MnSCU adopts wide range of sustainability practices, survey shows

Posted: August 24, 2010

Contact: Doug Anderson,, 651-201-1426

A first-ever survey has documented a wide range of sustainability practices at the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities that include scheduling classes to increase energy efficiency, lowering water consumption, purchasing local foods, composting food waste, using nontoxic cleaning products and reducing carbon emissions.

The 32 colleges and universities reported their progress in achieving sustainable campus operations based on 85 measures in 11 areas to the Finance and Facilities division in the Office of the Chancellor. Sustainability means using resources in the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

“The state colleges and universities have engaged in energy efficiency and recycling activities for at least a decade,” said Chancellor James H. McCormick. “But we are now involved in a wider range of sustainability practices that are led primarily by enthusiastic students, staff and presidents at each campus.

“This survey, part of a Board of Trustees initiative to promote sustainability, is the first thorough assessment of how resources are used and preserved on the system’s 54 campuses. It shows that we have made a good start. But we must make more progress to be good stewards of the state’s resources for future generations,” McCormick said.

The report establishes a baseline of sustainability accomplishments and projects. Plans call for the report to be updated annually. The system can make a significant impact by improving sustainability of campus buildings, which comprise about one-third of the state’s square footage. Sustainability experts say buildings typically account for 40 percent of energy use and 60 percent of global warming emissions.

The other 10 areas that were assessed are energy, water, food, recycling and waste management, transportation, landscaping, culture, purchasing, carbon emissions, and academic programs and research. Here are some findings reported by the colleges and universities in each area.

Buildings – Ninety percent of the system’s institutions purchase green building materials and are working to improve indoor air quality. Nearly 60 percent schedule classes to maximize energy efficiency, and 82 percent have an active preventive maintenance program.

Energy – Ninety percent of the colleges and universities use lighting sensors and energy management systems to control heating and cooling operations, and 92 percent use timers for temperature control. While 62 percent track energy consumption, only 26 percent have an energy conservation plan.

Water use – Nearly 70 percent have taken steps to lower water consumption, and 54 percent have policies or programs to reduce storm water runoff and prevent storm water pollution. More than a quarter use landscaping materials that do not require watering.

Food – Fifty-six percent of the institutions use nondisposable dishes and avoid serving food that contains transfats, and 49 percent use napkins with recycled content. Thirty-eight percent also purchase locally produced foods, while 8 percent have food waste composting programs.

Recycling and waste management – Ninety-five percent have an electronic recycling or reuse program, 77 percent have a general recycling policy and 69 percent offer course catalogues and other materials online. Twenty-one percent also help students reduce waste when they move out of residential halls.

Transportation – Thirty-eight percent have a campus bus service, 87 percent are on a public transit route and 41 percent provide subsidized bus passes. Relatively few campuses have ride share programs, reserved parking for carpoolers, a bicycle-sharing program or parking fee discounts for carpoolers.

Landscaping – Sixty-nine percent compost lawn and landscaping clippings and materials, 51 percent protect and create wildlife habitats and 54 percent are reducing environmental impacts on snow and ice removal.

Culture – Fifty-nine percent of the institutions are involved with surrounding communities on sustainability practices, and 54 percent have student groups focused on sustainability.

Purchasing – Purchases take into account the entire life cycle of products. Eighty-two percent of the campuses purchase green cleaning products, 67 percent use office paper with recycled content, and 44 percent buy environmentally preferable computers.

Carbon emissions – Forty-one percent have completed a greenhouse gas inventory, and 64 percent use areas of landscaping to sequester carbon.

Academic programs and research – As learning institutions, campuses can have a major impact on sustainability by educating students and faculty about the issues. Thirty-eight percent of the institutions have faculty involved in sustainability research, and 59 percent have developed ways to identify sustainable courses.

Here are some examples of other specific sustainability practices adopted by system institutions.

  • Winona State University students can rent a “Zip Car” for one hour to one day.
  • North Hennepin Community College alleviated a drainage problem in its central court by creating a gully with native plants and stones from the geology department. In good weather, this area is used for classroom instruction.
  • Dakota County Technical College has roofs with vegetation to reduce energy use.
  • A recently renovated parking lot at Century College filters storm-water runoff with next-generation techniques.
  • St. Cloud State University has a biodiesel bus that runs on used vegetable oil from the cafeteria.

Note: The full report is at