‘Green’ is in – and always has been

We can all be proud that the University was green before it became fashionable and has set an example for others to follow.

Green is getting a large amount of press these days, and organizations everywhere are touting their green credentials. Achieving substantive results remains a major challenge, especially for large institutions and systems, and requires participation from students, staff and faculty alike.

But we can all be proud that the University was green before it became fashionable. Today, our work on sustainability is guided by regents policy and integral to our strategic plan. It impacts everything we do. For example:

We were among the first members of the Chicago Climate Exchange, and we remain the largest public research university to join. Members agreed to reduce emissions by 1 percent per year by 2006; we achieved a 38.6 percent reduction in that timeframe.

We operate an award-winning fleet of more than 100 flex-fuel, biofuel and hybrid powered vehicles. The University is one of the largest users of E85 in the state, uses B20 (a biodiesel blend) in its diesel vehicles, and has launched an E20 pilot program for its standard gasoline engines.

We were among the earliest campus recyclers. Today, our SMART recycling program recovers 90 percent of targeted recyclables, and each year, we reuse 600 kilograms of hazardous chemicals and compost 220 tons of organic waste.

We are also among the nation’s leaders in alternative energy research and usage: Countless scholars are engaged in discovering new sources of energy and rendering those sources scalable; meanwhile, the Southeast Steam Plant uses oat hulls as an alternative fuel source, and University of Minnesota-Morris initiatives in wind power and biomass gasification have the campus on track to be energy-independent in 2010.

Structures such as the Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment and the Institute on the Environment bring world-class scholars together to address these issues, and we have a leader in President Bob Bruininks, who, since his tenure as provost, has worked to advance environmental research as a historic strength of the University as well as a core responsibility. Our decisions are informed and deliberate, are focused on real-world problems and practical solutions, and address our own impact on the environment as well as that of society at large.

In recent weeks, Bruininks announced two new working groups to help advance our sustainability efforts. The first will include faculty, staff and student representatives charged with recommending University-wide goals and measures for achieving campus sustainability. In addition, our current Waste Abatement Committee will be reconstituted as a standing Sustainability Committee to provide ongoing coordination and assessment of our activities once goals and measures are established.

Bruininks also recently signed the Presidents Climate Commitment – a gesture that we hope will underscore this institution’s longstanding commitment to sustainability in everything we do. Some have characterized this action as a “good first step” – but we’ve long believed that doing the right thing is more important than pledging to do so. It is not the first or last step, but part of communicating an on-going effort.

We hope you’ll join us. Shut off your lights and let your computers sleep while you’re out. Take advantage of public transportation. Recycle your electronics and appliances at semester’s end. Use less, reuse more, and by all means, recycle. Because for green to be sustainable, it must be more than a statement.

Vice President of University Services Kathleen O’Brien oversees sustainability efforts across the University. Professor Deborah Swackhamer is currently interim director of the University’s Institute on the Environment. Together they will lead the new Sustainability Goals and Outcomes Committee.

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