Iowa State’s carbon footprint

Students walk between Curtiss and Beardshear halls during a snowstorm on Jan. 11, 2018. Despite a 12-hour winter weather advisory, the university remained open.

This series explores how the Iowa State community and its members prioritize sustainability as they interact with resources such as land, water and electricity. ‘Sustainable steps: A look at green efforts in the Iowa State community’ is a collaborative project between the Greenlee School of Journalism depth reporting class and the Iowa State Daily.

Thirty-six thousand students can make a lot of steps across the Iowa State campus, but perhaps the steps they take that will leave the most impact are their carbon footprints.

With the student population increasing at such a rapid pace over the years, it’s essential that this surplus of students have a place to live throughout their college career. Because of all the necessary housing, some might think monitoring the carbon footprint of the university’s housing can be easily overlooked.

A carbon footprint is the amount of carbon emissions we create or make. There are four scopes to our carbon footprint. Scope one is fuels we burn to provide energy. Scope two is fuel we use, such as transportation services like a car or bus. Scope three and four are travel beyond campus, which Iowa State doesn’t monitor. These are things we purchase that are burning fuels together.

Students are using energy and some buildings are not providing energy-efficient environments. From lights lighting the hallways 24 hours a day, seven days a week to heating and cooling that can sometimes escape due to the age of the building, these small things are leaving a large impact on how the university affects the environment.

“Everything we use takes energy,” said Merry Rankin, Iowa State’s director of sustainability. “It’s important to know the impact that we’re making.”

From the university dorms provided, such as Oak-Elm or Maple, to off-campus housing such as Campustown or The Edge, students everywhere are constantly consuming and producing energy.

Campustown apartments house approximately 12,000 students. With so many apartments to look after, monitoring the energy use of each individual unit could be challenging.

Jordan Haferbier, junior in kinesiology and health, said she watches her energy use not so much for sustainability, but rather because of her electric bill.

“My one roommate is like the ‘light police,’” Haferbier said. “After our first electric bill we were shocked and really cut down using lights. Other than that if we are gone for a few days, we all unplug our stuff in our own rooms to save money and energy, and we don’t keep our heat above 70 to also save money.”

Haferbier lives at Campustown apartments and pays around $560 each month for rent. On top of that, her bill for last month’s electricity was $220. That can be very straining on a student’s budget, but it is something that cannot be controlled. Everything needs energy, and electricity is the largest energy requirement of them all.

“Saving money is one of my biggest concerns in college,” said Zach Williamson, senior in journalism who lives off campus. “I think the only reason I would consider myself ‘green’ is because I am constantly flipping off light switches, taking cold showers and being scarce with my heating solely to save a couple of bucks.”

Some students preserve energy to save their bank accounts, but the housing options at Iowa State also have to re-discover what they must do to be proactive and save energy as a whole.

The university does just that. They have a whole team dedicated to tracking and overseeing the energy use here at Iowa State.

“We track it [our carbon footprint] because science says carbon emissions are causing global warming,” said Jeff Witt, director of utilities. “And I have to send it to the EPA. There’s a lot that goes into this stuff.”

Oak-Elm is one of the oldest and largest dorms on campus. It is 132,483 square feet and houses around 430 residents. Due to its age and size, Oak-Elm has had to make some sacrifices to the size of their carbon footprint over the years. Madelyn Peterson, freshman resident of Oak-Elm, knows just that.

“I really think they [Oak-Elm] could do without the lights being on in the hallways all the time,” Peterson said. “Motion-sensor lights would work just as well and it feels like a waste of energy. I feel the same about our heating and cooling. It’s like, no matter how high we turn our furnace on a cold day, I feel like it just goes out the window, and it’s pointless.”

Some students have similar opinions to Peterson on older dorms. This is because old buildings require a manual switch, rather than the use of a thermostat or automatic system.

“It’s more difficult to control the heating in older dorms such as Oak-Elm,” said Rankin. “Someone has to go down in the basement and manually turn the heat on or off, and we don’t want to do that until we’re absolutely sure it’s going to be cold for a while.”

Oak-Elm is on the higher spectrum of energy use amongst the dorms here on campus for numerous reasons. The biggest reason is because of its dining center, Conversations. The dorms that use the most energy, according to data provided by Iowa State Department of Residence, are the ones with dining services inside of them. These include places such as Oak-Elm, UDCC, Linden and the Maple-Willow-Larch Commons.

It can be easy to make assumptions about the carbon footprint here on campus. For many students, it is easy to assume Iowa State and the community are not doing anything to monitor their carbon footprint. For example, Emma Kessler, junior in event management, thinks the walls at The Edge are not exactly what she expected.

“The walls are just so thin,” said Kessler. “My room is always the same temperature as whatever it is outside, and I can’t even open my window if it’s hot outside or I need fresh air. I feel like I don’t really have control on whether or not my room is going to be hot or cold because the walls are so thin.”

This is something campus housing has been trying to do to improve dorm life. Although there is nothing they can provide for The Edge, as the university does not own it, there are strides made each day in the dorms.

“We will begin installation of new, thermally efficient windows with sun shading in our facilities, which will reduce solar gain and heat loss,” said Roger Graden, associate director of residence for the Department of Residence. “The anticipated schedule for these changes are: summer of 2018 will be Linden, Wallace, Wilson, phase one of Friley; summer of 2019 will be Birch, Welch Roberts, phase two of Friley, Hesler Hall; summer of 2018 will be phase two and three of Friley Hall.”

With each day that comes, Iowa State is making strides toward a more eco-friendly and sustainable solution for student housing. Whether it be making new dorms, remodeling old dorms or even going in and monitoring campus living, they are prepared for what’s to come.

“We have made significant renovations over the years, and we will continue to make them,” said Rankin. “We look at how we can manage our energy portfolio and go from there.”