UI officials introduce Sustainable Citizen Program

BY ERIC CLARK | OCTOBER 12, 2012 6:30 AM

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University of Iowa officials said the new Sustainable Citizen Program will attempt to unite students and community members in their efforts to become a more sustainable society.

The program, directed by UI Assistant Professor of engineering Craig Just, encourages dialogue about sustainability among citizens by way of “circle groups.” The primary goal of the circle groups is to move citizens toward making public decisions regarding sustainability. The program simply encourages both conservation and action.

“I tried to create a program where we could invite more people into the conversation,” Just said. “We’re trying to build the movement from a position of comfort.”

He stressed that a circle-group leader doesn’t necessarily need to be an expert in the environmental field.

“We’re targeting students, as well as everyday citizens,” he said. “Anyone can do it.”

Bailee McClellan, the president of ECO Hawk, will work with Just next semester in the Sustainable Citizen Program. She emphasized the importance of student organizations in sustainability efforts.

“It’s kind of a daunting process to start a project,” she said. “We really want to be there to facilitate a relationship and get [students] involved with the right people.”

The Sustainable Citizen Program ties into the UI’s 2020 Vision for Sustainability, Just said.

“The vision calls for a need to be innovative in regards to sustainability,” he said. “And that’s what we’re trying to do.”

George McCrory, a communications specialist for the UI Office of Sustainability, emphasized both the economic and environmental benefits of the new program.

“Students can really make a difference. For example, the composting program that was started in the residence halls a few years ago stemmed from a class project,” he said. “Not to mention, sustainability is a great way to save money.”

Unity among community members and students was a common theme expressed by the organization and UI officials.

“When you work in communities that care about things together, you inherently learn how to care for your community and your university,” said Eric Holthaus, the recycling coordinator for UI Facilities Management. “Sustainability is all about community.”

McClellan said the Sustainable Citizen Program helps students get involved in sustainability in efforts they haven’t been able to before.

“We’ve all been in a classroom where there’s a garbage bin and no recycling bin, and we’re like, ‘What the heck is going on?’” she said. “We want students to take initiative and start changing things like that.”

Zach Carter, president of the UI Sierra Student Coalition, said sustainability addresses the issues of people, money, and the planet, which he called the “triple bottom line.”

“I think the University of Iowa really taught that concept to me,” he said. “That concept blows me away and really puts a face on the topic of sustainability.”

The Sustainable Citizen Program is not exclusive to the UI; the University of Northern Iowa has also launched the program.

Officials of the program are going on the road Saturday to promote their program at the National Sustainability Conference in Los Angeles.

“I’d love to see thousands of people engaging at this project, even at a very simple level,” Just said. “I hope many universities, as well as community colleges, take interest in the program.”

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