Sustainable Campus

The University of Minnesota is committed to investing in our planet, and this important work is framed in the U’s systemwide strategic plan, MPact 2025, as a goal to “build a fully sustainable future.”

The University has done many activities to support the investment in our planet in the areas of energy, waste & materials management, water & grounds stewardship, and other projects. Not only does this work benefit the environment, it also supports our University community. 

Go on a sustainability walking tour of campus

Click "Learn more" in each section below for more information.

 


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Energy Management and Facilities Management staff support energy savings efforts and projects across campus. Here are some of the ways we efficiently use and save energy on the Twin Cities campus: 

  • The Main Energy Plant (MEP) operates at 75% energy efficiency. It features a heat recovery system that generates electric and steam power to support the Minneapolis campus. The MEP reduced the University’s net carbon footprint by approximately 15%, and can serve as an “energy island” that remains active in external outage events.

  • Lighting retrofits and projects implemented over the past few years have been to upgrade fluorescent lighting to LED lighting, which accounted for 50% of University energy savings in 2021. Nearly 70% of campus has been converted to LED lighting.

  • Building mechanical systems scheduling and building controls contribute yearly to efficient energy usage. In 2021 ventilation systems improvements contributed to 10% of the energy saving projects. Check out the Building Energy Dashboards to view the amount of electricity, steam and chilled water being consumed in buildings on campus.

  • The Ultra-Low Temperature Heating (ULTH) pilot in the Lions Research Building/McGuire Translational Research Facility is nearly complete and will heat makeup air required in our mission-critical campus teaching and research facilities. The applied-engineering approach leverages the campus district-cooling grid to transport waste-heat to where it can be used directly to preheat makeup air. It is estimated to be complete by the heating season and save more than $65,000 in natural gas annually, also reducing our carbon footprint.

  • 9 on-campus solar arrays generate approximately 2.4 million kilowatts of electricity each year. That’s enough to power nearly 200 average Minnesota homes. The solar panels atop Rapson Hall will soon be replaced, and it is estimated that the new array will have 2-3 times the capacity of the existing system, generating as much electricity as five single family homes use each year. The installation will include other improvements, like shading optimization.

  • Learn about the S104 Lot solar array on the St. Paul campus:

  • View Facilities Management's Building Energy Dashboards
  • View the Energy Dashboard
  • View the Carbon Dashboard

WRS bins

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Currently, 45% of our campus waste is diverted from the trash. Here are some of those efforts put in place to help achieve this goal:

  • The compostable organics recycling rollout is nearing completion with more than 75% of the 180 buildings complete. This program is unique to the U where composting can be found alongside traditional can, bottle, and paper recycling. The program has been very successful, with our compost loads consistently meeting or exceeding the requirements by the composting site. In FY 2021, 2,780,000 pounds of organic material including yard waste were diverted from the trash.

  • The ReUse Program collects surplus office furniture, supplies, equipment and parts from throughout the Twin Cities Campus and makes them available to University departments or individuals for purchase. The ReUse Student Summer Storage program allows students to store their belongings instead of throwing them out at the end of the semester then buying new for the fall. 

  • The recycling team supports Zero Waste Events by providing extra organics and recycling bins, coordinating waste disposal, and advising on waste-related decision making. Many events on campus work toward being zero waste events, including events at Huntington Bank Stadium. One notable event that achieved zero waste was President Gabel’s inauguration in 2019.

  • Recycling at the U offers information on what can be recycled and how. Operations are continuously being evaluated and streamlined to support the intake of more and different items, often accommodating items that were previously non-recyclable. Learn more about WRS in this video!

  • Waste Recovery Services contributes to reducing our carbon footprint by implementing measures to make fewer trips to collect and transport waste like the implementation of waste sensor technology and more efficient compactors.

  • In addition to sustainably managing our waste stream, the routine cleaning products and tools used by the University's custodial staff are all Green Seal Certified. Our waste and recycle liners are made from at least 70% post-consumer recycled content and are custom fitted to fit all receptacles on campus. Our brown restroom paper towel rolls are made from 100% recovered material and at least 50% post consumer recycled content. Learn more.

  • View the Waste Dashboard


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Overall the University collects and reuses about 5 million gallons of rainwater per year in multiple locations on campus, including:

  • Approximately 300,000 gallons of water are reclaimed per year for toilet flushing at 17th Avenue Residence Hall.

  • 1.5 million gallons of water per year are reclaimed for cooling Athletes’ Village.

  • Underground storage systems collect the run-off from Pioneer Hall and Health Sciences Education Center (HSEC) (3.5 million gallons) to use in the cooling towers at Moos Tower for district cooling.

  • The cistern at the Landcare Building collects rainwater for watering plants.

  • Approximately 70,000 gallons per year of reclaimed condensate gets fed to the cooling tower the Cancer and Cardiovascular Research Building (CCRB)

  • Once complete, the new Campbell Hall will collect runoff to be used for the landscape.

  • Water Utilities and U Construction also steward the stormwater runoff that flows on our campus, picking up pollutants like trash, chemicals, oils, and sediment that can harm our waterways. To protect these resources, stormwater controls, known as Best Management Practices (BMPs) and employee training and inspection requirements are used to prevent pollution by controlling it at its source.
  • Landcare maintains a number of diverse prairie gardens that protect and preserve the natural ecosystem, while also providing beauty. These gardens are filled with plants that are native to Minnesota.
  • More than 40 acres of traditional lawn areas have been converted to prairie, wildflower meadows, or lower input turf varieties.
  • Landcare operates a centrally controlled, evapotranspiration based campus irrigation system. Plants are watered based on how much water they need, and Landcare is exploring the use of organic amendments as an alternative to chemical fertilizer.
  • All Landcare staff complete winter Smart Salting training through the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
  • New tree species are selected to increase campus biodiversity and resilience against disease and pests, like emerald ash borer.
  • The campus earned Bee Campus USA designation in 2020.
  • Check out Landcare's FAQs to learn more!
  • View the Water Dashboard

 

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The University's dining vendor, Chartwells, has several sustainability initiatives and commitments:

  • Chartwells has launched a plant-forward dining option to help universities explore new, plant-based meal options and their health benefits at universities nationwide.
  • Chartwells is dedicated to following the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program guidelines, ensuring the purchase of only high-quality and sustainable seafood.
  • Chartwells has created the Waste Not program to measure the amount of food waste being generated. The amount of food waste is measured daily and staff work to find solutions to reduce this amount. Staff are trained to use as much of the fruits or vegetables as possible and find ways to use scraps that would normally be thrown away.

  • Chartwells' HowGood Partnership will introduce climate labeling in dining halls to help guests make more informed dining decisions and understand the environmental and social impact of their food. HowGood, the world’s largest product sustainability database, will evaluate and analyze our recipes awarding them with sustainability and climate friendly identifiers which will be displayed prominently on our digital menu boards and product identifiers.

  • All eggs (liquid and shell) will be sourced from humane cage-free eggs.

  • All poultry products will be raised without the routine use of antibiotics.

  • All pork from animals will be sourced from vendors who do not confine animals to gestation crates.

  • All milk and yogurt sourced by Chartwells will be rBGH-free.

  • M Food Co. provides OZZI reusable to-go containers to take food out of residential dining halls.

  • Learn more about M Food Co.


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Biking and Walking on Campus

  • The Twin Cities campus has 46 miles of sidewalks and plazas
  • There are 12+ miles of on-campus and campus-adjacent dedicated bike lanes and paths!
  • More than 9,500 bike racks and 370 secure bike lockers are placed across campus
  • The ZAP Bike Program allows bicyclists to earn points toward gift cards just for riding a bike around campus
  • Visit The Hub Bike Center for repairs, gear, classes, bike lockers, showers, and more.
  • Check out Nice Ride bike sharing, available April-November at public kiosks across campus. Bikes can be returned to any Nice Ride kiosk.

Campus Buses and Metro Transit

Electric Vehicles

Vehicle Sharing

  • Hourcar is the largest vehicle sharing program in the Twin Cities! The program has multiple locations on campus and guarantees 24/7 access to vehicles.
  • Evie Carshare is an all-electric, one-way, free-floating service with trips by the minute, hour, or day. Find cars in the Home Area and end trips at City of Minneapolis or Saint Paul meters 2+ hours, in permit required zones, and other on-street parking spaces.

  • The Gopher Rideshare carpooling program aims to reduce car congestion, improve air quality, decrease wear and tear on the road and allow individuals to save money by exploring various transportation options.

Learn more about PTS and its Awards & Achievements!


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  • The University of Minnesota Bookstores BYOB (Bring Your Own Bag) Program runs each year from February-July. $0.05 is donated to a sustainable organization or cause for each customer that brings their own bag & declines the use of a Bookstore bag. The Bookstores ask whether or not a customer would like a bag instead of automatically putting their items in one, significantly reducing the amount of plastic bags used.
  • Reducing pickup order packaging: The Bookstores' e-commerce pick-up bags are reusable, resulting in the elimination of cardboard and plastic for over 10,000 orders per semester.
  • The University of Minnesota Bookstores has placed plastic bag recycling bags at entrances and exits in partnership with the University Waste Recovery Services.
  • The Bookstores donates pallets of books to BetterWorldBooks each year. BetterWorldBooks saves books from going to landfills, reduces the carbon footprint, resells them to raise money for grants, donates them to those in need, and fights for improved literacy worldwide.
  • At the end of each semester, students can bring their textbooks back to the U of M Bookstores and get cash for them to help keep books out of landfills and to allow them to be reused for future semesters.
  • U of M Bookstores proudly carries a number of products that support sustainability and our environment.

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  • Capital Project ManagementUConstruction, and FMdesign strategically design, build, and renovate with energy efficiency and responsible purchasing and materials management in mind. This work has earned our campus numerous sustainability awards and ratings.
  • New construction and major renovations follow interior design standards that incorporate the University’s sustainability requirements and following Minnesota B3 Guidelines.

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  • HRL has expanded its ionized water cleaning program to Pioneer, Territorial, Sanford and Wilkins Halls

  • Laundry machines operate with cold water

  • Centennial, Frontier, and Pioneer Halls have programmable thermostats

  • Sanford and Pioneer Halls have dual-flush toilets to reduce water waste

  • Gray water is reused for toilet flushing in the 17th Avenue Residence Hall

  • Low-flow water fixtures, heat recovery systems, and LED lighting fixtures are installed throughout residence halls

  • Residence halls feature expanded bicycle parking

  • Purchased furniture is specified from recycled or sustainable materials, finishes are specified from sustainable materials, and appliances are specified as energy efficient

  • Composting program implemented throughout the residential facilities

  • Sustainability Advocates program initiated with Waste Management

  • The ReUse Program has implemented a futon reuse program

  • Annual reuse collection and distribution program implemented

  • The Pioneer Hall Renovation features a heat recovery system used in public spaces, occupancy sensors used in public spaces, programmable thermostats used in residence rooms, high-solar-gain windows installed throughout the facility, daylighting controls used in the dining facility and large community lounges, and LED lighting installed throughout the facility

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  • Printing Services is committed to helping the University magnify its message while consciously minimizing its waste. Printing Services continually researches ways to reduce its environmental footprint, and adheres to the reduce-reuse-recycle-recover philosophy at each of its seven printing facilities, helping the University lead the way in sustainable printing practices.

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  • Labs make up 25% of the physical space at the University of Minnesota but around 60% of the total energy use. Visit the Green Labs program to learn about efforts to make campus labs more sustainable, including lab plastics recycling, paper towel composting, and freezer adjustments

Stadium Gopher sports sunset

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  • Huntington Bank Stadium is the first LEED Certified football stadium in the country.
  • The facility features recycled steel, a reflective roof to regulate heat, energy efficient lighting and elevators, and a compostable organics collections site.
  • 98% waste diversion rate was achieved during construction.

 

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  • FMdesign designed recent retrofits for several University buildings to help mitigate bird collisions, such as designs to make glass visible to birds. Further retrofits are being considered. The Stop the Thud! Lights Out for Birds initiative aims to prevent bird-building collisions on campus, especially during migratory periods.

  • Analysis has begun on an application that calculates how much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases trees sequester from the atmosphere. It also calculates the economic value of the shade a tree provides to a building.

  • A team has been assembled for the initiative to identify and replace R22 refrigerant operating equipment with a new, greener alternative.