Northland College, WI Commitment to Sustainability

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Northland College, WI, US

Type: Policy

Status: Adopted

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Our Commitment to Sustainability
At Northland College, sustainability is all about people. We believe that environmental change requires more than technical knowledge of renewable energy, ecosystems, and sustainable business practices; it demands an exploration of human nature—an exploration of ourselves. We focus on environmental leadership throughout the student experience at Northland. Our students participate in all levels of our campus life—from volunteering to enhance our "commons", to work-study jobs that support our green features, to capstone projects that help our college innovate. Students are active in governance, strategic planning, and vision-setting. They are not just tomorrow’s environmental leaders; Northland students are creating a more sustainable future now.

Our commitment to sustainability is about acting from a position of hope: we can only construct a positive future if we can envision it. Creating change is a complex, iterative process. Our campus is a lab where we pursue sustainability—testing theories in real world projects, with real impacts and real risks. Northland’s liberal arts mission is to educate leaders who will address future problems that we cannot begin to imagine. By helping the college become more sustainable now, our students develop the skills they will need to change the world.

Whether you visit Northland College for one day, or decide to spend your student career here on the edge of Lake Superior, we welcome you to learn about how we are creating a sustainable future. In return, we ask—what inspiration will you find here, and how will you pass it on?

  • Learn more about sustainability at Northland by joining Environmental Council's Facebook group!

Northland plays a key role across the country on issues of sustainability. Most recently, we became a member of the leadership circle of signatories of the American Colleges and Universities Presidents’ Climate Commitment.

The College has begun a two-year comprehensive planning process to understand its greenhouse gas footprint and set a goal to become climate neutral. Northland also has affiliations with the Upper Midwest Association for Campus Sustainability, National Wildlife Federation's Campus Ecology Program, Campus Consortium for Environmental Excellence, Chequamegon Bay Green Team, and the Ecoleague, among others.

Governance and Vision
Creating change is about action from the ground up coupled with strategic vision and coordination. For thirty-five years, we have striven to be the Leading Environmental Liberal Arts College. Northland has adopted the Natural Step Framework as its definition of sustainability. Environmental Council – a team of faculty, staff, and students– has coordinated sustainability efforts for over twenty years. The Council tracks issues of transportation, food systems and composting, landscaping, waste and recycling, and energy. The Northland College Student Association (NCSA) also takes a leadership role in helping the college walk its talk, funding a yearly campus sustainability project. Northland College was recently selected as a pilot school to test a new national sustainability rating system called STARS developed by the American Association of Sustainability in Higher Education.

Green Buildings & Landscape
No matter what the season, Northland College is covered in green. Our green buildings range from the Strawbale Energy Lab, a student-built structure that showcases alternative building techniques and operates "off the grid", to the McLean Environmental Living and Learning Center (MELLC). The MELLC, Northland’s environment residence hall, was not only built with a variety of recycled products and energy efficient materials, but was also a prototype in the development of the now widespread LEED green building standards. The campus also features two wind towers, four hot-water arrays, two photovoltaic arrays, geothermal heating and cooling in the Ponzio Campus Center, green cleaning products, furniture made from recycled materials, and super-insulated buildings. As the campus has expanded, we have recycled old buildings; two houses on campus property were sold and relocated right in Ashland.

Food Systems
Northland’s Director of Food Services gets regular phone calls from other campuses asking how to make their selections more environmentally savvy. Northland’s cafeteria boasts vegan and vegetarian options, sustainably harvested seafood, and organic and fair-trade choices. The dining service provides free, reusable mugs, offering discounts on drinks if the mugs are used. Work-study students compost food scraps from the cafeteria and the residence halls, saving 8,000 pounds of material annually from the landfill. The compost is used in the campus garden, where students grow food for the Outdoor Orientation trips, our "Everybody Party," and the Thanksgiving Feast.

Conservation and Recycling
Energy savings at Northland goes beyond buildings to more complex issue of human behavior. Students host competitions between the residence halls to reduce energy use. An art course incorporates environmentally friendly materials. Campus native landscaping reduces the need for watering and mowing, showcases our northern environment, and provides native seed stock for student projects. Collection basins filter stormwater runoff to slow the rate of water moving into neighboring creeks. Chemistry classes check area water quality. Work-study students monitor campus waste and recycling and create educational campaigns to improve our habits.

Outreach and Campus Events
Northland’s mission includes a commitment to share what we are learning. We offer leadership training to high school and middle school students through our summer Pathfinders program. The Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute, the College’s outreach arm, leads regional initiatives on Lake Superior issues, northern ecosystems, and sustainability. Students serve in the northwoods and across the country as interns and volunteers in environmental fields. Work-study students track our progress towards sustainability and create educational campaigns for the college community. Campus events include our Sustainability Fair, Stewardship Week, and Energy Awareness Month.

Living in a rural region often means an increased reliance on vehicles, but we are working on cutting-edge strategies to reduce our use of fossil fuels. The Northland College Student Association (NCSA) partnered with Bay Area Rural Transit to provide expanded services and free bus passes for students. Northland is measuring greenhouse gas emissions from field trips, sporting events, and college-related air travel to develop the best methods to offset this impact. The maintenance department uses electric vehicles, and NCSA funded a new hybrid car for the Admissions Office. Students run a program that offers free access to bicycles, and many faculty and staff live near the college and walk to work.

Our environmental ethic is woven throughout the curriculum, including Sustainable Business, Introduction to Environmental Studies, Sustainable Agriculture, a Physics course in Renewable Energy, and Natural Resources. Students have created capstone projects hosting a regional conference on organic farming and developed action plans to increase local foods in our cafeteria. We are designing liberal education programs that focus on multidisciplinary, experiential learning. In fall of 2007, the first Superior Connections students began studying geology, biology, religion, and writing, and other liberal arts courses through the lens of the Lake Superior watershed.

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