Luther College Chips

Luther listed as “Cool School”

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Luther listed as “Cool School”

President Carlson speaks at the dedication of the solar panel fields April 2016.

President Carlson speaks at the dedication of the solar panel fields April 2016.

Will Heller (‘16) | Photo Bureau

President Carlson speaks at the dedication of the solar panel fields April 2016.

Will Heller (‘16) | Photo Bureau

Will Heller (‘16) | Photo Bureau

President Carlson speaks at the dedication of the solar panel fields April 2016.

Martin Donovan, Staff Writer

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Sierra Magazine ranked Luther College 116 on their “Cool Schools” list for sustainable college campuses. In the U.S., Luther also ranked the highest among private colleges in Iowa and was one of the few Evangelical Lutheran Church of America schools on the list.

Sierra Club collaborated with the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) to compile data from over 200 schools in order to create their ranking system. According to their website, Sierra Club gathered data from a program developed by AASHE called the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System (STARS), which acted as the foundation for understanding sustainability on college campuses.

Sierra Magazine uses STARS to create their ranking by pulling data from 61 questions that they viewed as relevant for their list. Schools received points for their STARS rating based on a broad spectrum of criteria such as renewable energy sources, transportation, and decreasing the use of fossil fuel.

Assistant Director for the Center for Sustainable Communities Maren Beard views the Cool Schools ranking as way to advance Luther’s sustainability efforts. She also thinks it serves as a valuable comparison with other schools.

“I think there is a healthy competition with schools in higher education because we all want to be doing really well,” Beard said. “It’s a cool platform to compare each other and to also compare ourselves from previous years.”
According to Assistant Director for the Center for Sustainable Communities Emily Neal, the Cool Schools ranking is a positive reflection of Luther’s efforts.

“It’s a great celebration of what we are doing well,” Neal said. “I think it’s an honor and I think Luther is a leader in sustainability work. We are a leader in innovation and in ways in which we embed and integrate sustainability into all aspects of the college.”

Projects such as the installation of the wind turbine and investments in solar panels have contributed to Luther’s sustainability efforts by decreasing the school’s carbon emissions. However, the Center for Sustainable Communities is still looking to further their environmental work by continuing to decrease Luther’s greenhouse gas emissions.

“We just had a big study done on our heating ventilation and cooling systems to see what we could do over the next 10 to 15 years because natural gas and heating are really big parts of our carbon footprint,” Beard said. “We have already reduced our carbon footprint by 53 percent from its peak in 2003 and 2004, and our goal is to get to 70 percent reduction by 2020 and carbon neutrality by 2030.”

Sierra Magazine’s Cool Schools ranking does not only take quantifiable data into account, but also looks at colleges’ investments in academic courses that pertain to sustainability.

“We are doing really well with regards to the curriculum. A high percentage of our courses relate to sustainability,” Beard said. “81 percent of all academic departments [at Luther] do research that relates to sustainability.”

While faculty and staff have contributed to Luther’s sustainability efforts, Beard attributed much of Luther’s progress to students’ ideas and actions.

“Most initiatives that you have seen or heard stemmed from student ideas,” Beard said. “The sustainability house is a student proposal. Edible landscapes were built because students wanted them. Baker Village is geothermal because students really pushed hard.”

According to Beard, Luther’s Cool Schools ranking could have been higher. However, Luther’s STARS assessment did not include innovation, which resulted in Luther receiving 0 out of 40 points in that category.

“I realized that there is one category called innovation and we had four innovation items we could have added to our STARS report, but I didn’t do it because I thought they would be duplicates,” Beard said. “I think we could have been higher in the ranking if we had done that.”

Professor of Religion and Chair for the Energy and Climate Program for the Center for Sustainable Communities Jim Martin-Schramm says that the center’s work goes beyond environmentalism.

“When most people think of the Center for Sustainable Communities they’re just thinking about it through an environmental lens,” Martin-Schramm said. “The center is looking at it through the lens of social justice, economic prosperity, and environmental integrity.”

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