By Erik Kjer, News Editor Originally published in Issue 6, Volume 33 of The University Register on November 20, 2020
On Nov. 12, the University held its annual Sustainability Forum in recognition of the work being done by students, faculty, and community members creating a more sustainable and environmentally friendly future. The event, held over Zoom, was organized and coordinated by the Morris Campus Student Association and featured four speakers: Bryan Herman, Chris Watkins, Isaac Sanchez, and Josie Rehbein.
Thanks to its extensive and diverse renewable energy program, the University of Minnesota Morris produces more renewable energy per student than any other college or university in the United States. Bryan Herman is the Vice-Chancellor of Finance and Facilities and presented a variety of information regarding the University of Minnesota, Morris’s carbon neutrality initiatives. This summer the University achieved carbon neutral electricity, completing a task started over a decade ago with the completion of the University’s first wind turbine. In addition to its two turbines, the University operates multiple solar arrays and a biomass gasification facility. Currently the University is also considering proposals that would further decrease its carbon footprint such as adopting geothermal energy, increasing the use of local biomass, using biofuel in its existing heating system, and constructing a large solar array or an additional wind turbine.
Herman was immediately followed by Chris Watkins, the Sustainability Project Coordinator for the City of Morris who spoke about the Morris Model, a community partnership dedicated to furthering green initiatives in the city and the surrounding area. Morris is an award winning leader in renewable energy and The ‘big three’ goals of the model are currently to produce 80% of the energy consumed in the county by 2030, to reduce energy consumption 30% by 2030 and to end the land-filling of waste generated within the county by 2025. Morris has also partnered with the city of Saerbeck, Germany, to further the understanding of sustainable initiatives and how to implement them.
Isaac Sanchez is a McNair Scholar at the University of Minnesota Morris who is currentl pursuing a PhD in chemistry, and spoke about his research studying organic solar cells and carbon capture materials. Organic solar polymers are more sustainable and less labor intensive in their manufacturing, requiring less energy in their manufacturing, and could be a more accessible and efficient method of generating solar power in the future.
The final speaker of the evening was Josie Rebein, a student who discussed ongoing zero-waste efforts on campus. The two programs on campus students are most likely to be familiar with are the University’s recycling and composting programs. The University currently collects a wide variety of recyclable waste, sorts it, and sends it to various organizations for reclamation (the University Register discussed this program much more extensively in our previous issue). Since the composting project began, the University has collected and composted over 600,000 pounds of organic material. In addition to these initiatives, the Dining Hall, Higbies, and the Turtle Mountain Cafe all use biodegradable packaging. Despite the visibility of these programs, zero-waste programs extend far beyond waste reclamation. The best way to reduce waste is to prevent it from accumulating in the first place, rather than recycling it later, by adopting sustainable lifestyle practices.
Photo on top courtesy of UMM Alumni Association