Category Archives: Sustainability

Making plastic more sustainableSynthetic polymers create many of the plastic products encountered everyday, such as chairs, food containers, and clothing fibers

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

Voices from the People’s Climate Marchnews_climatemarch_main

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 studies: Something for everyonenews_students_outside

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.
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Campus garden sprouts at U of M CrookstonPhoto by Tashi Gurung

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

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

On the edge of the Amazon, efficiency mattersIntensified croplands that grow commodities like soybeans and maize are becoming more common in the Eastern Amazon; here, primary Amazon forest exists meters away from high-productivity agricultural fields.
Credit: Christine S. O’Connell

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.

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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.

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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.

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Common groundconeflowerbarn

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

U of M students compete for honors, Kindle FireSustainability Symposium 2013

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

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.

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Suppers sow inspiration for campus gardenVegetable garden

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

Exhibit: I am waterA clear lake

Throw a pebble into a lake or stream and ripples will radiate out from the place of entry, breaking the inertia at the surface. Minneapolis artist Camille Gage hopes her art piece, “I AM WATER,” will have a similar effect on people, catalyzing their sense of responsibility for tackling one of the biggest challenges we humans face: protecting Earth’s finite water reserves. Continue reading

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.

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2014 Sustainability Symposium – April 11thSustainability Symposium

Attention all graduate, professional and undergraduate students at the University of Minnesota! Have you worked on a project, report, or research related to sustainability? Share your work at the 2014 Sustainability Symposium on April 11 for a chance to win a Kindle Fire! Abstracts are being accepted until March 14, 2014.

This year’s theme, “Tell us Your Sustainability Story,” encourages you to communicate your story in terms relatable to the broader University community. At the Sustainability Symposium, you will have the chance to develop your communication skills by showing and articulating the importance of your work to a broad audience.

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Interstate Sustainability Leaders SummitInterstate Sustainability Leaders

Imagine a conference experience that is about more than business card collections, fancy dinners and academic posturing. Imagine a conference experience that extends beyond the closing ceremonies to truly impact your activism.

That is exactly what we had in mind when we dreamed up the Interstate Sustainability Leaders Summit. ISLS would be a modern conference that develops relationships and provides tangible takeaways for grounded dreamers. Continue reading

New tool aims to clean up supply chainSponge Life Cycle

There you are, hunkered over your sink, hands wrist-deep in hot water, swiping suds over food-crusted dinner plates. That squishy, soapy thing that’s helping you do so many daily chores…ever wonder where its life began and where it will end?

That sponge, like everything on the planet, has a life cycle, composed of all the materials and energy that brought it to your sink and all the tasks it will help you complete until you’ve squeezed the last bit of work from it and tossed it into the trash. Continue reading

Frontiers: Land grant university & rural resilienceKathryn Draeger

In 2008, Kathryn Draeger and her husband left their home in St. Paul for a 320-acre farm in western Minnesota to experience life on the rural landscape.

Portrait: Kathryn DraegerDraeger, statewide director of the University of Minnesota’s Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships and an adjunct professor of agronomy and plant genetics, discussed her experience in her Frontiers in the Environment lecture, “The Land Grant University and Rural Resilience: A Minnesota Story” Oct. 23.

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