Lettuce grown in PVC tubes for Impact Competition
Monday, January 25, 2016
Katelyn Weisbrod

A competition involving sustainable innovation could bring lasting changes to the University of Iowa.

The Tippie College of Business is holding its first Frontier-Tippie Impact Competition during the current school year. Three teams of UI students, both from the business school and outside of it, are striving to make the greatest impact on campus with a sustainability project.

Over the course of the school year, the teams have implemented their ideas with a $500 allowance from the competition. In April, judges will determine which team made the greatest impact for a $1,000 prize.

“We as a college are working toward preparing students to solve complex challenges,” said Sara Maples, manager of Research Support and College Sustainability at Tippie. “People doing sustainability projects face a lot of challenges, but they get to work in the context of the UI and Iowa City, and it’s an incredible learning opportunity for them.”

The three teams are each in the midst of conducting their projects. One team is using a hydroponics system to grow 200 heads of lettuce in a 50-square-foot area.

Grant Gregory, a UI student who is a part of the lettuce team, said the system is efficient in space, results in no nutrient runoff, and uses no pesticides, making it a sustainable option for growing food locally.

“It’s basically a basin with a pump in it, and it recirculates water,” Gregory said. “So it’s a small film of water with nutrients running along the roots at all times so they’re not getting drowned. They grow faster than normal produce.”

Another team is working to bring consumer awareness about healthy and sustainable products in the UI convenience stores. The group is focusing on Pat’s Diner in the Pappajohn Business Building. Members will post signs indicating where the item came from, how much water went into making the item, and whether its packaging is recyclable.

“I realized from an economic standpoint, the college isn’t going to sell sustainable products if people don’t want them,” said UI student Cassandra Hansen, who is on the team. “So to increase demand, we need to increase customer awareness in order to make an impact.”

Hansen’s group will analyze sales at Pat’s Diner before and after posting the product’s information to find out if indeed information affects demand for the more sustainable items.

The third team is creating an educational video about the various sustainability programs and efforts on campus and why students should care about them. UI President Bruce Harreld will make an appearance in the video to show he’s on board with sustainability.

“We’re going to be featuring this video on a webpage hosted by the Office of Sustainability, and we’re also having a social-media campaign,” said UI student Sophia Finster, part of the video team. “We’d also like to incorporate it into On Iowa in the fall in an effort to have this campaign go beyond this competition.”

The three teams and their projects will be judged on April 23.