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University Offers Credit for 'Sustainable' Lifestyle

Can a lifestyle double as college credit, even a certificate?

The University of Iowa is offering a certificate in sustainability this fall, and one person has signed up so far.

But recent UI graduate Eric Holthaus has dedicated his job, apartment, and habits to being environmentally friendly.

"The idea is being aware and learning a formalized way to show a lifestyle," said Holthaus.

He is an intern in the UI Office of Sustainability, created last December as an effort to bring green to a solidly black-and-gold campus.

On July 10, Holthaus manned a table at the information fair at freshman Orientation.

Approximately 40 students signed up, expressing interest in the new certificate. Only one person enrolled, but Holthaus said the program is valuable to students in all majors.

He passed out fliers to educate incoming students about the certificate at the table. The fliers -- double-sided on quarter-sized pieces of paper -- show ways students can make their dorm rooms more green, student organizations that are environmentally friendly, and ways they can find used clothes or furniture.

Holthaus said the hardest part of changing his lifestyle was breaking old practices.

"I never grew up with any of these habits," he said. "You just kind of learn them on your own."

He started close to home. At home, in fact, he filled his Dubuque Street apartment with energy-saving features.

On Monday, the afternoon sun provided the room's only illumination as the fluorescent bulbs -- which use 75 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs -- were all turned off.

The cool breeze flew through the open windows past the silent air conditioner and his Energy Star-approved TV.

And Holthaus has proof that his apartment is more environmentally friendly. From his building's basement, he is able to keep track of his unit's energy use in each billing period and compare it with others.

The meter for Holthaus registered at 1,426 kilowatt-hours so far on July 13. Other rooms clocked in as high as 7,844.

But a sustainable lifestyle isn't without difficulties. Holthaus said he has found it impossible to completely eliminate any one item from his life. Plastic is one example.

"Plastic is so everywhere," Holthaus said, "It can be taxing on your mental sanity."

For college students, adhering to a particular lifestyle can get complicated with a roommate. There were times when Holthaus asked his former roommate to turn off a light not in use, but the man didn't bother, Holthaus said.

Still, living green offers one major incentive. One of the biggest advantages to the lifestyle is the money he saves, he said.

"Buying things in bulk is always cost savings, me not driving my car is cost savings," he said.

While anybody could live a green lifestyle, he said, the university's new certificate aims to put more focus on sustainability on a larger scale.

"Every time I go out, I get questions about it," said Liz Christiansen, who became director of the Office of Sustainability in December 2008. "What we found at the table is the parents are really interested."

UI Registrar Larry Lockwood said he expects the program's single participant to have classmates in the sustainability certificate soon; the enrollment numbers could increase because students can register for the program online.