The Sustainable Campus (Trends and Innovations)

UMN-Morris Leads in Sustainability

The University of Minnesota-Morris (Morris), a public liberal arts institution, has a biomass plant that burns corn cobs to heat and cool campus, gusting prairie winds, and frequent sunlight—all of which help make the Morris campus a national leader in sustainability efforts and renewable energy sources.

The university has a long-standing commitment to sustainability. In 2009, Mother Jones magazine chose Morris as one of its top 10 “cool schools” in the U.S., stating that the school is great for alternative energy enthusiasts.

Morris—an original signer of the American Colleges & Universities President’s Climate Commitment—is also one of the first public colleges to generate on-site renewable power from local resources.

The campus has a goal of being carbon neutral by 2020, which means it will produce the same amount of energy it consumes. So far, according to the Office of Sustainability, the campus has reduced direct emissions (Scope 2) by about 40 percent relative to 2007 baselines. It continues to reduce both direct and indirect emissions by using renewable energy and maximizing conservation efforts.

To help achieve this goal, the Morris campus has created a community-scale energy initiative powered by wind turbines, solar panels, and a biomass plant on campus—an initiative they hope can be replicated in other communities.

“I think Morris exemplifies a lot of what the university [system] is doing...well in sustainability,” says Shane Stennes, sustainability director at the Twin Cities campus. “They have made it part of their campus culture…Morris is about a sustainable renewable education.”

A Green Campus

The Morris campus is ranked fifth out of participating baccalaureate colleges around the country for overall performance in sustainability, according to the 2018 Sustainability Campus Index (SCI). This is a comprehensive annual report on college sustainability by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). The index is meant to show colleges where they can improve, according to Monika Urbanski, author of the SCI.

The report examines areas such as water conservation, public engagement, and waste management.

Through the Institute on the Environment, the Morris campus partners with officials in Saerbeck, Germany, to share knowledge and experiences surrounding sustainability initiatives.

The partnership has influenced some of the city and university’s energy and sustainability goals, says Blaine Hill, city manager for the City of Morris.

About 70 percent of electricity used on the Morris campus comes from renewable energy sources, according to Morris campus Sustainability Director Troy Goodnough. To address the remaining 30 percent, the campus is working on enhancing energy conservation and encouraging local electric utility companies to reduce carbon emissions, he says.

The campus’s biomass plant, which helps cool and heat the campus by burning things like corn cobs, is on track to offset 70 percent of the university’s fossil fuel usage by 2020, according to Goodnough.

Students Take On Sustainability

Students at Morris have played a large role in the sustainable initiatives on campus.

The campus organics collection system was started because of a push from students, according to Bryan Herrmann, vice chancellor for finance and facilities on the Morris campus.

The campus recycling program is also student-led, and some students take on roles as Green Ambassadors, leading tours on campus to show visitors the sustainability initiatives on campus.

The campus is also taking its sustainability efforts to the surrounding community as part of the Morris Model, a partnership with groups like the City of Morris and Stevens County.

Goodnough says the group was created because the town is already a model community in clean energy and sustainability, but they wanted to do more.

“The corner of the Morris Model is students. They have been involved every step of the way for years now,” Goodnough says.

The Morris Model team has created around 100 projects that help with sustainability on campus and in the community. One of the projects includes getting more solar energy on campus.

“We can be a model community for the state of Minnesota,” explains Mckenzie Dice, a student at Morris and an intern with the Morris Model. According to Dice, the Morris campus has a good relationship with the city, county, and local school system in part because of these initiatives.

“Students have a huge connection with the community here,” Dice says.

This article originally appeared in the College Planning & Management March 2019 issue of Spaces4Learning.

About the Author

Natalie Rademacher is a reporter for the Minnesota Daily (, a student-led media organization serving the University of Minnesota campus and surrounding community. This article first appeared in the Minnesota Daily and is used with permission.