About the Sustainability Division  

Iowa City is committed to being a leader in sustainable community development. The City of Iowa City Sustainability Coordinator, Brenda Nations, helps ensure that Iowa City's public services and planning efforts are rooted in sustainable principles.

Iowa City's 4-STAR Community Rating 

The City of Iowa City received a 4-STAR Community Rating for sustainability excellence by being formally certified in the STAR Community Rating System, or Sustainability Tools for Assessing and Rating Communities. The City’s approved final score is 484.8, which qualifies Iowa City as a Certified 4-STAR Community and the highest-scored city in the state. Iowa City is the fifth community in Iowa and 47th nationwide to achieve certification from STAR Communities, a nonprofit organization that certifies sustainable communities.

STAR is the nation’s leading framework and certification program for evaluating local sustainability, encompassing social, economic and environmental performance measures. STAR helps communities evaluate strengths and weaknesses.

Iowa City will continue to make improvements to its sustainability efforts with help and guidance from STAR Communities. 

Sustainable Iowa City Newsletter 


Stay up to date with sustainability news in Iowa City by subscribing to receive the Sustainable Iowa City Newsletter.

Visit, then enter your e-mail and check the sustainability box. 

Current Issue: April 2017

View past issues to learn about other sustainability projects happening in Iowa City. 





Sustainability Information & Initiatives 


Sustainability Report

The City of Iowa City is committed to improving quality of life through sustainability practices that promote social well-being, environmental health and economic stability. The City Council identified sustainability and inclusivity as overarching goals in its most recent strategic plan, and this report summarizes our 2015 sustainability highlights, as well as initiatives that will be undertaken in 2016.

Climate Projections

The City of Iowa City, in an effort to better prepare for the coming impacts of climate change, has been coordinating with climatologists to predict how we might be affected. This report shows the findings of the study. 

Greenhouse Gas Update

The City's Sustainability Office issues this report to update residents on the success of its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Community emissions have been tracked annually since 2008. The City Council has identified sustainability as an important goal in its most recent strategic plan, and is committed to improving our quality of life through sustainability practices.

Natural Areas of Iowa City

The City of Iowa City owns almost 1,000 acres of natural areas consisting of prairie, wetlands, forest and riparian areas.

The Natural Areas brochure is a reference guide with information and locations of areas. Our 2016 Natural Areas Report contains more information about the native plant communities owned and managed by the City of Iowa City.

Plant Guide - East Side Recycling Center

More than 60 native plant species, with names like Shooting Star, Prairie Sundrops, Side Oats Grama, Windflower, and Queen of the Prairie, are showcased in the gardens at the East Side Recycling Center (ESRC). These plants not only provide colorful blooms from April through October, but also help educate visitors about the role prairie plants play in controlling stormwater runoff. The ESRC, located at 2401 Scott Blvd. SE in Iowa City, incorporates several biocells, which were built to capture stormwater after a rain. Each biocell includes a variety of plants whose deep roots absorb the water, thereby helping to prevent flooding. This list of native plants includes information on the many plant varieties available for viewing at the ESRC, including their height, color, and bloom time. Stop by to enjoy the plants in bloom and purchase some of your favorite varieties for your own garden! 

Sustainability Assessment

This assessment identifies specific indicators that coordinate with the vision and broad set of goals set forth in IC2030, Iowa City’s most recent Comprehensive Plan and the City’s Strategic Plan. The indicators will act as a source of information for the next step of this process: the development of sustainability goals and targets.

Monthly Sustainability Spotlight: Tyler Baird 

Tyler Baird is a Senior Maintenance Worker and Horticultural Specialist with the Parks and Recreation Department 

What does sustainability mean to you? Tyler Baird

One formal definition of sustainability follows: the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level. This definition of sustainability is applicable in all facets of my position with the City. Sustainability has almost become a buzzword during my lifetime, and in a way it has lost some of its core meaning. Sustainability should be viewed in a context of maintainability. A project, program, or material can be labeled as sustainable at its outset, but to be truly sustainable it must also be maintained in a functional state and serve its intended purpose.

How is sustainability incorporated into your position?  

In my position sustainability is something I think about daily. I make decisions impacting sustainability by the hour if not more. Plant selection and landscape design are loaded with decisions in which I take sustainability into account. Landscape design also has a large impact on the maintainability of our City plantings. The era of spraying every weed and pest with one chemical or another is thankfully behind us, but this also comes with the need for increased forethought. We must consider how easy something will be to maintain when redesigning our city landscape and keeping the sustainable tools we have at our disposal in mind.

What actions have you taken to improve sustainability within your position? 

One of the first things I started working on when I began working for the City two years ago was creating a plant list. With all the new construction projects in their design phases I had requests from multiple design firms working on City projects for what they call a plant palette. I have continued to refine the list which includes tree, shrub, and perennial species that will promote the sustainability of our plantings throughout the city. We stress tree diversity at the genus level of plant classification in order to prevent future problems like those that Dutch Elm Disease and Emerald Ash Borer have caused in the past. Our hope is developers, homeowners, businesses, and others will follow our lead as they discover new species of trees that the City is beginning to incorporate into streetscapes and parks throughout the city.

At the shrub and perennial level we incorporate many plants, native and non-native, which grow well together and support pollinators throughout the city. New plantings have and will continue to use the ‘New Perennial Design’ Style. This style of planting will grace the front of City Hall this growing season and can be found in plantings installed last year in the Washington Street median, a planting in City Park, and in a few other planting areas downtown. The ‘New Perennial Design’ style uses perennials that grow in harmony and meld together to outcompete weeds that tend to grow between rows in traditional planting styles. The planting style also limits or eliminates the need for other inputs such as mulch, water, fertilizer, and pesticide. We are also fortunate to have citizens who donate perennials from time to time as they outgrow spaces in their yards. These donations along with transplants from established City planting areas help keep the perennial costs sustainable as well.

We have limited the use of annual flowers to highly visible areas downtown and in a few parks. Annuals are great colorful additions to any landscape but their short lifespan makes them less sustainable. However, we use a few plants like cannas and caladiums in our annual plantings we can dig up and store overwinter for use during subsequent growing seasons. As with perennials, we have limited our inputs of water and fertilizer in our annual plantings. Watering is limited to dry summer weather and fertilizer is mostly in the form of leaf mulch collected the previous autumn.

Lastly, we have increased our division wide efforts to get out into the public and educate on topics including sustainability. I have personally presented at the community, state, and Midwest level on various topics, all of which incorporated sustainability as a major theme.

In your opinion, what can be done to improve sustainability within our community?

Continued education of the public regarding the importance of plant diversity and appreciation of the natural world will be important for a sustainable future. I am always open to suggestions to incorporate sustainability into more areas of my position and welcome the sharing of ideas.          

Past Sustainability Spotlights

Connect with City of Iowa City Sustainability 

Follow the City of Iowa City on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram using #SustainableIC
Contact Sustainability Coordinator Brenda Nations, or 319-887-6161