U of M climate commitments advance a leading, sustainable future
Climate change and extreme events like flooding, drought and heat waves, are experienced throughout Minnesota, affecting all aspects of our society and economy. According to a 2022 survey from the University’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences and Climate Adaptation Partnership, 76% of Minnesotans are concerned about climate change and 80% look to higher education institutions to discover solutions.
At meetings this week, the Board of Regents received its first report on the University’s sustainability strategy across the system.
Presented by the U of M’s first chief sustainability officer, Shane Stennes, and Heidi Roop, Extension specialist, assistant professor and director of the Climate Adaptation Partnership, the report reflects key sustainability initiatives outlined in the University’s comprehensive systemwide strategic plan, MPact 2025, and the University’s history of climate leadership and progress. Examples include decreasing greenhouse gas emissions by over 50% since 2008 and achieving a STARS Gold rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, which measures and encourages sustainability in all aspects of higher education.
“We appreciated this thorough report on the extensive climate action initiatives underway and under development across the University system,” said Board Chair Janie Mayeron. “The University’s impressive progress is powered by many talented experts at the University, and it will be sustained by our joint service and commitment. We must continue to prepare our students to solve these global challenges while doing our part to ensure a healthy Minnesota for future generations.”
Stennes described the U of M’s future sustainability plans, including unique Climate Action Plans under development at each of the University’s five campuses that will outline actions toward eliminating greenhouse gas emissions, making the University more resilient and addressing climate change through teaching, research and outreach.
“Our campus community and state overwhelmingly agree that climate change is a critical area of focus and we know the costs of inaction far outweigh the investment needed to build a sustainable future,” said Stennes. “Business as usual will not achieve the transformational results we need, and the University is uniquely positioned to improve its operations, develop student sustainability competency, and deliver positive benefits for our campuses, Minnesota communities and beyond.”
The working Twin Cities Climate Action Plan, highlighted by Stennes, was informed by broad community engagement — roughly 3,200 campus and external stakeholders provided input through workshops, meetings, town halls, surveys and other activities. The plan identifies the following ambitious but achievable actions to meet the University’s climate commitments:
- Reducing energy usage on campus
- Supplying more of the campus's energy needs from renewable sources
- Optimizing space and hybrid work concepts
- Rightsizing and electrifying campus fleet vehicles
- Developing a mission-driven and value-added carbon offsets program for University-sponsored travel
- Making a healthy and sustainable commute accessible for all
The Twin Cities and Duluth campuses will complete their Climate Action Plans this year. Rochester, Crookston and Morris plans will be complete by mid-2025. Additional feedback opportunities are planned as well as regular Board updates to report progress on key performance indicators, direct emissions reductions and climate resilience performance.
The Board also:
- Reviewed and approved recommendations for promotion and tenure and other academic appointments, which included presentations from three faculty members detailing their research, education and outreach activities.
- Recognized distinguished students, faculty and staff.
- Reviewed the administration’s recommended FY23 capital improvement budget.
- Discussed next steps for the NXT GEN MED and NXT GEN AG programs.
- Received an update on public safety, the Positioned for Excellence, Alignment and Knowledge (PEAK) initiative and the 2023 Minnesota legislative session and how the work of the Legislature is impacting the University.
- Discussed next steps on a tuition and pricing strategy, a goal outlined in MPact 2025.
- Reviewed the annual workforce and human resources strategy report.
- Reviewed and approved amendments to Board of Regents Policy: Endowment Fund.
- Received an update on the President's Initiative for Student Mental Health.
The Board’s next regular meeting is June 8-9, 2023. Visit regents.umn.edu for more information.