In 1987 the World Commission on Environment and Development, commonly known as the Brundtland Commission, issued a report titled, Our Common Future. The Commission presented a simple definition for the very complex goal of sustainable development: “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The idea of sustainability relates to a balance of social, economic and environmental considerations necessary to ensure this goal (see illustration). More than two decades later this notion of sustainability has reached the mainstream of public discourse and public action. Alarming evidence of global warming and the realities of global energy demand have created opportunities for higher education institutions to demonstrate leadership in this arena.
Addressing solutions to the issues surrounding climate change requires a tremendous amount of civic engagement. This engagement comes in many forms, from public discourse and local collective action, to local, regional, national and international policy decisions.
For colleges and universities, being at the center of the creation of an emerging “green economy” is significant. Campuses are major players in regional, state, and local economies. It is also important because higher education institutions are responsible for educating the next generation of leaders in government, business, and our communities. Here is just a small sample of some of that leadership being demonstrated on campuses and in communities across Minnesota.
The American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment is an effort to address global warming by garnering institutional commitments to neutralize greenhouse gas emissions, and to accelerate the research and educational efforts of higher education to equip society to re-stabilize the earth’s climate. Minnesota had 26 presidents listed as signatories to the Commitment as of September 2009.
Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education
AASHE’s mission is to empower higher education to lead the sustainability transformation. They do this by providing resources, professional development, and a network of support to enable institutions of higher education to model and advance sustainability in everything they do, from governance and operations to education and research. Approximately 20 Minnesota campuses are members.
The University of Minnesota is also one of only seven universities in the world to become a member of the Chicago Climate Exchange. The Chicago Climate Exchange is the world’s first and North America’s only legally binding rules-based greenhouse gas emissions allowance trading system. Members make a voluntary but legally binding commitment to meet annual greenhouse gas emission reduction targets.
Faculty in the U of M’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Sciences are working on interdisciplinary teams to conduct research on carbon dynamics, greenhouse gas emissions and ecosystem change on agricultural, forested, and urban landscapes. They also conduct research on policy approaches that exacerbate or resolve these local to global changes. The goal is to develop viable management practices that reduce net emissions from these landscapes and sequester carbon from the atmosphere.
A green roof is a roof that uses living plant material as part of a roofing system. Green Roof benefits include: reduced energy costs, improved air quality and reduced replacement costs. Multiple examples of green roofs can be seen at the University of Minnesota. Other campuses with green roof buildings include Carleton College, St. Catherine University and Macalester College.
TEAM Minnesota (Transcampus Energy Action Movement) is a network of student sustainability leaders at colleges and universities. The network supports campus groups in their sustainability projects, host events such as the Youth Forum on Global Warming and organizes coordinated youth efforts around central policy actions across the state, including the 2007 Renewable Energy Standard and opposition to the Bigstone 2 coal plant. TEAM Minnesota has partners in similar youth networks all across the country. One of the organization’s founders, Timothy DenHerder-Thomas, a Macalester College student, was honored by the Earth Island Institute as one of six national “young green heroes” for his efforts to combine sustainability with saving money.
Campus Climate Challenge is a project of more than 30 leading youth organizations throughout the U.S. and Canada. The Challenge leverages the power of young people to organize on college campuses and high schools across Canada and the U.S. to win 100% Clean Energy policies at their schools. Campus Climate Change groups on Minnesota campuses include: Earth Action from College of St. Scholastica, Campus Greens and echo from College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University, MacCARES from Macalester College, Green Team from University of St. Thomas and Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG) chapters from University of Minnesota Duluth, Augsburg College, University Minnesota Morris and University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.
At Macalester College, the Macalester Conservation and Renewable Energy Society (MacCARES) catalyzes global warming solutions through energy efficiency, smart design and renewable energy at Macalester and many other communities to which we belong. Focusing on student initiatives and practical implementation, we work to bring the way we live into alignment with the ideals we hold. In 2005–06, MacCARES students developed the Clean Energy Revolving Fund, an innovative financial structure that will facilitate future projects focused on sustainability which led Macalester to the installation of two green roofs—planted roofs that include such benefits as improved insulation, reduced water runoff rates, and a reduction of the urban heat island effect.
Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG) has chapters at nine colleges and universities around the state. They are supporting student mobilization to reduce campus greenhouse gas emissions.
Focus the Nation, a national global warming educational initiative, is coordinating teams of faculty, students and staff at over a thousand colleges and universities and high schools in the United States to participate in a nationwide, nonpartisan discussion on the theme of climate stabilization. A number of Minnesota campuses are involved with this effort.
A number of national higher education organizations including: Association of University Leaders for a Sustainable Future, Association of Higher Education Facilities Officers and Alliance for Sustainability through Higher Education are interested in renewable energy alternatives. This attention to sustainable energy is not simply the result of a general environmentalist orientation at colleges and universities. Rising oil and natural gas prices are forcing campuses to look at reliable energy options that can stabilize costs.
Campuses are demonstrating leadership by moving beyond theoretical discussions by actually shifting operational and physical infrastructure budgets to save money and energy. As relatively early adopters of emerging energy technologies, they are also making campuses teaching tools for understanding the benefits of renewable energy and other sustainable development practices. A growing number of campuses across the country are part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s, Green Power Partnership, a voluntary program that supports organizations interested in buying green power.
Campuses are obviously interested in the economics of renewable energy. Student interest is also very strong and is a driving force in committing colleges and universities to act. All of the campuses currently engaged in energy projects and other “green campus” initiatives cite student interest as a driving factor in affecting institutional change.
Campus Energy Wars – In February 2007, 14 Minnesota colleges, both private and public, competed to see who could cut energy use the most. In 2006, Carleton College underclassmen dorms reduced energy consumption by 16.3%. At Macalester College, the winning dorm cut energy usage by 27%. Students encouraged one another to alter their energy consumption habits by making simple changes in their daily lives.
A number of Minnesota campuses are engaged in alternative energy related activities. The University of Minnesota Morris, Carleton College, St. Olaf College and Macalester College all operate wind turbines to generate power on campus. The Morris turbine generates enough power for half of the school’s annual electrical use. The University has also constructed a biomass gasification demonstration and research facility. This plant will provide up to 80 percent of the campus heating and cooling needs.
Other energy related activity at Minnesota campuses includes, but is not limited to:
The University of Minnesota‘s internationally recognized Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment (IREE) promotes the development of bio-based and other renewable resources and processes.” Investing nearly $19M in over 110 research and demonstration projects, IREE’s successes include revolutionizing the production of bio-fuels and bio-products through the development of sustainable energy crops. They have conducted ground-breaking work showing how hydrogen can be produced from ethanol, solar energy, algae and other forms of renewable biomass.
Students at Augsburg College voted to add a $14.75 student fee per semester to help the college purchase wind-generated power for the campus.
The University of Minnesota Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships are a lead partner in the Clean Energy Resource Team (CERTs) project. CERTs teams have been formed in six regions in Greater Minnesota. The teams include people from communities, industry, utilities, colleges, universities and local governments. CERTs matches the teams with technical expertise to accelerate implementation of energy saving and renewable energy projects.
The Upper Midwest Association for Campus Sustainability (UMACS) is a new organization focusing on sustainability in higher education institutions throughout the region. Initiated at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University, UMACS serves as a networking tool, information resource, and conference organizer for faculty, physical plant professionals, campus administrators, students, and others seeking to place their campuses on a more sustainable footing.
The Presidents of Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, Winona State University and Minnesota State College-Southeast Technical recently announced support of regional economic development efforts including Winona County’s plans to develop alternative energy resources. The campuses have hosted Regional Energy Summits and the Community Winds “Renewable Energy Workshop for Educators.”
The Minnesota Center for Automotive Research is part of Minnesota State-Mankato’s College of Science, Engineering, and Technology. The center is engaged in groundbreaking research on plug-in hybrid automotive technologies.
Saint Mary’s University has purchased electric trucks for its maintenance department’s use. The university also hopes to replace its fleet passenger vans with the electric cars. The university also plans to purchase a machine that will convert its kitchen grease into bio-diesel fuel for its lawn mowers and other vehicles.
- University of Minnesota Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment
- University of Minnesota Renewable Energy Research & Demonstration Center
- Upper Midwest Association for Campus Sustainability
- CERTs – Alternative Energy Resources
- Minnesota Renewable Energy Society
- Northern Minnesota Renewable Energy Center
- Association of University Leaders for a Sustainable Future
- EPA Green Power Partnership
- American Council On Renewable Energy, Higher Education Committee
- Book – The Business Case for Renewable Energy: A Guide for Colleges and Universities by Andrea Putman and Michael Philips – Available from the National Association of College and University Business Officers
- Society for College and University Planning – Sustainability in Higher Education