Group to host environment talk

Institute on the Environment will have their first-ever round table discussion Monday.

Alex Robinson

Much like the way Captain Planet united the Planeteers to fight pollution, the Institute on the Environment unites people to tackle environmental issues, minus the green mullet and blue skin.

The institute focuses on four main themes: renewable energy, landscapes and watersheds, environmental health and adaptation to climate.

After establishing a group of 15 research fellows from nine different colleges, the institute officially began last January.

The institute is holding its first roundtable discussion at 11:45 a.m. Monday in the Cargill Building on the St. Paul campus. The discussion will mark the institute’s first solo event.

The discussion will look at what colleges can do to promote sustainability, which means meeting needs of the present without compromising future generations’ resources.

Deborah Swackhamer, interim director of the institute, said the University has been working toward sustainability for the past few years and the discussion will help.

“There are seminars constantly on campus, but we wanted to do something that would engage people in a discussion,” Swackhamer said.

Along with the monthly discussions, the institute is working on the state conservation plan.

The institute is making a plan to give to state policymakers, suggesting more environmentally friendly options by improving transportation policies, land and water use policies and energy policies.

It also plans on funding syntheses projects, Swackhamer said, which consist of research fellows compiling already-gathered information and then applying that information to environmental issues.

University soil, water and climate professor David Mulla, who is also a research fellow, said he’s interested in looking at landscape, agriculture and water quality projects with other scientists. He said the institute gives him an opportunity to work on complex topics that would be difficult for one person to cover.

Swackhamer said having research fellows from different backgrounds mirror the University’s efforts to cross academic boundaries.

“When the president talks about wanting an interdisciplinary focus, the Institute on the Environment is about as interdisciplinary as you can get,” she said.

Todd Reubold is the associate director of Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment, which is a major partner of the institute.

Reubold said while the institute is working mostly with professors, it’s important for students as well.

“The issue of campus sustainability is something that, whether students realize it or not, touches every one of them in their daily lives,” Reubold said.

Environmental science policy and management senior Erin Andrews is the president of the Minnesota Environmental Studies club and said a few of the club members plan to go to the roundtable discussion.

Andrews said the discussions help legitimize the University’s claims of sustainability.

“If they’re teaching environmental students how to be sustainable, then the University should probably be practicing what they’re preaching,” she said.