University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota
Sustainability Education

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!


Student Opportunities with Energy Transition Lab

July 23, 2015MadelineGeneral, Graduate News, Undergraduate NewsComments Off on Student Opportunities with Energy Transition Lab


Application Form

The Energy Transition Lab is now recruiting students to be a part of the University of Minnesota’s Solar University (SUN) Delegation. The SUN Delegation will be made up of a student deployment team whose goal is to have the University of Minnesota invest in, or build, at least 1 megawatt (MW) of solar. The student deployment team will help recruit other students, find solar sites, determine investment propositions and present a viable investment plan to the University of Minnesota decision makers. Students will be accepted on a rolling basis, but applications are preferred to be submitted by August 10th so ETL can make decisions on its first traveling opportunity.

The SUN Delegation is a program of the Solar Endowment project which is funded by the DOE Sunshot Initiative and managed by the Midwest Renewable Energy Association.  The University partners other than the University of Minnesota are: Purdue, University of Illinois and the Missouri University of Science and Technology. At the University of Minnesota the project is being led by the Energy Transition Lab with the guidance of the Institute on the Environment.

ETL is looking for graduate or undergraduate students with a diverse range of specialties; law, communication, finance, engineering, environmental, geography, organizing, media, journalism, economics, policy. Students from all campuses are welcome and encouraged to join including Twin Cities, Crookston, Duluth, Morris and Rochester.

Participation Perks:

  • Engagement in a long term project with significant outcomes
  • Creating a more sustainable campus
  • Free online solar classes and receive a Solar Site Assessment Certificate from the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA).
  • Photovoltaics 101
  • Solar Site Assessment course
  • Traveling opportunities for student leaders. The first complementary trip for 4-5 students will be to Colorado in September to visit National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL).
  • A Spring 2016 course, taught by Ellen Anderson and others, with this project as the main focus. SUN Delegation Members will have first priority to take this course.
  • Access to an advisory committee made up of University of Minnesota faculty and a Solar Technical Assistance Team (STAT) to assist in legal, financial and technical work.

Sun Delegation Members will commit to:

  • Attend at least one meeting a month for both Fall and Spring Semester (special arrangements will be made for students on campuses other than the Twin Cities campus)
  • At least 5-10 hours per month of independent work

Application Form


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.