Category Archives: Frontiers

6 things we learned about connecting kids with natureFrontiers in the Environment Children November 12

Why should we help children connect to the natural world? And how can we best do so? Cathy Jordan, University of Minnesota Extension specialist and associate professor of pediatrics in the Medical School and Sarah Milligan-Toffler, executive director of the Children and Nature Network, shared their thoughts on the subject at this week’s Frontiers in the Environment talk. Here are six things we learned:

Screen time is full time. Studies suggest that children spend up to 60 hours per week indoors. This mirrors the growing trend of being disconnected from natural world. As technological devices become more prevalent and children are becoming increasingly overscheduled, we’ve reduced the amount of time they’re spending outside. Continue reading

7 things we learned about the ag transformationFrontiers in the Environment Agriculture November 5

What’s happening to agriculture, and how can we make the most of it? That Big Question took center stage at this week’s Frontiers in the Environment presentation by  IonE resident fellow Nick Jordan, a professor in the College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences, and Carissa Schively Slotterback, an associate professor in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Here are seven important things we learned:

1. Agriculture is in a period of transition. Agriculture has traditionally relied heavily on only a few crops, but now it’s undergoing a shift to growing a greater variety of crops for more purposes, including bioproducts and biofuels. Sustainable intensification — expanding the potential of farmland production while reducing negative effects on the environment — may be a good way to take advantage of this opportunity.

2. Continuous living cover is the first step. Continuous living cover involves the use of winter crops or coverings so large fields don’t remain barren during winter. Options include cover crops, green manures, agroforestry and polycultures. These crops can produce multiple benefits, such as being turned into biofuels.

3. Remember the economy. Continuous living cover may sound great, but unless it’s economically competitive it will not succeed. Luckily, new technologies have allowed for an expansion of bioeconomy into new foods, animal feeds and biofuels, and have boosted potential for local markets.

4. Expect new technology. New advances will be necessary to optimize sustainable intensification and utilize its products. Some are already well on their way to development, including the AFEX method (a biomass treatment process developed at Michigan State University) and advances in genome editing. Technology also has played a crucial role through geodesign technologies.

5. We’re already on our way. Through a series of workshops over the course of several months, researchers taught residents of the Seven Mile Creek watershed in south-central Minnesota about sustainable intensification and provided them with tools to apply this knowledge through geodesign. The results were positive.

6. Success involves collaboration. Collaboration played a key role in the workshop process and will be crucial in broader applications of the agricultural transformation. Successful implementation of sustainable intensification will require participation from all relevant stakeholders, including community members, governments, conservation groups and the agricultural industry.

7. Win + win + win + win. These concepts are especially exciting because they can benefit people across the board. Not only can they increase the productive capacity of agriculture and save money, they also have the potential to reduce environmental wrongs while utilizing local knowledge.

Like to learn more? Watch a video of the presentation here.

8 things we learned about a clean water futureOctober 22 Frontiers in the Environment - Minnesota Clean Water

What would a clean water future look like for Minnesota? Bonnie Keeler, lead scientist for the Natural Capital Project at the University of Minnesota; Minnesota Pollution Control Agency commissioner John Linc Stein; and Deborah Swackhamer, a professor in the Humphrey School and School of Public Health, explored answers to that Big Question at last week’s Frontiers in the Environment event. Here are eight things we learned: Continue reading

6 things we learned about valuing natureOctober 15 Frontiers in the Environment - Wetlands

Should we put a price tag on nature? IonE resident fellow Steve Polasky, Regent’s Professor of Applied Economics, Ecology, Evolution, & Behavior, and Fesler-Lampert Chair in Ecological/Environmental Economics at the University of Minnesota, explored that Big Question at this week’s Frontiers in the Environment event. Following the talk, attendees participated in a lively Q&A session. Here are six things we learned: Continue reading

5 things we learned about urban developmentUrban Innovations

Frontiers in the Environment sat down with Patrick Hamilton, IonE resident fellow and director of the Science Museum of Minnesota’s Global Change Initiative, Wednesday for a lively panel discussion on urban development featuring Anne Hunt, the environmental policy director for the City of Saint Paul; Peter Frosch, director of strategic partnerships for Greater MSP; and Mike Greco, program director for the Resilient Communities Project at the University of Minnesota. Here are the five key things we learned: Continue reading

Ten things we learned about the energy transitionclean energy transition

This week’s Frontiers in the Environment was presented David Letterman–style by Energy Transition Lab executive director Ellen Anderson and Energy Transition Lab faculty director Hari Osofsky, who is also an IonE resident fellow and Law School professor. The pair explored the “Top 10″ key areas of energy transition and the Energy Transition Lab’s role in them. Continue reading

Big questions: Frontiers’ fresh lookbig questions

This fall, the Institute on the Environment is refreshing our popular Frontiers in the Environment series. We’ll ask some Big Questions and host solutions-focused conversations about the next wave of research and discovery.

Each week, we’ll ask a pressing question such as, “Can we build a more resilient food distribution system?” Researchers and other experts from IonE and the greater University and Twin Cities’ communities will dive into the topic, sharing cutting-edge insights to move us closer to the answer. Continue reading

Summertime viewing to enlighten and inspireearth_east_nasa

Keep your brain limber this summer by learning about cutting-edge solutions to the planet’s environmental grand challenges. During your down time, we invite you to watch video recordings of the Institute on the Environment’s Frontiers in the Environment series, a forum for experts from the University of Minnesota and other institutions to informally share their work on a wide-range of cutting-edge issues, wrapped up with a lively Q&A.

Browse the archives or choose from this list of nine, hand picked from nearly 40 talks. They are sure to enlighten and inspire! Continue reading

Frontiers: Understanding urban eutrophicationUrban runoff

When you think about the primary sources of water pollution, you probably imagine a factory pipe or perhaps massive livestock farms. But would you believe that your quiet neighborhood could be degrading water quality locally and downstream?

Portrait: Sarah HobbieThat was the topic of the season finale of Institute on the Environment’s Frontiers in the Environment lecture series on Wednesday, May 7, on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus.

In “A Watershed Approach to Understanding Urban Eutrophication,” Sarah Hobbie, an IonE resident fellow and professor of ecology, evolution and behavior in the College of Biological Sciences, discussed how nutrients from lawns, pets and boulevard trees contribute to excessive algal growth in urban water bodies.

Continue reading

Frontiers: Adventures in carbon reductionElectricity transmission lines

Environmentalists in the United States have long pushed for reductions in carbon emissions. Now, it seems the era of carbon regulation may be upon us.

Portrait: J. Drake HamiltonBut implementing these complex regulations is complicated and takes place at both the federal and state levels. This was the topic of Fresh Energy science policy director J. Drake Hamilton’s Frontiers in the Environment lecture last Wednesday, April 30 on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus.

In “Adventures on the Frontiers of Carbon Reduction,” Hamilton emphasized the need to educate the public on new and existing policies impacting carbon emissions for broader public involvement.

Continue reading

Frontiers: Sustainability & corporate social responsibilityScandinvian Flags

When you think about Scandinavia, you probably think of its cold climate, warm people and high quality of life. But you may want to add “sustainable business model” to that list.

Portrait: Robert StrandRobert Strand, assistant professor of leadership and sustainability at the Copenhagen Business School and director of the Nordic Network for Sustainability, delivered his Frontiers in the Environment lecture about the Scandinavian approach to sustainability in the private sector on April 23 on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus.

In “Scandinavia: Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility,” Strand discussed why large corporations are earning a bad reputation among members of the general public.

Continue reading

Frontiers: Global capital & disease hot spotsPigs

Our world is more connected than ever. It’s now easy to live in the United States, buy airfare to Europe, send money to Africa and eat food from Asia. And while this global connectivity comes with a slew of benefits, it also opens the door to the spread of disease and potential for worldwide epidemics.

Portrait: Robert WallaceRobert Wallace, visiting scholar with the Institute for Global Studies, discussed the need to rethink how we define “disease hot spots” from locations where outbreaks originate to global centers of capital that drive disease-causing practices in his Frontiers in the Environment lecture on April 16.

In his talk “Global Capital and Disease Hot Spots,” Wallace presented the concept of One Health, a new public health approach focusing on the transmission of diseases from animals to humans.

Continue reading

Frontiers: Yellowstone: More valuable than goldYellowstone

Mining near sensitive ecosystems is one of the hottest natural resource debates, pitting economic and environmental values against each other. As the controversy surrounding mining in Minnesota continues, opponents may want to take a few notes from one of the nation’s largest, successful anti-mining campaigns to date.

Portrait: Mike ClarkMike Clark, former executive director of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, shared his experience fighting the New World mining project outside the nation’s largest national park in the 1980s and 1990s in his Frontiers in the Environment lecture Wednesday, April 9 on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus.

In “Yellowstone: More Valuable Than Gold,” Clark discussed what makes the park and surrounding landscape so valuable and why that usually leads to conflict.

Continue reading

Frontiers: Developing graduate world changersBoreas leadership

We’ve all heard about the many challenges the world faces. How do we develop the people to make solutions happen? The Institute on the Environment’s Boreas Leadership Program works with students across the University of Minnesota to help them develop the skills, networks and ways of working to change the world. You’ll get a full report of what Boreas has been up to and hear more about the opportunities and challenges of developing world changers in graduate education.

Portrait: Kate KnuthIn a world with a growing population, limited resources and a changing climate to boot, it’s natural to ask, “Where are the leaders who are going to solve these problems?”

Well, a lot of them are in graduate school where they’re preparing to take on some of the world’s greatest challenges. So, are they getting the skills they need?

Kate Knuth, director of the Institute on the Environment’s Boreas Leadership Program, discussed how the program is helping students build on their graduate school experience in her Frontiers in the Environment lecture “Developing World Changers in Graduate Education” on April 2 on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus.

Continue reading

Frontiers: Methane: Black hat or white hat in the green economy?Northwestern North Dakota lit by natural gas flares

Satellite imagery of the Upper Midwest at night shows a massive cluster of light in western North Dakota, easily dwarfing the metropolitan areas of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Milwaukee or even Chicago.

The source of this apparent high plains metropolis isn’t a city at all, but rather the Bakken shale oil field, where producers are flaring as much as 266,000 million cubic feet of natural gas each day.

Portrait: Doug CameronThis abundance of natural gas — mostly composed of methane — was the topic of First Green Partners co-president Doug Cameron’s Frontiers in the Environment lecture last Wednesday, Mar. 26 on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus.

In “Methane: Black Hat or White Hat in the Green Economy,” Cameron discussed the pros and cons of the abundant fuel source and why environmentalists shouldn’t be so quick to discount methane as a “quick fix.”

Continue reading

Frontiers: North of SixtyNorth of Sixty

Trekking across Great Slave Lake in Canada’s Northwest Territories, Aaron Doering’s dogsled of supplies crashed through the ice. Most would see a disaster; Doering saw an opportunity to educate millions around the world.

Portrait: Aaron DoeringDoering, an Institute on the Environment resident fellow, associate professor in the College of Education and Human Development, and director of the Learning Technologies Media Lab, discussed online distance and adventure learning in his Frontiers in the Environment lecture – “North of Sixty: Narratives of a Changing World” earlier this month.

Continue reading

Frontiers: Global green supply chainsgrocery aisle

Traditionally, corporate sustainability efforts have focused on reducing and preventing direct impacts of waste or emissions. However, the majority of climate, water and pollution impacts are the result of complex supply chains strung together to deliver value-added products and services. You may see processed food and meat on supermarket shelves; what you don’t see are the environmental impacts of corn and fertilizer that go into those products. Nearly 95% of CO2 emissions produced by your favorite clothing lines are from purchased power, chemicals, textiles and transportation used before they reach the store. Voting ‘green’ with your pocketbook often means influencing your supplier’s supplier to do the same. Identifying where in product supply chains to exert influence requires unprecedented coordination and collective action. Join us for a look into ongoing supply chain sustainability initiatives coordinated by large NGOs and corporate consortia, and informed by UMN-led research.

Portrait: Tim SmithTimothy M. Smith, IonE resident fellow; director, NorthStar Initiative for Sustainable Enterprise; and associate professor, bioproducts and biosystems engineering

View recording

Frontiers: Water stewardship & industryWater droplets

Water is essential to a healthy life and a healthy business. So as the world’s water resources are becoming more scarce, the private sector is paying attention.

Portrait: Raj RajanRaj Rajan, global sustainability technical leader and research, development and engineering vice president at Ecolab, Inc., discussed how commercial enterprises must shift the way they think about water in their business models in last week’s Frontiers in the Environment lecture. His talk, “Water Stewardship and the Private Sector” took place Wednesday, Feb. 26 on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus.

Continue reading

Frontiers: Where there’s smoke…Cleaner Cookstoves

Outdoor air pollution from factories and automobiles seems to dominate the news. But there’s another, just as sinister, form of pollution and it’s coming from inside the house.

Portrait: Ellison CarterEllison Carter, a postdoctoral fellow in energy, air pollution and health at the Institute on the Environment, discussed her research on environmental and health impacts of indoor air pollution at Frontiers in the Environment in February.

In her presentation, “Where There’s Smoke…Evaluating the Benefits of Household Energy Improvements in Developing Countries,” Carter explained why indoor air pollution in developing nations is a particularly challenging problem.

Continue reading