IUPUI, Butler University join forces for chance to win $50,000 sustainability prize

By Rich Schneider, IU Communication Specialist

Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis’ sustainability director and Butler University’s sustainability coordinator will stand shoulder-to-shoulder Oct. 10 at a conference in Baltimore, where they will make a high-stakes three-minute pitch for a food-composting proposal they hope will bring the two campuses $50,000.

The proposal would create a collaborative large-scale composting collection program between the two Indianapolis universities as a means to catalyze a citywide composting program.

The IUPUI-and-Butler proposal is one of 226 that were submitted to Kimberly-Clark Professional’s “Sustainable Campus Competition LIVE” grant competition for colleges and universities. The joint proposal was selected as one of three finalists for the $50,000 grant the company will award to the winner.

Oberlin College and the University of Washington are the other two finalists in the competition.

The winning proposal will be announced live at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education conference. The announcement by a panel of judges will come after the three finalists present their ideas to 3,000 people in attendance at the conference

Proposals had to fit into at least one of five categories: energy reduction, waste reduction, food-waste reduction, water usage and climate change. The IUPUI-and-Butler proposal fits three categories: waste reduction, food-waste reduction and climate change.

When the competition was announced in July, AASHE Executive Director Meghan Fay Zahniser said: “We are proud to support this competition and the opportunity it provides higher education institutions that are eager to advance sustainability goals. A prize of $50,000 has the potential to make a long-standing impact toward the advancement of sustainability for one lucky college or university.”

Jessica Davis, director of the IUPUI Office of Sustainability, and McKenzie Beverage, sustainability coordinator with Butler University, couldn’t agree more.

Beverage and Davis not only view the $50,000 award as the means that will enable the two campuses to grow their food composting programs, but it will allow businesses and other organizations in Indianapolis to do the same.

The two sustainability experts not only view the $50,000 award as the means that will enable the two campuses to grow their food-composting programs, but as a way to allow businesses and other organizations in Indianapolis to do the same.

The uniqueness of their proposal lies in its collaborative nature and its ability to influence local and statewide policy. “We know of no other universities that have partnered to develop a compost hauling route to service both campus and community by creating demand for a service that does not yet exist,” Davis and Beverage said.

Butler piloted a composting program in 2015, composting 800 pounds of pre-consumer food waste weekly. IUPUI launched a dining-hall composting program this semester.

Both programs collect back-of-the-house food waste that comes from preparing food. And both programs are stuck, in terms of not being able to collect greater amounts of food waste or expand composting efforts to include leftover food from campus events or in dining halls.

The problem: There is no large-scale commercial compost hauling service in Indianapolis that could increase the amount of food waste collected at the campuses beyond the 800 pounds at week and do so at an affordable price. No business exists in that market, Davis said.

“Other organizations are stuck at the minimum level as well, and the rest of the food waste is going into trash,” Davis said. “It’s a problem for us and a problem for Indianapolis.”

That problem was recognized by the Indiana Food Scrap Initiative, formed in 2015 to address barriers to food-waste rescue and reuse in Indianapolis. The organization, which includes Butler University, IUPUI, industry stakeholders, government representatives and other organizations, identified the creation of shared composting collection routes as a high-priority opportunity.

“When the Butler and IUPUI sustainability offices saw this grant, we saw a great opportunity to solve a problem that not only IUPUI has, and Butler University has, but that is a citywide problem,” Davis said. “We decided to co-apply for the grant and use the funds to essentially subsidize the cost of a commercial hauling route until we can get enough partners on board to drive the costs down to the point where it is reasonable.”

“Hopefully, we will be coming back with a $50,000 check,” Davis said. “That’s when the real work begins.”

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