NorthStar research initiatives are developed collaboratively by practitioners and researchers, designed to develop cutting-edge methods and reflect the information and decision-making needs of key stakeholders. By bringing together the best resources from academia and practice to tackle sustainability challenges, NorthStar initiatives accelerate change toward new sustainable enterprise models.

Food System Supply-chain Sustainability (FoodS³)

Most work aimed at increasing the sustainability of food systems focuses on the bookends of the systems — environmental and social impacts of high-input commercial agriculture on one end, and availability of and access to healthy, affordable calories on the other. Efforts to improve coordination across the food supply chain (producers, processors, distributors and retailers) are less well understood and occur with little insight into the overall system. NorthStar’s FoodS³ initiative harmonizes economic, biophysical, and geographic data across the food supply chain to better assess the risks and opportunities associated with changing climate and growing demand.

Working with practitioners and stakeholders, FoodS³ is developing decision support tools to link upstream production and processing impacts to downstream product consumption. The project’s early work focused on mapping supply chains associated with corn production and processing as inputs for ethanol, beef, chicken, and pork production. The corn supply chain model links products with the farms that supplied the corn and calculates the environmental impacts of the corn – revealing a previously hidden relationship within the supply chain and identifying where opportunities may exist to make improvements.

The FoodS³ model now includes the US soy and wheat supply chains linked to beef, chicken, and pork production.  It also includes spatially explicit environmental impacts for greenhouse gas emissions, irrigated water use, and water scarcity at the county level. Further work has focused on linking FoodS³ with biophysical models, human health outcomes, and economic models.

For more information, contact Jennifer Schmitt.

Food Waste

Wasted food in Minnesota annually emits the same greenhouse gas emissions as over 685,000 passenger vehicles driven for one year, more vehicles than the entire populations of Minneapolis, Rochester and Duluth combined. About 40% of food waste occurs at households, despite more than a century of household education on food waste prevention. At the same time, about one in ten Minnesota households are food insecure. The duality of waste and food insecurity are symptomatic of a food system that is failing Minnesota. 

This same story plays out across the country. NorthStar has partnered on both research and education activities to address the issue of food waste. On the research side, the focus has been on where food and other organic waste originate across the state, in relation to areas of possible uses. This has included exploring the use of food waste as animal feed with colleagues in Animal Science. The educational activities have largely focused on participating with many other partners to create and host Open Feasts to provide free recovered food at various Open Street events while also providing information about food waste and hunger.

For more information visit food waste, or contact Jennifer Schmitt 

Sustainable Procurement

This initiative focuses on developing decision support tools organizations can use to more quickly and effectively reach their sustainability targets and objectives for carbon (CO2e) and water use in their supply chains. The tools use life cycle assessment methods to prioritize products and points in the supply chain that have the biggest impact on the environment and identifies product attributes (e.g., recycled content, biobased, organic) that are most effective at reducing climate change and/or water use impacts. Partners for this initiative include The Sustainability Consortium, the Global Environmental Management Initiative, Climate Earth and the University of Michigan.

For more information, contact Rylie Pelton or Jennifer Schmitt.

Circular Economy

The idea of creating a circular economy is increasingly touted by leading sustainable businesses as a best practice. However, the true environmental, societal, and financial benefits of such circular supply networks remain largely untested. NorthStar is developing both partnerships and science around circular economy research. There is significant interest in Minnesota on this topic, and building partnerships with the broader community enables NorthStar to provide knowledge solutions relevant to decision makers that are also aligned with key stakeholders. Research scientists at NorthStar are developing methods for evaluating the impacts of circular economic systems and building scenarios that quantify tradeoffs. Our initial application explores circling food waste back into hog production, forming the basis for a more general modeling approach that quantifies the possible consequences associated with looping waste outputs back into production systems.

For more information contact Jennifer Schmitt