Environmental Equity and Resilience

NICK FISHER, Executive Editor

UNI will host its second regional sustainability conference, “Environmental Equity and Resilience in the Cedar Valley and Beyond,” March 12 in Maucker Union from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

The conference seeks to provide a space for dialogue about sustainability issues in the Cedar Valley and showcase UNI faculty and staff — as well as community members — tackling sustainability issues in the area. 

“[Sustainability] is the idea that you are creating a situation with the environment and the economy that provides for the needs of the present without undermining the needs of the future,” said Catherine Zeman, professor of health promotion and education and environmental health science and Recycling and Reuse Technology Transfer center. 

The first conference, according to Zeman, was well received. Of the some 200 or more people who attended last year, 93-98 percent recommended that the university should host another event the following year. 

The University, along with the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost Office, the RRTTC, and the Healthy Cedar Valley Coalition, will be sponsoring this year’s event. 

The conference will feature keynote speaker Robert Ping, a representative of the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute. The remainder of the conference will focus on the goals and achievements of the Cedar Valley area and UNI in particular. Faculty members who have participated in sustainability faculty development workshops will present, along with community programs such as the Northeast Iowa Food Bank.

“We are focusing on environmental equity and livability in communities and that is the idea that everyone has the opportunity to live in a sustainable community—whatever that might mean for them,” Zeman said. 

Eric O’Brien, university sustainability coordinator will be presenting a “state of the union address” related to campus sustainability; an overview of campus sustainability efforts. 

O’Brien will primarily focus on student projects that revolve around issues of sustainability. 

One such project is a student-led proposal that would redesign the Rod Library’s perceived inefficient recycling process. For these students, the existence of “plastic only” and “paper only” recycling repositories are unnecessary because recyclables are not divvied up in this manner at recycling centers. 

The hope is to implement this proposal in Rod Library during the summer, followed by other campus buildings by the end of the fall semester. 

An additional student project that O’Brien will be discussing at the conference is a bicycle-sharing program for the UNI community.  

This program has rescued bikes that have been abandoned in stalls around campus—bikes that Public Safety officials usually procure—and given them proper cleaning and repair. The inter-program partnership between O’Brien’s students and the NISG and the Vice President for Student Affairs office, as well as other programs, is working to rent these rescued bikes to students on a semester-long basis. 

“We’re going to get some of those bikes back into students’ hands,” O’Brien said. 

A group of students, members of the Provost Initiative for Environmental Equity and Resilience will also be presenting at the conference. PIEER works to encourage environmental equity throughout the Cedar Valley area through community outreach —attending local junior high and high schools, as well as promoting awareness of the common environmental struggles between urban and rural Iowa through projects that deal with exposure to toxics, as well as other related projects. 

Zeman feels that students who are interested in sustainability should attend this conference because of the many internship opportunities that may come from networking at the event.

However, all students attending will get a chance to see what their peers have accomplished on campus, according to O’Brien. If students realize how many opportunities there are to get involved on campus, they will be more inclined to get involved themselves. 

“The average student on campus hasn’t even noticed the tip of the iceberg,” O’Brien said.

If interested, register online at RRTTC.com. Meal tickets and parking permits will be available upon registration. The event is free and open to the public.