University moves on sustainability goals

A recent report to the Board of Regents updated them on the University’s sustainability results from recent years.

Christopher Aadland

As climate change continues to shape conversations worldwide, the University of Minnesota is advancing its own plans to become more sustainable.

A presentation at a Board of Regents committee meeting last month updated school leaders on the University’s plan to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. The institution also plans to submit a report this spring that updates the school’s current emissions, said Shane Stennes, the University’s sustainability coordinator.

From 2008 to 2012, the University reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent, Stennes said. Eighty percent of the University’s carbon footprint comes from school buildings, he said.

But because of the school’s large size and the region’s climate, reducing greenhouse gas emissions can be a challenge, Stennes said.

“There’s a lot more greenhouse gas emissions to try [to] reduce because of the number of people and the number of things going on,” he said. “You have to heat buildings during the winter and keep people comfortable and warm, so that requires a lot of energy.”

The University joined the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment in 2008 because it closely aligned with board’s Sustainability and Energy Efficiency policy.

The University expects to save at least $11 million from 2011 to 2016 with its sustainable practices. It plans to save at least an additional $17 million through 2021, according to a report released in 2011.

Replacing single-paned windows, using more efficient lighting and updating building utilities are among the tactics listed in the report.

“We’re also reducing the cost of operating that building, and that’s a win-win,” Stennes said.

While the Twin Cities campus has its own plan to combat climate change, the Morris campus annually generates on average 60 percent of its electricity with renewable energy.

Increasing sustainability at the University and throughout the country can also positively impact students, said Beth Mercer-Taylor, sustainability education coordinator at the University, in part by creating more job opportunities.

“The business community, the government are already having to incorporate costs from climate change into their balance sheet,” Mercer-Taylor said.

Urban studies junior Dan Lubben, the environmental task force leader for the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, said there are many opportunities at a college or university to learn about sustainable practices.

“Showing the rest of the world how it can be done is important,” he said. “This affects all of our futures.”

While the University may be a small contributor to reducing emissions globally, Stennes said the University can have a big impact.

“We all need to pitch in and do emissions reductions to avoid significant effects from climate change,” he said.