IOWA CITY, Iowa — Delia Moon Meier, an executive of an Iowa company that runs “the world’s largest truck stop,” wants to make patrons driving electric vehicles feel just as comfortable as long-haul truckers filling their rigs with diesel fuel.
That’s why her company has invested in electric vehicle charging stations, explained Meier, executive vice president of Iowa 80 Group, which operates the Iowa 80 Truckstop in Walcott, 14 miles west of Davenport.
The company invested in solar energy, efficient lighting and fast chargers for electric vehicles in response to the evolving needs of customers, Meier said, outlining her company’s environmentally sustainable business practices during a panel discussion Aug. 24 at St. Patrick Church in Iowa City, in the Diocese of Davenport.
She recalled how a conversation during a family holiday gathering among relatives in their 20s got her attention. The topic: the fuel economy of their cars.
“They are my customers and they are my future customers,” she thought.
From that point, the company adjusted its focus, investing in measures to reduce energy consumption at all its truck stops. Neon lights — which people jokingly said could be seen from outer space — were converted to LED bulbs.
Installation of solar energy panels and the fast chargers required Meier’s personal energy. She worked extensively with Bob Rafferty, a leader with Iowa Business for Clean Energy and the company’s lobbyist at the state capital in Des Moines, to ensure fair treatment for the investments in legislation.
The company tackled the work because it made economic sense, Meier told the business leaders in attendance. Other panelists included a Franciscan sister and a wholesale distributor of sustainable products and systems.
Pope Francis’s 2015 encyclical, “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home,” inspired the event. Program organizers included Rafferty and Rob Szalay, also of Iowa Business for Clean Energy, and Lonnie Ellis, executive director of In Solidarity, a nonprofit communications firm.
Bishop Thomas R. Zinkula of Davenport, who hosted the panel, noted that St. Patrick Parish, which relocated after a tornado destroyed its original church building, constructed a new church as a LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) building.
“In that vein, St. Patrick Parish has a creation care ministry that has implemented eco-friendly projects, such as recycling, the creation of a community garden and the study of resources on the topic of the environment,” the bishop said.
He reflected on witnessing environmental stewardship growing up on a farm near Mount Vernon, Iowa, where his father and uncle farmed together.
“They viewed themselves as caretakers or stewards of the land more so than owners of it,” he said, adding that in recognition of their efforts, they received an Iowa soil conservation award one year.
He said they were ahead of their time with things like contour planting, constructing waterways and dams to save the soil and minimum till — and eventually no till — planting.
“The Bible says that we are mere tenants. So what is the rent? What is the cost we pay as tenants?” the bishop asked.
“God wants us to enjoy and live comfortably on his abundant earth, but he also has an expectation that we pay it forward to the next generation. God wants us to care for and share the bountiful resources that are entrusted to us with our children and grandchildren,” he said.
Zinkula also boosted Pope Francis’ seven-year initiative, called the Laudato Si Action Platform, a church-wide undertaking designed to carry out grassroots efforts to create a more inclusive, fraternal, peaceful and sustainable world.
Panelist Franciscan Sister Jan Cebula, president of the Sisters of St. Francis of Clinton, Iowa, said people need to see the beauty of creation.
“Just go out and be in it. Open ourselves to the mystery and realize of course, it is a manifestation of God. God’s outpouring of love,” she said.
Humans are a part of creation, not apart from it, she continued.
She encouraged awareness of the impact of the ecological crisis on marginalized people, urging individuals and business leaders to ask if their actions are harming or healing Earth.
“I think we all know we have this moral obligation toward our sister and brother,” Cebula said. “To prevent suffering, to relieve it, to reduce it.”
Watching customers discard unused paper napkins at two restaurants he operated with his brother motivated panelist Kaveh Mostafavi to establish a wholesale distribution firm focused on sustainable products and systems.
Later, he founded EcoCare Supply in Coralville, near Iowa City, which provides durable, compostable food ware and other eco-friendly products.
Mostafavi explained that his company would have replaced the Styrofoam plates the gathering used for lunch with fiber-based plates.
He also encouraged a change of behavior to help reduce food waste. “When people ask me, ‘How can I most effectively and directly have a lesser impact?’ I tell people, waste less food. I think that goes for all religions.”
His big-picture idea is finding a way to convert raw, industrial hemp for use in creating fiber-based, compostable products in Iowa. Until the science to achieve that goal catches up, EcoCare must rely on overseas manufacturers for its products.
Arland-Fye is editor of The Catholic Messenger, newspaper of the Diocese of Davenport.