Indiana State University Newsroom

Climate action plan is next step toward sustainability at ISU

August 17, 2010

A new climate action plan represents the latest in a decades-long effort by Indiana State University to protect the environment - and students will play a significant role in helping the campus meet its goals of energy savings and cleaner air.

From planting trees that turn carbon dioxide into oxygen to a recycling initiative that has kept millions of tons of trash out of landfills to a cleaner burning steam plant, Indiana State has been a leader in protecting the environment for decades, university officials said.

The climate action plan, developed as part of ISU's participation in the American College and Universities Presidents Climate Commitment, calls for incorporating sustainability into teaching with a goal of making an impact far beyond the ISU campus.

"Indiana State is recognized for experiential learning and community engagement. Including sustainability in academic programs is a natural expansion of that leadership and will have an impact far beyond our campus," said university President Dan Bradley. "Changing student behavior and making them more aware of the environment will help them make a difference in their professional lives after they graduate."

More than 60 faculty, staff, administrators and students - meeting in six working groups - developed the 44-page action plan that commits Indiana State to four initiatives identified by the Universities Presidents Climate Committee:

• Achieving the Green Building Council's LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) silver standard for new construction
• Purchasing only ENERGY STAR certified appliances in areas where such ratings exist
• Encouraging use of and providing access to public transportation for faculty, staff, students and visitors
• Participating in the waste minimization component of the national RecycleMania competition and adopt three or more associated measures to reduce waste.

A green roof being installed as part of a renovation of Rankin Plaza on the campus quad is the latest in a series of construction projects on the ISU campus aimed at environmental sustainability. The university is planning for the new home of the Donald W. Scott College of Business in the former Terre Haute Federal Building and a renovated Normal Hall, the oldest academic building on campus, to meet the LEED silver standard.

The university has already partnered with the Terre Haute Transit Utility to provide public transportation for faculty, staff and students via city busses. In addition, the Heritage Trail bike path crosses the campus and the university has installed additional bike racks to encourage greater use of pollution-free transportation.

"These steps are the latest in a more than 25-year-old commitment. We were doing sustainability long before the word came into use," said Jim Jensen, director of facilities operations and maintenance at ISU and co-chair of the university President's Council on Sustainability.

Transformation of Indiana State's urban campus into a tree-lined, park-like, pedestrian friendly setting began in 1984, marking the first step on the road to sustainability, said Kevin Runion, associate vice president for facilities management.

"Since then, we've planted more than 4,000 trees around campus, developed tree farms on university-owned land off campus and are proud to have been named a Tree Campus USA," Runion said. "A recycling program begun in 1989 has resulted in an 85 percent reduction in the amount of solid waste taken to landfills and replacement of a coal-fired steam plant with a natural gas facility has reduced emissions by 1.4 million pounds per year."

Additional energy conservation measures, including a switch to compact fluorescent lighting and more efficient heating and air conditioning equipment, have led to additional savings in electrical consumption and resulted in an additional reduction in emissions of nearly 4 billion pounds.

Indiana State's total greenhouse gas emissions stood at 87,405 metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2007, an amount that is just 63 percent of 1990 levels. That record of improvement far surpasses most other universities, said Jim Speer, associate professor of geography and geology and Sustainability Council co-chair.

"Very few universities are below their 1990 levels. Harvard and Yale are at 150 percent to 160 percent of their 1990 emissions," said Speer, also interim coordinator of the Center for Science Education, which will house the university's Office of Sustainability. Speer expects a new report to be prepared for 2010 will show continued improvement.

The climate action plan proposes a number of additional energy conservation measures, including:

• Use of electric cars for short distance travel, ethanol fuel for university vehicles and encouraging the university's rental car company to offer more hybrid vehicles
• Provide financial incentives to students and employees for using bicycles
• Replacing private refrigerators with centrally located units
• Eliminating soft drink machines, switching to more energy conserving units, or requiring vendors to offset their consumption via alternative energy projects elsewhere on campus
• Expand the use of webinars as an alternative to traveling to seminars
• Closing little-utilized buildings in summer

A facilities master plan adopted in 2009 calls for the development of athletic facilities along the Wabash River just west of the current campus while preserving wetland and forested areas and creating additional green space on campus. The university is also working towards developing more downtown housing that will lower the urban footprint for campus housing.

The climate action plan sets a goal of no later than 2050 for achieving carbon neutrality, which can be accomplished either by a direct reduction in fossil fuel emissions or by carbon offset methods, such as the planting of trees.

Given the university's accomplishments of recent decades, Speer - among 39 ISU faculty members identified in the plan as conducting research in or teaching sustainability - believes the target date is achievable.
He plans to incorporate planning for an alternative energy project on campus into his Introduction to Environmental Science class this fall.

"We're going to be sampling the wind speed around campus to determine the best location for a windmill," Speer said.

Unlike the massive windmills found on the flat lands of north central Indiana and Illinois, Indiana State is considering a more compact design, Speer said.

"It would be an urban vertical windmill. In addition to the electrical production we would get out of it, it would be a great teaching tool because you can take the students right to it," he said.

Students' exposure to sustainability won't be limited to the classroom, Speer noted.

"The climate action plan also recommends an energy conservation competition between residence halls. This would use a visible meter for students can see the impact," he said.

"We're excited about the university's commitment to sustainability and the opportunity for students to be involved," said Steven Flowers, Student Government Association president. "There are many things we can do in addition to the competition. We can help inform students the little things they can do daily to conserve energy that will make a big difference and help the university meet its sustainability goal."

Indiana State University's climate action plan is online at

Photos: - A student rides a bicycle along a shady path on the Indiana State University campus in fall 2009. The planting of 4,000 trees on the campus since 1984 is among the university's environmental sustainability actions. (ISU/Kara Berchem) - Installation of additional bike racks to encourage pollution-free transportation is just one of many steps Indiana State University is taking to achieve environmental sustainability on its campus. (ISU/Gurinder Singh)

Contact: Jim Jensen, co-chair, President's Council on Sustainability, Indiana State University, 812-237-8194 or; Jim Speer, co-chair, President's Council on Sustainability, Indiana State University, 812-237-2257 or

Writer: Dave Taylor, media relations director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3743 or