Friday, March 3, 2017

After serving for over eight years as Director of the UI’s Office of Sustainability, Liz Christiansen recently celebrated her retirement. Her work has been fully dedicated to sustainability issues in the state of Iowa. Her career spanned from being the Regional Solid Waste Planning Coordinator for East Central Iowa Council of Governments, to Recycling Education Coordinator at Bluestem Solid Waste Agency, to Grants Manager for Linn County, to administrator of Land Quality and Waste Management Assistant Division of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) and later deputy director of IDNR, as well as Project Manager at Honey Creek State Park Resort, before becoming the university’s first sustainability director. Urban and Regional Planning director, Chuck Connerly, spoke at her farewell reception, thanking her for her contributions to the university and moving it towards completing its green goals.  

“In many ways Iowa, like the US and the world, is at a crossroads in our relationship with our environment.  Perhaps more than any other state in the US, Iowa’s natural environment was radically changed with the destruction of the prairie which once covered four-fifths of the state.  Now, in the 21st century, we in Iowa face tremendous challenges as we realign our relationship to our natural environment and the planet.

It is important, therefore, that Iowa institutions, such as its universities, become leaders as environmental stewards.  Under Liz Christiansen’s direction with the UI Office of Sustainability, this has certainly been the case.  Under Liz’s leadership, for example, the University has aimed high in reducing its dependency on coal for powering our UI community.  Every day, when I drive to work, I go past one of the University’s Miscanthus fields, which not only provide renewable fuel for the University’s power plant, but serve as an important symbol to the state of Iowa of the direction we should be headed in reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.  Thanks to Liz, the University is on its way to meeting its green energy portfolio goals.

In my first year here, I was fortunate to meet Liz soon after she was hired.  That spring she and I and other faculty and staff journeyed to western Iowa on a Faculty Engagement Corps tour.  What I remember about that trip, especially in our visit to the Loess Hills, was Liz’s enthusiastic appreciation and knowledge of the Iowa environment and her ability to convey that to faculty and staff colleagues.  Since then, I have continued to appreciate her ability to take on a large, sprawling enterprise—the University of Iowa—and forcefully, but skillfully push it into new directions that set a fine example for the rest of Iowa, the Midwest, and the world.  We are certainly better off in Iowa for her service to the environment, not only at the University but in her work with DNR and regional planning agencies in East Central and Southeastern Iowa.”

Pictured left to right: Liz Christiansen, Todd Bagby (URP student), Chuck Connerly, Lucie Laurian (URP Associate Professor), and Akanksha Tiwari (URP student and Graduate Assistant to Office of Sustainability)