A more sustainable U

The U is taking public comments on the first draft of a plan intended to transform the culture of the University and make sustainability a core value.

The University of Minnesota has released the first draft of a plan focused on changing the culture of the entire University system by integrating sustainability into all areas of University life. The University of Minnesota Sustainability Goals and Outcomes Committee, comprised of faculty, staff and students from all University campuses, began meeting in October 2008 to develop goals aimed at advancing sustainability efforts throughout the University system and making the University a leader in sustainability nationwide. The teamâÄôs initial report was released on April 14, and University officials have spent the last two weeks traveling around the state, presenting the plan at each campus. The committee is currently taking public comments on the report and will meet at the end of May to discuss the comments theyâÄôve gathered. They will work to edit the document over the summer and a final copy will be submitted to the Board of Regents in the fall. The Board of Regents established a Sustainability and Energy Efficiency policy in 2004, but the policy does not set specific goals or outcomes for the University to work toward, something the committeeâÄôs new report is intended to provide, Deborah Swackhamer, a University professor who co-chaired the committee , said. The overall goal of the committee is to create a comprehensive plan to incorporate environmental, economic and social sustainability concepts and initiatives into all facets of the University, including its curriculum, construction policies and research goals, she said. âÄúMost campuses are focusing on specific goals of reduction of energy 20 percent each year or inclusion of renewable energy,âÄù Swackhamer said. âÄúWhat we have in our plan which will be crucial to really making a difference is the focus on changing the whole culture of the University.âÄù What makes the UniversityâÄôs plan unique is its attempt to expand sustainability beyond the boundaries of campus and to engage the community in its initiatives, Holly Lahd , a student representative of the committee said. âÄúFrankly all campuses are trying to do sustainability right now,âÄù she said. âÄúBut to be that leader and stay above the pack, itâÄôs about looking at the sustainable footprint of the University that goes beyond our borders,âÄù Lahd said. âÄúIt goes where weâÄôre investing and who weâÄôre doing business with and how weâÄôre taking the lessons learned on campus and transplanting them across the stateâÄù The report is broken down into four categories, with goals and benchmarks identified for each.

Energy efficiency

When envisioning energy efficiency at the University, the report calls for the University to continue reducing its climate impact through the use of more renewable energy and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The report makes specific goals of a 5 percent reduction in energy output by the end of 2010 and achieving a top ten national ranking as a âÄúgreen campus.âÄù Jim Green, assistant director for energy management, admitted the goals may be âÄúaggressive,âÄù but said they are achievable as long as the University makes a commitment to work toward them. The University will work to develop an energy master plan, intended to provide a roadmap of how the University can coordinate the efforts of all the campuses to achieve its energy goals, Green said. âÄúItâÄôs to make sure the things weâÄôre doing on this campus are synergistic with things that are going on in Morris and Crookston and Duluth,âÄù Green said.

Research

Sustainability research should become part of the âÄúintellectual identityâÄù of the University, the report states. To reach this goal, the report calls for sustainability contributions to be incorporated into the criteria for faculty hiring and tenure decisions. It also calls for the creation of an online network, which will catalog sustainability research at the University and encourage collaboration across disciplines amongst researchers. The report also suggests starting an annual symposium for sustainable research to bring together leading scholars from across the country.

Education and outreach

Incorporating sustainability into all areas of the UniversityâÄôs curriculum is another one of the stated goals in the report. âÄúCertainly there are specific degrees and specific areas that are much more common to thinking about sustainability, but there are a lot of other areas on campus that could incorporate environmental stewardship or sustainability,âÄù said Leslie Bowman , director for University Dining Services Contract Administration. Many students donâÄôt realize the simple things they can do to help make campus more sustainable, she said, but awareness can be raised through incorporating small pieces into a wide variety of academic areas. For students more serious about sustainability, the report calls for the implementation of more courses, internships and service-learning programs with a focus on sustainability. By incorporating sustainability into education, Bowman said she thinks graduating students will be able to take what theyâÄôve learned into their careers and communities and impact sustainability in those areas. âÄúI think the practices you learn as a student and the ways you learn to protect and save the environment, many of them are going to stay with you for your lifetime,âÄù she said.

Operational improvements

Although much of the UniversityâÄôs current sustainability efforts have already focused on waste management, building construction and transportation, the report outlines new goals for the University to work toward in these areas. The report sets broad goals, encouraging things like more bike racks and paths on campus and an increase in food composting facilities. The goals were left broad to give campuses flexibility in reaching their goals, said Andy Phelan, assistant director for the department of environmental health and safety. âÄúThe goals themselves are oriented to all the campuses because various campuses might be at different stages of their evolution,âÄù he said.