Mindy Granley, UMD Sustainability Coordinator
Paper or Plastic? The answer to this simple question we hear at grocery stores can sometimes divide families and friends. Some people may cite the amount of energy and water used for production of a paper bag as they chose the plastic option. Others conjure up an image of a large vortex made up of plastic bits floating in our oceans, as they chose paper. Others think of regional forestry jobs, or using fossil fuel as a raw material. Often times, the answer to the question is easy: bring your own bag. (Assuming one doesn’t leave their reusable bags at home!)
But, what is sustainability? That question can’t be answered with one single viewpoint or one simple choice. The answer is more complex, and can be shaped by each person’s individual experience. Some might view sustainability as limiting our choices. But, it is actually about making choices available for not just us, but for future generations. How can we leave the world a better place? How can we save natural and economic resources for future generations? Finding answers to some of these difficult questions is part of what NRRI does.
The University of Minnesota Board of Regents policy on Energy Efficiency and Sustainability defines sustainability as "a continuous effort integrating environmental, social, and economic goals through design, planning, and operational organization to meet current needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." Integrating environmental, social, and economic goals was the reason NRRI was created almost 30 years ago, and it continues to be their mission today. The stories in this newsletter are inspiring. By finding new uses for the wasted stems of a soybean plant and unearthing new markets for reclaimed old-growth wood, NRRI is helping both the economy and the environment. By sharing results of research on invasive mussels and indicators of coastal health, NRRI supports decision-making for both the economic and environmental bottom line.
As part of UMD, NRRI is a key contributor to the campus core value of sustainability. The UMD Strategic Plan also includes goals to infuse the concept of sustainability across the curriculum, reduce campus greenhouse gas emissions, and revise the master plan for the future of our campus. Whether educating future leaders, conducting research, modeling sustainable operations, or being a leader in adopting new technologies and techniques, UMD strives for sustainability. By sharing our progress (and setbacks) with our students and our community, we can promote adoption of environmentally, economically, and socially sound choices.
To sustain our society we’ll have to transition from our gift of fossil fuels and look for alternatives and local resources. We’ll have to embrace the idea that there is no real "waste," and that most everything can be recycled or repurposed, including "waste" from industrial processes. We will have to study how various species are responding to changes in our world. We’ll have to find ways to improve the environment while creating and sustaining jobs. Through their research, NRRI is working on these — and many more — critical issues for Minnesota.