and contribute in person."
Beenck already has a few fans.

Liz Christiansen, the director of the UI Office of Sustainability, says what makes Beenk stand out is his enthusiasm to find a way to fit sustainability into every aspect of his life. She points to a number of his accomplishments.

"He helped develop a solar cooker with energy storage for use in rural India," she said. "Just last year, he helped develop a water-sustainability scorecard for John Deere with plans for international implementation. This is why I think he stands out from other candidates he is running against."

Beenk has also spent time in UI civil/environmental engineering Professor Jerry Schnoor's lab.

"Elliott is a great and qualified candidate for America's next eco-star because of his unique mix of talents that he brings to sustainability," Schnoor said. "He is able to combine his knowledge of engineering with his interest in sustainability."

Asked whether he enjoys being outside, working on the sustainability projects, Beenk laughed. "Yes, I do. But I don't know if it enjoys me," he said, referencing his red hair and fair skin.


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