Love of trees turns into sustainability initiative

"I've always been aware of sustainability issues, but I thought one person couldn't make a difference," said senior business administration: global marketing major Joshua Koppes.

UNI Hardwoods
More then 100 UNI student volunteers planted 6,500 trees in areas of Cedar Falls that were affected by the 2008 floods.

When Koppes first came to UNI in 2012, he struggled to balance his love of business with his desire to help the environment. So Koppes founded UNI Hardwoods, a student organization that promotes sustainability through a variety of initiatives. One of those initiatives is the group's annual tree planting project, which replaces trees that were damaged by the 2008 floods or that are infected by the emerald ash borer. Not only is this a great way to help the environment, it also gives UNIBusiness students a chance to apply their skills and learn about new business opportunities.

"We're trying to help UNIBusiness students become more aware of sustainability issues and how different business opportunities are available with those issues," said Koppes. "We're working with social media marketing and nonprofit management. We're trying to get students to focus on the big picture."

Students from any major and community members are encouraged to get involved. This year, 200 volunteers came together to plant 6,500 trees at the group's annual tree planting on Saturday, April 12. This is more than double the trees planted at the inaugural event last year, where 100 volunteers planted just 2,000 trees.

"It's kind of surreal to go from me just thinking about it to these accomplishments we've made," said Koppes.

These accomplishments are thanks to a number of students and organizations, including senior construction management major Riley Freilinger who introduced Koppes to Living Lands and Waters, the organization that donated trees to the project. According to Koppes, it is these personal connections that have helped the group grow so quickly.

"I think we're hitting to the heart of people," he said. "Once you get to the heart, then the options are endless."

UNI Hardwoods has a number of other projects and events in the works. The Impact Hardwoods Mission addresses clean air and climate change by providing bikes to children who can't afford them and encouraging the use of alternative methods of transportation. The Save a Tree Program helps elementary and high school students get involved with sustainability initiatives. Additionally, the group plans to host a Make a Difference (MAD) 5K and a "Save the Air, Ride a Bike" bicycle tour next year.

"Our main goal is helping younger generations be more sustainable," said Koppes. "We're reminding those kids that one person can make a difference."

For more information about UNI Hardwoods, visit

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Tree planting in Cedar Falls
Tree planting in Cedar Falls
UNI students gather in Cedar Falls to plant 6,500 trees in areas that were affected by the 2008 floods.
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Cedar Falls mayor Jon Crews joined UNI student volunteers to plant trees on April 12.
Tree planting in Cedar Falls
Tree planting in Cedar Falls