Tippie College initiatives make the business case for sustainability
Monday, December 14, 2015

A new sustainability initiative from the Henry B. Tippie College of Business will help UI students grow lettuce with no soil during the winter, develop sustainability educational projects, and eat more environmentally friendly food.

The projects are part of the Tippie College’s Frontier-Tippie Impact Competition, co-sponsored by Frontier Co-op of Norway, Iowa. The 2015 competition provides up to $500 startup money to three teams to research and implement sustainability programs on campus, with the most effective project winning $1,000 at the end of the spring semester.

The contest is part of a broader initiative within the college that offers extracurricular programs and activities to educate students about sustainability issues. For instance, the student organization Net Impact brings awareness of the power of business to create a more sustainable world, and the college’s student-staffed business consulting organizations, like the Marketing Institute and Tippie Business Solutions Center, often work with clients on sustainability issues.

The college hosts corporate executives who discuss their firms' sustainability efforts, including vice presidents from Anheuser-Busch and Patagonia, as well as also Tony Bedard, CEO of Frontier Co-op.

But the initiative goes beyond that and puts sustainability into an increasingly prominent place in classroom syllabi. Dave Collins is a member of the marketing faculty who offered the college’s first undergraduate sustainability class—"Sustainability and Marketing"—five years ago.

“I’m an outdoors guy and I looked at what we were doing to the planet and how we were teaching people to make and buy stuff that has a negative environmental impact,” says Collins. The class, which he still teaches, focuses on issues like water, food, and waste; looks at how some companies are proactive on sustainability issues and others reactive; and tracks how sustainability is changing business practices because customers and investors expect it.

“The students embrace it and are thirsty for it because they understand they’re going to work in a very different business world than their parents work in, and they want to make a difference,” he says.

Sara Maples, who oversees Tippie’s sustainability initiatives, says the college is now taking a systematic look at how sustainability is addressed in the curriculum. The college has added several additional courses that integrate sustainability, and Maples says Tippie is looking to add more while the Tippie Sustainability Committee is working to provide further educational opportunities.

“There’s a growing awareness that sustainability issues impact every single discipline in the college,” says Maples. For instance, the management sciences department studies transportation and supply chains, and energy issues are vital to that research. The accounting department brought in a speaker this fall to discuss sustainability reporting with students and the role of accounting.

The Frontier-Tippie Impact competition encourages students to research local sustainability issues, develop creative ways to address them, and gain experience implementing their ideas with other team members, Maples says. One team’s project will experimentally grow hydroponic lettuce in a greenhouse in the UI’s Biology Building East to see if such a growing method can be used to help alleviate food insecurity on campus or in the region.

Another team will develop and produce a video and web-based campaign to educate students about resources on campus that support a sustainable lifestyle.

The third team will develop an evaluation system for food sold at UI food service locations that will include information such as nutritional content, the recyclability of the package, and how much fuel is required to transport the food to Iowa City. The evaluation tool will be piloted at Pat’s Diner in the Pappajohn Business Building with the hope of increasing the consumption of sustainable food products.

The teams will implement their projects in the coming months, and the effectiveness of each will be measured in April 2016. The team that has the most effective project will receive $1,000.