University of Minnesota draws on internal expertise to take climate action planning systemwide
The University of Minnesota has taken many steps towards a more sustainable campus in the last 15 years, including accomplishing the incredible milestone of reducing its net total emissions by over 50%. However, with a future goal to become carbon neutral by 2050, an update to the university’s existing climate action plan is necessary.
Led by the Office of Sustainability, the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities campus is preparing to launch its third climate action plan (CAP) since 2010. The Twin Cities Climate Action Plan (TCCAP) outlines strategies to reduce carbon emissions in areas like the heating and cooling of buildings, the fleet of university vehicles, commuting, air travel, and electricity use.
Shane Stennes, the Chief Sustainability Officer for the University of Minnesota, discussed the plethora of knowledge at the University of Minnesota and how the Office of Sustainability can leverage the expertise already present at the university to shape and create these plans. Expertise like that at the Institute on the Environment.
IonE staff and affiliates have contributed to the formation of the vision, goals, planning process, and strategy of this CAP. One of the contributors from IonE is Cathy Jordan, IonE Director of Leadership and Education. Jordan is a member of the Resilience and Adaptation Working Group for the TCCAP, where her group has contributed to shaping the ideology of the plan.
“Members of IonE have an expert knowledge of climate change and employ an environmental justice lens to our work. That expertise and viewpoint can be informative to these working groups,” says Jordan. She discussed that IonE’s expertise can really lean into the institute’s commitment to always think about DEIJ and environmental justice. Jordan hopes to bring forth individuals from IonE to participate in conversations with her working group to create the TCCAP vision.
Jordan showcases the importance of considering environmental justice in these plans by explaining how diverse the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities campus and surrounding area is, which is partially located in the Marcy Holmes neighborhood of Minneapolis and St. Anthony Park neighborhood of St. Paul. Even though these neighborhoods are a part of the same campus, each will have distinct risk and resilience patterns because of differing housing, demographics, and needs. While this is an example specific to the Twin Cities campus, the same considerations will hold true for all system campuses.
Jordan believes that this plan could lead to intentional changes to the university and have multi-fold benefits in areas like improving human health, restoring mental health, and how it can contribute to education.
The University of Minnesota is one of several higher education institutions across the country working towards a more sustainable campus and drafting their own climate action plans. While the University of Minnesota system has made individual campus efforts to advance climate action in the past, this is the first time a coordinated effort has occurred. Duluth, Rochester, Morris, and Crookston will also be completing their Campus and Climate Action Plans over the next two years. These plans will be tailored specifically to each campus and acknowledge their unique identities and community settings. Stennes mentions that because of their differences, each campus has many strengths and opportunities to provide for the larger whole.
“With climate action plans continuing to come to fruition, we’re at a critical moment in history”, Stennes says. “We have an opportunity to really shine and to form engagement across the university community and within our local communities, and we invite people to step forward and to join the process.”
Michael Zarbock is a senior studying Strategic Communications and is the IonE Communications and Editorial Assistant.