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University of Iowa’s 2020 Vision nets real success

Waste Management helps UI achieve ambitious sustainability goals
University Business, December 2012

When Sally Mason, president of the University of Iowa, called for an increased focus on sustainability in the university’s operations as a key strategic initiative on Earth Day 2008, her ambitious plan presented a serious challenge.

The large public university, located in Iowa City on the Iowa River, serves more than 30,000 students each year, and counts more than a million visitors annually. The campus includes more than 120 major buildings across 1,900 acres, and a staff of approximately 13,000. Among the seven sustainability targets of the subsequent plan developed by the university, called 2020 Vision, is a specific goal to divert physical waste from landfills by 60 percent by the year 2020.

University administrators knew that on a campus of this size, doing so would require a partner with the same environmental goals and mission, as well as the services and resources that would be up to the task. The first major step was clear. “It was important for UI to establish an effective recycling program,” says Liz Christiansen, director of the office of sustainability. “Students drove the commitment and dedication to it.”

The university was collecting recyclables via separation of materials using numerous containers, which was not optimal. Through a competitive RFP process, Waste Management presented not only a comprehensive single-stream recycling solution, but also a strategic plan that included short-, mediumand long-term goals by instituting its array of Think Green Campus Model programs.

Waste Management also demonstrated its commitment with a revenue sharing and savings pricing structure— as UI’s diversion increases, rebates increase. UI implemented the single stream recycling from Waste Management in September of 2011. Anyone on campus can now recycle paper, plastics, cardboard, tin, aluminum, and other materials in one receptacle. Already, UI is well on its way to meeting its goal.

From the moment new students arrive on campus, environmental messaging is evident, and training begins. Each Resident Assistant is required to attend training on the range of environmental initiatives on campus, including Waste Management’s Green Move-In/Move-Out program, one of several from Waste Management’s Think Green Campus Model. Any packing materials discarded from move-in are reused or recycled, and Waste Management’s Green Student Living programs are included in freshman orientation, encouraging environmentally sustainable practices throughout campus.

Waste Management also focused on safety and efficiency in delivering its programs, particularly for campus staff servicing the equipment. Acting on a recommendation from Waste Management, UI replaced its varied range of existing containers with 2-wheel carts, which resulted in a significant reduction in injury rates and a quantifiable savings in staff time.

These back-of-the-house improvements were a surprising benefit to service revisions that had not been anticipated by UI. “Waste Management has provided great solutions that have resulted in a safer workforce,” says David Jackson, assistant to the associate vice president for facilities management. The initiative also extends to athletic events, including UI’s famous Hawkeye football games. In just the first year of its game day recycling program, UI achieved a 50 percent diversion rate at its 70,000-seat football venue, Kinnick Stadium, up from a baseline of 25 percent, with diversion exceeding the amount of waste sent to the landfill.

“Waste Management is our partner, standing hand-in-hand,” says Jackson. “We’re confident that we will achieve our 60 percent diversion goal by 2020.”

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