UND made sustainability a part of its day-to-day culture long before historic global climate accord in Paris

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UND made sustainability a part of its day-to-day culture long before historic global climate accord in Paris

The University of North Dakota is well ahead of the curve when it comes to climate change and related green efforts.

Long before this weekend’s historic climate change pact in Paris, UND was altering its landscape and practices — and that includes lots more than changing light bulbs.

The accord — historic because of the sweeping changes it proposes and because of an almost universal global agreement to its terms — will significantly alter the way the world manages its energy resources.

“The Paris Climate Agreement is a significant step forward for international cooperation to address climate change,” said Rebecca Romsdahl and faculty member and researcher in the UND Department of Earth System Science and Policy, part of the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.

“But as many have emphasized, it is just the beginning of this new phase of international cooperation and accountability,” says Romsdahl, who organized last week’s Climate and Culture Festival on campus — included keynote speaker and famed Polar explorer Will Steger.

World changing

Romsdahl says she’s optimistic that this agreement will encourage changes in global behavior at the national level.

“I foresee that leadership and innovative strategies at all levels will tackle the challenges we face, from nations and cities, to businesses and organizations,” said Romsdahl.

Romsdahl underscores UND’s role in this world-changing pact.

“We also are part of this process as we work to complete the University's 2015 Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report and continue to adopt more sustainable energy measures across campus,” Romsdahl said. “This is a historic time for students at UND, many will undoubtedly pursue careers where they will contribute to solutions and adaptations to climate change.”

The climate pact was signed in Paris this past weekend 195 nations.

Among many moves that it accomplished prior to the international climate accord, UND has constructed several green buildings, including the award-winning University Place residence facility, the Gorecki Alumni Center, and the modifications and new addition to the UND College of Education & Human Development, all constructed under national green building guidelines.

UND’s plan

These initiatives — including a sweeping, ongoing effort to change the University’s lighting systems — are part of the University’s commitment to an agreement signed by former UND President Charles Kupchella as part of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (now called Second Nature). Following that agreement, Kupchella formed the UND Council on Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability [Sustainability Council for short]. Current UND President Robert O. Kelley re-affirmed the climate change agreement and continued supporting the council, which is currently overseeing the second edition of the University’s Climate Action Plan.

UND’s sustainability efforts include the active participation of students, such as coordinated recycling efforts in the residence halls and a food waste reduction program in the dining facilities.

UND also offers a Master of Science and a Master of Engineering degree in Sustainable Energy Engineering, continuing UND’s tradition as a world leader in energy-related research and education. The Sustainable Energy Engineering program, among other goals, educates graduate students in the growing field of sustainable energy engineering which includes the absorption and conversion of wind energy.

Coursework is designed to help students develop a broad background in the technical, economic and societal factors needed to develop sustainable energy. Research projects provide focused, experiential learning in areas of sustainable energy engineering. Projects are often conducted through our interdisciplinary Sustainable Energy Research, Infrastructure and Supporting Education (ND SUNRISE) research initiative, the Petroleum Research, Education and Entrepreneurship Center of Excellence or in collaboration with the Energy and Environmental Research Center.

ESSP offers a minor in Sustainability Studies. This program utilizes the multidisciplinary expertise of the ESSP faculty (including: agro-ecology, renewable energy, hydrology, geomorphology, public policy, economics, climate modeling, and geospatial analysis) to introduce students to concepts, principles and decision-making issues composing the inter-relationships between the three pillars of sustainability: environment, society and economy.

‘Aggressive’ approach

UND is consistently listed as one of the greenest colleges by independent sources.

The Princeton Review’s Guide to Green Colleges — which profiles more than 300 colleges and universities across the country — ranked UND in the top 10.

“We’ve been really fortunate in getting grants, mostly from the state of North Dakota, to upgrade our infrastructure,” said Larry Zitzow, director of facilities management at UND and co-chair of the UND Sustainability Council. “These ongoing improvements aim to reduce our carbon footprint and save utility dollars. It’s about a lot more than changing light bulbs.”

At UND, Zitzow notes, sustainability enhancements include systems for turning off lights automatically, shutting down air handlers when a building is unoccupied, and major changes in lighting systems to reduce electricity consumption.

“We’re becoming a very aggressive institution with respect to sustainability,” Zitzow said. “We’re making lots of changes and enhancing the campus.”

Sustainability, in other words, is about both actions and attitudes.

“Sustainability means that as a University we strive to meet the needs of today without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs,” President Kelley said. “It means finding ways we can save energy, be friendlier to the environment and conduct research to help future generations.”

Juan Miguel PedrazaUniversity & Public Affairs writer

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