Student-run impact ventures focused on solar-powered microgrids for rural India and environmentally friendly feminine hygiene products have been selected Gold Level winners of the 2015 Acara Challenge, a competition held by the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment in partnership with the College of Science and Engineering and the Carlson School of Management. The top-level teams and other awardees will have the opportunity and resources to further develop their innovative business solutions for environmental and social challenges. 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?
- 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.
- Trust. You might not realize how untrusting we are until you take a look at Denmark. It’s common for bikes to remain unlocked, violent crime rates are very low, and parents tend to give young children more freedom than is common in other countries.
- Wealth. We all know money can’t buy happiness, but as one of the wealthiest nations in the world, the people of Denmark have some peace of mind.
- Civil society. Civil society is highly valued in Denmark. Roughly 35 percent of Danes preform unpaid voluntary work.
- Freedom. Where words fail, unconventional entertainment might succeed. Nothing says freedom and fun more than small trampolines in the sidewalk.
- Work. While many Americans operate on a 40-hour work week, the Danes generally work 33 hours. Even though most don’t work on farms, Danes feel connected to rural life because 60 percent of Danish land is agricultural.
- Democracy. With numerous political parties, Denmark isn’t a replica of our system in the United States, but democracy is important to Danes.
- Balance. A shorter work week gives Danes more free time. While hard work is important, they also value a healthy balance between work and life. For many, this may mean taking advantage of the long summer days by relaxing at a local park.
- Hygge. Hygge is a Danish word that might be translated as a state of being cozy and comfortable. Although hard to describe, this is a huge part of how Danes see themselves and it helps to inform the decisions they make.
- Design. From creatively shaped buildings to foosball tables in the streets, Denmark has a look all its own. The Danes have already start to recognize the opportunity to use design to promote environmentally conscious behavior.
So what does happiness have to do with sustainability? Do the Danes have something figured out? It’s hard to say for sure, but they do seem to be onto something. As a small nation of 5 million, translation of Denmark’s successes into a U.S. context won’t be easy. In addition to being vastly different sizes, each nation comes with their own culture and history. In Denmark, sustainability has become a way of life instead of a concept or vocabulary word. Creating this cultural shift of our perception of sustainability might be key if we want to follow their lead.
Photo by: Andreas Klinke Johannsen (Flickr Creative Commons)
In the second of this semester’s Frontiers in the Environment talks, IonE resident fellow Jonee Kulman Brigham, a visiting scholar in the College of Education and Human Development and Sustainable Design Program faculty member in the College of Design, taught us to question our relationship with natural resources and suggested ways we could rebuild our bond with the environment. Here are four things we learned:
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.
With its innovative work to encourage impact entrepreneurship around the world,we’ve always had a hunch the Acara program is something special. That hunch got some solid affirmation recently when Acara won the C. Eugene Allen Award for Innovative International Initiatives (III Award) from the Global Programs and Strategy Alliance. The award recognizes faculty and staff who internationalize their work or the work of their department. The recipients receive an award trophy and a $2,500 professional development or program assistance stipend.
“Leaders aren’t born, they are made,” said revered football coach Vince Lombardi. That’s the guiding principle behind the Boreas Leadership Program, a strategic initiative of the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment. Boreas offers leadership development opportunities to graduate, professional and postdoctoral students from all University colleges.
Boreas seeks to develop the next generation of social and environmental leaders — those who will tackle the tough challenges facing the world today — through skills workshops, networking and mentoring events (the weekly Boreas Booyah!), and participation on a student advisory board.
Last fall, 10 other people and I paddled more than 2,000 miles in canoes. Our trip was called Paddle Forward, and we were on a mission to paddle the length of the Mississippi River. I’ve been paddling for years but mostly in wilderness areas such as the Boundary Waters. While I love these places and enjoy the quiet time alone in nature, recreating on local waterways brings a new appreciation to the place you live.
I spent the majority of college learning about environmental issues surrounding climate change, such as energy usage, water depletion, resource extraction and decreases in biodiversity. Alone, secluded in serene wilderness, you are less likely to think about difficult climate issues. However, while paddling a river that more than 50 cities depend on for daily water supply, you can’t escape noticing the effects humans have on the fourth largest watershed in the world. Continue reading
What does education look like in remote mountain villages where electricity is nonexistent or unreliable? How does a developing country seeking to grow its economy, boost tourism and expand its infrastructure do so sustainably?
Earthducation Expedition 6 aims to find out — and share what it learns with teachers and students around the world. This sixth in a series of seven-continent explorations investigates the intersections between education and sustainability in Nepal, the roof of the world. Led by Aaron Doering and Charles Miller of the University of Minnesota’s College of Education and Human Development with funding from the University’s Institute on the Environment, the expedition will set out April 27 for a journey to this diverse ecological powerhouse that boasts some of the most majestic geographical wonders on Earth. 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
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.
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
YouTube is usually a one-stop shop for movie trailers, music and cat videos. But one family is using the popular website to educate viewers on earth and climate science, one video at a time.
Last March, brothers Henry and Alex Reich, along with their father, IonE resident fellow Peter Reich, created the YouTube channel MinuteEarth, featuring one- to three-minute animated videos focusing on topics ranging from fisheries management to atmospheric science. The three shared their experience at the Institute on the Environment’s first Frontiers in the Environment presentation of the semester – “Science Communication: Teach, Entertain or Inspire?” – Wednesday, Jan. 29 at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul.
Paul Porter is a professor at the University of Minnesota, but you won’t always find him in a classroom. He has done much of his teaching from his bicycle, on tours through Africa, South America and, most recently, Minnesota.
Porter, professor of agronomy and plant genetics, discussed his experiences incorporating adventure learning into his educational work in his Oct. 16 Frontiers in the Environment talk “Aggregating an Agroecosystem: Novel Approaches to Teaching and Learning.”
Feeding the world’s growing population is shaping up to be the challenge of the century, but where does conservation fit into the equation?
Joe Fargione, senior director for The Nature Conservancy – North America Region, attempted to answer just that in last Wednesday’s Frontiers in the Environment presentation, “Peak Cropland: Saving Room for Nature While Feeding Humanity this Century.”
Spirited voices mixed with the scent of Indian spices in The Commons: Meeting and Art Space at Institute on the Environment last Monday night. Dozens of Acara students, mentors and investors were gathered for a showcase of the 2012-13 Acara Challenge contestants.
Attendees supped on fare from Gandhi Mahal and mingled with the young entrepreneurs before settling in for brief presentations on seven start-ups developed by Acara alumni. The goal of each business – in addition to viability and profit – is to address a social or environmental issue at home or abroad. Continue reading
When you’re traveling in remote areas of Burkina Faso, it can take multiple layers of translation from English to the tribal language just to ask a single question. So it goes if you’re on a quest to educate the masses about the remote climate hot spots of literally every continent on the world. That’s Institute on the Environment resident fellow Aaron Doering’s mission, and he’s made tremendous strides completing it through the IonE-sponsored Earthducation program. Continue reading
“I should be ashamed of this, but I’m not.”
After spending the last year in rural India building the MyRain business he co-founded with his partner Paula Uniacke, Steele Lorenz (BS ’10) was ready for some comfort snack food. So when I asked him if he wanted anything from the U.S. before I left, he gave me a list that included items like Little Debbie cookies and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. On the trip over to India, I learned that Little Debbie cookies caused TSA more problems than anything else I have ever carried onto an airplane. They seem to be impenetrable to X-rays. “I should be ashamed of this list, but I’m not,” Steele confided to me. The work Steele has done with MyRain over the past year, however, deserves a whole shipping container of cookies.
Among the projects funded in part by recent Institute on the Environment Mini Grants is a new course in sustainability being offered this summer at the University of Minnesota, Morris.
Students taking part in this innovative “Sustainability Semester” will make connections between food, renewable energy, history, and culture while networking with peers interested in sustainability and making change. Participants may choose from two complementary courses – Culture, Food and Agriculture and Experiencing Sustainability – or enroll in both. Continue reading
How can we build long-term capacity to produce sustainable solutions and resilient institutions? How can we foster innovation in engagement and cross-disciplinary collaboration in universities? Carissa Schively Slotterback, IonE resident fellow and associate professor at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, addressed these questions during the April 24 Frontiers in the Environment seminar, “University-Community Collaboration to Advance Sustainability.”
Over spring break, it’s not unusual to go south to get some sun, but I took it to an extreme. I spent the week a few miles north of the equator, in Kampala, Uganda, teaching Makerere University students about social entrepreneurship.
This course at Makerere University is part of the USAID-sponsored RESPOND program, in which the University of Minnesota is playing a major role. RESPOND is creating capacity to strengthen outbreak response for emerging infectious diseases from humans, domestic animals and wildlife.