University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota
Sustainability Education

Minnesota Student Association’s New Committee: Sustainability

September 15, 2015Moriah MaternoskiFeatured, General, Resources, Undergraduate NewsComments Off on Minnesota Student Association’s New Committee: Sustainability

The Minnesota Student Association is in the process of welcoming in this year’s newest (and perhaps most exciting) committee on – you guessed it – sustainability! The Sustainability Committee is working to advocate for the expansion and establishment of “green” programs at the U through their primary interests: environmental and energy issues. Their committee meetings will take place every other Tuesday at 4 pm in Vincent Hall 2 starting next week – September 22nd. The committee’s new director, Rachael Grunfelder, gave us insight on her vision for the group and listed some simple ways that you can get involved.


How did the Sustainability Committee start in MSA?
The sustainability committee is new this year and started when MSA saw great success with a more focused committee group last year. We now have 7 committees that were voted on last year by forum and they all have incredible ideas for this upcoming school year.
If I were an interested student, how might I get involved?
Students can get involved by attending MSA forum meetings, the first one being on Tuesday, September 15th from 4-6pm in Molecular & Cellular Biology (MCB) 3-120. Go to and sign up to receive updates at the bottom of the home page. Forum is a meeting with all members and those who are a part of a committee and happen every other Tuesday. Committee meetings are on opposite Tuesdays at 4pm with the first committee meeting being on September 22nd in Vincent Hall 2. MSA is open to any student that is interested!
What do you hope the Sustainability Committee will accomplish this year?
I hope to continually strengthen connections across departments and student groups that are focused on sustainability. I would like to see past projects followed up on and I hope to work on new ones as well. I am excited to hear about the interests and passion that the student body has surrounding sustainability.
MSApromo1What types of “green” programs do you envision the U establishing in the coming years?
There are many students interested in working on organics recycling, solar power, “green cleaning” in University buildings, partnering with the Real Food Challenge, and eliminating plastic water bottles on campus. I am envisioning subcommittees focused on different aspects of sustainability including waste, water, energy, food, and air quality. I am looking forward to feedback and ideas during the first committee meeting on September 22nd!
Which student groups or University operations do you hope to connect/collaborate with to help you accomplish goals/set initiatives this year?
I would like to continue to collaborate with the Sustainability Office, IonE, the Energy Transition Lab, Students for Sustainability, UDS, the Recycling Center, and the Office for Student Affairs. Student group involvement within the committee will be important as well.
Why should this committee be important to students? Why should students join?
I think this is a great committee to get involved in projects that affect our lives on and off campus. Changes that are made to campus and the surrounding community regarding sustainability will have benefits to our lives in the years to come. I hope that the changes, implementations, and/or improvements made to campus from this group will be taken with students, staff, faculty, and community members beyond their time here at the U.
Rachael is an undergraduate student studying Biology, Society and the Environment and is pursuing a minor is the History of Science, Technology and Medicine as well as Spanish Studies. We were interested to know how sustainability fits into her education, which prompted the question…
What’s your favorite sustainability course /why?
URBS 3751, Understand the Urban Environment: Urban Ecological Systems, is a class that I deeply enjoyed taking. This class allowed for field trips into the community to learn about air, soil, water, pollution, waste, and environmental justice. This brought learning about environmental issues to life. There is a difference between reading about something in a textbook and experiencing it personally. I hope the sustainability committee can become a hands-on learning experience for those interested in sustainability.

Perhaps you should look into both MSA’s new Sustainability Committee AND URBS 3751 in the near future?!

If you have any questions or want to get involved, you can email Rachael at You can also check out to find out more about MSA.

Photo credit: Josh Mattson/flickr

A Don’t-Miss Course: SUST 4004 Sustainable Communities

August 25, 2015Mary OldhamGeneral, Undergraduate NewsComments Off on A Don’t-Miss Course: SUST 4004 Sustainable Communities

by Guest Bloggers & SUST 4004 Professors Amir Nadav & Kimberly Byrd

This fall’s SUST 4004 course on sustainable communities builds on a multi-year collaboration with several local communities, providing students an opportunity to apply your skills and contribute to real sustainability projects. Additional seats are available in this fall’s course — enroll today, or continue reading to learn more about this year’s projects.

This capstone course will integrate theoretical learning about the environmental, economic, and social justice dimensions of sustainability to explore its application in a specific context: What does sustainability look like in three cities in the Twin Cities metropolitan area?

IMG_2589When the rubber hits the road and our theoretical ideas about a just and equitable society collide with the application of these ideas in the real world, what happens?

In this course, you will explore conceptual tools that enable you to integrate learning across disciplines and have the opportunity to apply your knowledge in project-based collaborative learning with local city leaders. You will gain an understanding of the ways cities engage with community members to collect input and foster support for sustainability initiatives. You will be presenting your work to the community, and will complete a project that tangibly contributes to sustainability work in the Twin Cities metro area.

Capstone projects this fall focus on transportation and housing.

Below are the selected possible projects for this fall.

1) Housing Redevelopment.


The city of Lauderdale intends to acquire small homes (defined as less than 700 square feet) and develop on their sites homes that are more family- or senior-friendly, as green as possible, and fit the character of the existing neighborhood. What should the specs be? What should the city ask for in their Request for Proposals to developers? What can be learned from other Minnesota cities with similar housing redevelopment programs?


2) Model Green Home.

Saint Anthony Village would like to make a 1950s-era single-family detached house a showcase of sustainable innovation and a model for similar homes in the city. Drawing on inspiration from LEED and the Living Building Challenge, students will develop detailed recommendations to be implemented in one property, and educational resources for other residents in the community.

3) Energy Audits.

How do we increase the use of home energy audits to identify and implement projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? What are the values, barriers, and bridges? How do we communicate effectively and develop successful policy? We may closely study the experience of three households to distill insights.

4) Sustainability in the Comprehensive Plan.

St. Anthony Village is interested in incorporating sustainability into its next update to the city’s comprehensive plan, a foundational document that guides future growth. Students will (a) conduct interviews with local stakeholders to identify key questions, perceptions, and goals related to sustainability in the community and (b) research examples on sustainability planning and best practices from other communities. A workshop in early 2016 with the US Green Building Council – MN will help the city address key questions and priorities identified by the students this fall.

5) Planning the Sustainability Fair


The 3rd annual fair on November 19 at Silverwood Park will showcase SUST 4004 capstone projects to over 200 community leaders and inspire residents to take action in their community. We will need marketing & communications, creative design, a promotions team, and outreach to community resource providers.

6) Bike Infrastructure.

How does the City of Falcon Heights make itself more bicycle friendly? Based on residents’ feedback and ridership information, what infrastructure could help establish or enhance a robust network that effectively connects more residents by bike to key destinations such as the UMN and the new bus rapid transit stops?

7) Bus Rapid Transit.

BRT is coming to the City of Falcon Heights. How can we develop effective Public Relations, communications, and marketing for this project in order to demystify the new system and enhance its value to local residents? How can the city leverage the new bus rapid transit stops to enhance economic development, bolster local businesses, and help strengthen the city’s identity?

Sustainability Education Co-hosts First UMN Innovations in the Environment International Short Course

August 20, 2015Kate FlickEvents, Featured, General, Resources, Undergraduate NewsComments Off on Sustainability Education Co-hosts First UMN Innovations in the Environment International Short Course


2015-07-18 13.26.30 (1)This summer, the Institute on the Environment’s Sustainability Education co-facilitated the pioneer 3-week international exchange course called Innovations in the Environment with ten Australian students. The program marked an intercampus cross-cultural exchange collaborating with UMN Global Opportunities, UMN-Morris Office of Sustainability, and Climate Generation.

From the UMN Native Medicine Gardens to Denco Biofuel LLC, Nice Ride MN, and everything in between, the program gave participants a peak into Minnesota’s leadership in sustainability in both urban and rural settings–showcasing innovations in technological, social, cultural, and educational spheres.  Participants compared different models of sustainability in theory and practice, asking beautiful wicked questions along the way.

In their final presentations, students engaged many nuanced perspectives: how the differences between an indigenous-centered framing of sustainability from a more western approach might come into dialog and shed light on one another; how different levels of society, particularly business, might be incentivized to put sustainability measures in place; how individuals in their home-system might begin to push towards sustainability changes; and how sustainability education might offer an alternative to fear politics in the face of climate change.

In the jam packed 3-week course, students’ perspectives grew as they grappled with different worldviews and single stories in addressing climate change, sustainability, and problem-solution frameworks.  Well, and they had a lot of fun!

Many thanks to all the collaborators and students!

Hear what the students had to say and how they’ll take these lessons back home:

2015-07-09 09.22.08     My time in Minnesota taught me a great many things, it taught me to not rely upon future developments for progress and sustainability, but to take traditional perspectives into account, as there is often a great amount of wisdom instilled in initial land carers. I learned to take on perspectives of differing people and communities, so that “developments” don’t alienate or harm anyone. I learned that to conserve the environment, you must live within it, and understand it.  The most important thing I learned however was that sustainability requires something from each of us, today, not tomorrow, yesterday would have been nice, but today will have to do. We must take all perspectives into account, even those we disagree with. We must take ourselves and everyone we know into a better future, not through any one person’s actions, but the actions of all humans cooperating.

2015-07-10 17.36.11One other aspect of sustainability that the course highlighted for me was the need for education and awareness. Before the course I would say I underestimated how much of a role education has to play in sustainability. I feel like with education comes awareness of the problem and if someone is aware of the problem then chances are they will begin to educate themselves.

2015-07-09 13.06.06Coming into this course I would have thought that recycling alone would be enough in some cases but it was humbling to see and experience how all these dynamic parts of sustainability interact. Whether it’s using chemistry to develop a new plastic from corn rather than oil, discovering how the politics of climate change play just as big a role as the science itself, learning how people have turned biomass and waste into sources of energy (which is awesome!), discovering the importance of a community spirit when it comes to sustainability, appreciating the importance of what we can learn from indigenous practices in our agriculture to ‘give back’ to the planet, or any of the other amazing lessons I have learned, sustainability truly is a dynamic task for the global community that is forever being defined.

  2015-07-07 14.43.07  Sustainability is doing today what is necessary to ensure a healthy tomorrow. Personally I have found that sustainability is not entirely dependent on the environment but rather all aspects of society, from the political, economic, social, as well as the environmental aspect. All of which play an important role in determining the future of this planet.

2015-07-16 14.15.57Sustainability cannot be described with one single word or action, but it is the combination of actions from every single individual on the planet that can make sure that life for all life forms is sustainable on earth for generations to come. Throughout this course we were subject to a wide range of definitions of what sustainability really was, each had their own advantages and disadvantages and all these viewpoints highly influenced me in what I eventually took out of the course as my own personal interpretation of sustainability.

2015-07-16 10.56.42This visit also emphasised the effect that policy can have in making companies change their viewpoint on sustainability. For example by the sustainability regulation and incentives that were implemented by the Minnesota state government the major power producer Xcel went from being one of the most  carbon emitting companies to being one of the most energy efficiently companies in the state. This gets rid of the single story that companies cannot change their ways due to financial restraints. This shows that with proper support and regulation from government, even the worst emitters can make a change.

   2015-07-10 11.31.32 The development of my understanding of the concept of sustainability has deeply affected my personal and professional work. By acknowledging how sustainability affects humans and accepting that humans need to be a part of the solution I can see a path for further development…To be sustainable, one must always be questioning and developing new concepts that are more sustainable than the current ones we are applying. The system can always be made to be more sustainable and we should be considering each step forward as a stepping-stone.

2015-07-17 19.15.47One of the most important images that come into my mind is all of us, whether it’s the participants, instructors, teachers all enjoying each others’ companies, experiencing each others’ various cultures. We entered into the country as individuals, most of us not knowing a thing about America, coming over just to experience something new but we left knowing we are part of one big international family and that we have lifetime of memories to cherish and enjoy forever.


Cornercopia Student Organic Farm

July 30, 2015MadelineFaculty News, Featured, General, Graduate News, Undergraduate NewsComments Off on Cornercopia Student Organic Farm

image (6)

by Madeline Giefer

Over the past ten years, an on-campus organic garden has grown into a successful, diversified, and beautiful organic farm. Anyone who frequents the St. Paul campus may have noticed the bright colors and butterfly life in the distance, and visitors to the UMN farmer’s market have seen the fruits of their harvest up close. Cornercopia has become a household name on campus, and a visit to this small, thriving farm is well worth the walk.

20150720_104547Cornercopia is a student program in the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture. Since 2005 it has grown from less than two acres to six acres, due in part to growing public and scientific interest in organic agriculture. Each year professors and graduate researchers rent space for organic research, such as a strip of rye that will be used to compare brewing techniques and a row of broccoli that tests different pest control techniques. Research projects like this help keep Cornercopia well-funded and enhance institutional support for its work.

Although Cornercopia is mostly known for its produce, it has recently expanded into small animals. Chickens and rabbits have been raised successfully during the past few years, and another round of chickens are planned for later this summer. Small-scale animal agriculture has also benefited the crops, which are fertilized with the previous year’s manure and litter.

"Bachelor buttons" are both decorative and edible

“Bachelor buttons” are decorative and edible.

Thanks to skillful planning, natural processes at Cornercopia help with the needs of its own crops and those in the surrounding fields. “Beneficial predatory insects,” like ladybugs and green lacewings, control pest populations. Meanwhile honeybees find rich and diverse food sources in the flowering plants, which improves pollination in the area.

Cornercopia’s success is made possible by the work of several interns and dozens of volunteers who come to help for an hour or a few days. Students can even earn academic credit contributing to the farm by enrolling in HORT 3131: Student Organic Farm Planning, Growing, and Marketing. This spring semester course teaches the fundamentals of organic agriculture and allows students to kick off the growing season by starting plants in the greenhouse.

Volunteer coordinator Drew Zagala welcomes all the help he can get.

Volunteer coordinator Drew Zagala welcomes all the help he can get.

Even with all these helping hands, Cornercopia’s greatest challenge is finding enough volunteers to keep the farm running smoothly throughout the growing season. Anyone can volunteer for any amount of time, whether it’s for an hour one afternoon or a few days a week. Volunteers not only get to relax amid the colorful crops and flowers; they also get to sample some if its ripe fruits and vegetables.

If you are interested in visiting or volunteering, contact Drew Zagala at

Sustainability Action Fair: Call for Volunteers

July 24, 2015MadelineEvents, General, Undergraduate NewsComments Off on Sustainability Action Fair: Call for Volunteers

sustaction face in the hole

Remember coming to the Institute on the Environment during your Welcome Week and touring all those sustainability groups on campus and in the Twin Cities? This year the Sustainability Action fair is on again for Friday, September 4, and we need help to give this year’s freshmen a great experience.

Volunteers are needed to take photos, guide freshmen through the fair, and help with basic setup needs. Some volunteers will tend the Water Bar, an interactive art project meant to emphasize the value of our water. Volunteers will choose where they want to help and receive a free meal.

If you’re willing to help us out, please let us know on this spreadsheet!


The Sustainability Education website is administered by the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment.

The University of Minnesota offers sustainability courses in most of its colleges and campuses around the state. These courses encompass biophysical sciences, social sciences, humanities, arts, design, engineering, business, and health. The Sustainability Studies minor is one of several interdisciplinary programs through which such diverse courses come together.