St. Olaf College, MN Ten Principles of Sustainability

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Type: Policy

Status: Adopted

Source File:


Sustainability Task Force Report:

St. Olaf's 10 Principles

  1. Culture of Permanence
  2. Environmental Literacy
  3. Spirit and Nature
  4. Energy Flows
  5. Food that Nourishes
  6. Building for the Future
  7. Waste and Wasting
  8. Restoration
  9. Money and Values
  10. Planning and Accountability


In 1876, St. Olaf's School purchased 30 acres of land on a prominent hill one mile west of Northfield for a new campus for the young educational institution. Two years later, on November 6, 1878 , the trustees of the school dedicated the building we now know as Old Main. Since that time, St. Olaf has acquired more land and erected many more buildings. Today, the campus includes 58 buildings on roughly 1000 acres of land. During the school year, it is the environment for about 4000 people a day.

Environmentally speaking, a college campus is a machine for converting natural energy to human thoughtfulness. It's a place where people employ natural resources to refine and transmit the intellectual and artistic resources we call culture. Like all other colleges and universities, St. Olaf is an organic machine, where nature's energy is shaped by nature's human energy, and vice versa. We think of a campus as a place, a location, a space-and it is. But more importantly, it's a relationship, where human designs intersect with nature's designs in food and water, heat and electricity, cars and computers, lawns and gardens and natural lands. It's a place where the designs of the past affect the students of the present, and where our designs shape the lives of future students. A campus is one way of making love to nature-or of making war on it. It's a way of caring for God's creation. A campus is, like it or not, an ecological design.

It's also a small city. Like other cities, it includes housing and workplaces and spaces for sociability and entertainment. It has its own transportation infrastructure, and its own utility system. It employs people who care for the buildings and grounds, and who feed our students three times (or more) a day. We think of it as a place where students can think about complex issues, but the campus is complexity itself.

A campus is also a classroom. It's how we educate each other when we don't think we're involved in the process of education. We teach our students Environmental Studies in the classes and labs, but we also teach in the cafeteria and the residence halls, in the bathrooms and bookstore, in the computer labs and the power plant, on the roads and in the parking lots, on the lawns and on the natural lands. By its daily functioning, a college teaches students the common sense of their culture. Colleges are rooted in nature, and, if they succeed, they help to root their graduates in nature too. A college that wants to remain relevant to its students will teach them how to be leaders in the ecological transition of the 21 st century.

When we design intelligently, the campus still offers evidence of the life and energy of nature, still works in nature's life cycles. When we design well, our designs embrace life to bring good things to life. When we design well, we're involved in what John Lyle calls "regenerative design."

In the past, St. Olaf's leaders have designed well. We still inhabit Old Main, the original building on campus. Other buildings are also functional and aesthetically pleasing. The grounds are beautiful and well-cared for. We've done a lot to become responsible consumers of the earth's bounty.

But we're a long way from sustainable, and a campus designed primarily for the fossil-fuel era won't suffice for the 21 st century and beyond. Oil-which is the fuel we use to move people and materials around the world-is drying up. Supplies of natural gas are finite, and prices will increase throughout the century. Coal is plentiful and cheap, especially in the United States , but we can't afford to burn it all because of its environmental impacts. A hundred years from now, if St. Olaf College isn't more sustainable, it may be defunct.

As a result, the people of St. Olaf College will need to apply our traditions of intelligence, thoughtfulness and care to create a campus and a culture of permanence, a sustainable community. Starting today, we need to re-calculate our expectations concerning the care of creation on our campus. We need to reduce our depletion and degradation of natural resources. We need to think about how to power our lives and our computers on renewable resources. We need to begin to think of eating as an agricultural act, and align our meals with regenerative farming practices. We need to think about a car policy-or a transportation policy-that gets us where we need to go without changing the climate. We need to think (and act) carefully to prepare the college for a new era of environmental responsibility. We need to think about taking good care of God's evolving creation.

Because of the stewardship of campus leaders past and present, we think the college is well-positioned to be a national leader in sustainable design and campus ecology. Here's how we might begin. In this report, we start with principles. In the second section, we apply those principles to our present performance. And in the final section, we offer some possibilities for deliberation and action. Let us know what you think.