Soils are the birthplace of food: They provide a substrate, nutrients and water to grow most of the food we eat. They also perform a whole host of other services, including purifying our water and stabilizing our climate. Today more than half of the world’s land surface is being managed for agriculture and forestry. These lands are increasingly under pressure to meet the needs of a growing population. In many areas, the land and soil have become degraded to a point where they can no longer grow the food and fiber they once did.
The United Nations recognized the essential role that soils play for creating a sustainable future by naming 2015 the International Year of Soils. To inform this program, a team of scientists from a dozen countries — including James Gerber and Paul West, co-directors of IonE’s Global Landscapes Initiative — reviewed the current state of knowledge on how land management affects soil quality. The team’s work was published recently in two major papers in peer-reviewed journals. Continue reading
Consumers aren’t the only ones overwhelmed by the growth and diversity of environmental labels attached to the products they buy, from breakfast cereal to furniture. U.S. government purchasing agents also struggle to identify which standards and ecolabels to consider when buying greener products.
Timothy Smith, director of IonE’s NorthStar Initiative for Sustainable Enterprise and an IonE resident fellow, is about to make going green easier for the U.S. government — the single largest purchaser of goods and services in the world. Along with a select panel of experts, Smith will oversee and coordinate a series of pilot tests of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s new draft guidelines advising government buyers on how to take product environmental performance standards and ecolabels into account when making purchases. Continue reading
If you ever thought a young adult is too inexperienced to make a difference, you haven’t met the participants in the Institute on the Environment’s Acara impact entrepreneurship program.
Through Acara, students from colleges across the University of Minnesota build practical business skills and global experiences while simultaneously launching impactful entrepreneurial ventures aimed at addressing global grand challenges. They are motivated to change the world for the better, and many who participate in the program go on to do so during their careers. Continue reading
Frontiers was joined this week by John Petersen, director of the Environmental Studies program at Oberlin College in Ohio. Through an engaging talk on technology and the ways it can be used to provide a visual representation of human impact, Petersen discussed the how the Environmental Dashboard project has leveraged the concept of feedback and the potential it has to change human behavior. Here are seven things we learned: Continue reading
What better way to commemorate Earth Day than by learning about how our everyday actions affect the environment? This week’s Frontiers focused on common chemical pollutants and their impacts. IonE resident fellow and College of Science and Engineering professor Bill Arnold kicked off the talk, followed by Matt Simcik, associate professor in the School of Public Health and Ron Hadsall, professor in the College of Pharmacy. With conversations ranging from flaming couches to perspiration and peeing, here are 10 things we learned: Continue reading
Along with being one of the happiest nations in the world, Denmark is known for being one of the most environmentally friendly. Which raises the question: Is a happy society a more sustainable one? After spending time in the country for a course last summer, Sustainability Education coordinator Beth Mercer-Taylor; Mallory Thomas, an evolution and behavior student in the College of Biological Sciences; and Stephanie Claybrook, an art student in the College of Liberal Arts, put together 10 pillars of Danish happiness. Can we use these tools to work towards sustainability at home?
1. Social security. Compared to the United States, the wealth gap of Denmark is very small. This may be due to the fact that Denmark boasts one of the highest income taxes in world, about 60 percent. In return, its residents receive security, flexibility and unemployment benefits. Continue reading
Which bag of coffee is more sustainable? Which television emits the lowest levels of greenhouse gases over its lifetime? Does a grass-fed beef hamburger use less water? For many who want to do right by the environment, these questions are not easily answered. Now, imagine that you buy hundreds of thousands of products every year. How would you decide which make the most difference from an environmental standpoint? Whether suppliers’ environmental performance claims hold water? What combination of environmentally preferred purchases is most cost-effective?
These questions are increasingly being asked by sourcing and supply chain managers at the largest global corporations and governments — arguably, some of the biggest buyers in the world. Today, the Global Environmental Management Initiative, in collaboration with the Institute on the Environment’s NorthStar Initiative for Sustainable Enterprise and Climate Earth, introduced a tool that takes a first step at helping answer some of these questions. Continue reading
Plastic is everywhere. It’s in the clothes we wear and the cars we drive. It holds and protects the food we eat and beverages we drink. We can’t get through a day without using plastic in some way, shape or form. And its ubiquity is part of the problem.
“Many plastics are found in single use items, and there are disposal issues,” says IonE resident fellow Marc Hillmyer, director of the Center for Sustainable Polymers and Distinguished McKnight University Professor in the College of Science & Engineering. Most plastics do not easily degrade and thus “can’t be discharged safely into the environment. Moreover, most plastic is not recycled, and there is serious concern about how much plastic ends up in our oceans,” he says. Continue reading
If you’re wondering whether Americans care about climate change, wonder no more. The People’s Climate March in New York City on Sunday drew more than 400,000 people from across the country and around the world, becoming the largest climate action in history. The event was organized under the slogan, “To Change Everything, We Need Everyone,” a call to action aimed at world leaders who were convening for the United Nations Climate Summit, which began today.
Several people affiliated with the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment took part in the march, including IonE resident fellow Peter Reich and his son, Alex. Alex Reich, a graduate research assistant with IonE’s Global Landscapes Initiative, describes the scene: “It was an overcast and muggy day, with people stretched as far as we could see north and south along Central Park West. People of all sorts and stripes gathered, brought together by a collective vision that freed them to be more open and easygoing with others than they might be in another circumstance. The energy pulsed in waves from silence to raucous cheers that traveled south along the avenue. Seemingly endless streams of people emerged from the subways and side streets, joining the throngs ahead of us and keeping our group at a standstill for two hours after the front of the march had started moving.” Continue reading
Sustainability. It has become such a common word, we take it for granted that everyone knows what it is and how to practice it. But what is it, really?
Sustainability is the concept that humans use natural resources to meet current physical, social and economic needs while maintaining adequate resources for future generations.
In our homes, schools, communities and businesses we incorporate sustainability into our day-to-day lives. Some things are so ingrained we hardly think about them anymore: flipping off the lights when we leave the room; tossing bottles into the recycling bin; taking shorter showers. University of Minnesota Twin Cities undergrads from any major who want to do even more can make sustainability part of their academic program — and eventually, their career — through the sustainability studies minor.
Between the seemingly interminable June rains, ground was broken and crops began to sprout in the Allen and Freda Pederson Garden near the U of M Crookston campus.
Dan Svedarsky, director of the Crookston Center for Sustainability, says completion of the project is “due in no small measure to support of the garden suppers,” funded through an Institute on the Environment Mini Grant. Continue reading
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
As land resources come under more and more pressure — to grow food, support cities and house valuable ecosystems — scientists, activists and others are on the hunt for better ways to manage the terrestrial biosphere. One strategy is to increase the efficiency of croplands and pasture lands, particularly in ecosystems such as the Amazon forest where converting more land to agricultural use is environmentally costly.
As the world’s largest contiguous tropical forest, Amazonia is an important store of carbon, provides habitat for biodiverse communities and plays a part in regulating the global water cycle.
Moreover, the Amazon is a prime candidate for exploring whether increasing efficiency can help make agricultural land use more sustainable. Recently, David Lapola of Universidade Estadual Paulista and colleagues pointed out in the journal Nature Climate Change that agriculture in Brazil, including Amazonia, is intensifying and becoming more dominated by commodity production, leading to systematic changes in land use. This intensification has been accompanied by lower rates of deforestation.
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.
But 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.
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.
Robert 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.
This article is part of a series of profiles of IonE resident fellows highlighting the value of their collaborations across the U of M, Minnesota and the world.
Conventional wisdom has it that farmers and conservationists don’t see eye to eye. Conservationists want to see farmers plant diverse vegetation, in addition to crops like corn and soybeans, that produces ecosystem services; farmers’ main priority is earning a living. Right?
“Farmers care just as much about the environment as anyone, but there are financial realities,” says Nick Jordan, a resident fellow with the Institute on the Environment and an agroecology professor in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences. Continue reading
Students from across the University of Minnesota will vie for top honors in the 3rd annual Sustainability Symposium this Friday, April 11, 1:30-5:00 p.m. at Institute on the Environment.
Undergraduate, graduate and professional students from such diverse programs as civil and mechanical engineering, psychology, architecture, music, finance, chemistry, animal science and more will present past and current projects, describing how their work supports or advances sustainability goals.
This year’s Sustainability Symposium kicks off with a keynote address from Chuck Bennett, former vice president of Earth & community care at Aveda Corporation. Bennett, whose career spans more than two decades of corporate citizenship advocacy, will talk about “leading from every chair,” the idea that everyone–no matter their level of expertise or chosen discipline–has important contributions and must be willing to engage in developing sustainability solutions if we are to be successful.
For more information about the event, visit www.susteducation.umn.edu/symposium2014.
Photo: poster competition, Sustainability Symposium 2013, courtesy of Madeline Geifer
(3/26) The IonE-sponsored Resilient Communities Project has chosen the city of Rosemount as its partner community for the 2014-2015 academic year. The partnership will bring the expertise of the University to sustainability-related projects in the city. Read more
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.
Doering, 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.
A series called “Garden Suppers” launched in January on the Crookston campus of the University of Minnesota that aims to sow inspiration for a campus garden. The IonE-sponsored events, featuring guest speakers and brainstorming activities, seek to engage students, faculty and community members in the project.
Discussions have been underway at UMC for the last year to launch a campus garden that would provide produce to be served in campus food service. The garden might consist of smaller garden boxes or plots around campus and/or a larger plot. In addition, there has been interest in having garden plots around the Crookston community, perhaps in vacant lots where houses have been removed to make way for flood protection efforts. Continue reading