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Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition

Minnesota businesses are taking ownership of their footprints and taking steps toward a more sustainable future. The Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition is a group of Minnesota companies, agencies, and small businesses partnered to promote sustainability within their own practices and move toward a circular economy.  

What is a circular economy?

MN businesses had the same question. The first goal of the Sustainable Growth Coalition is to create parameters for a circular economy, which is a closed loop sustainable system. Circular economies are self-sustaining, and have an indefinite ability to operate sustainably. All energy creation and consumption happens efficiently and renewably, creating a circular flow of resources, and thus, a circular economy.

What is the University’s role in the Sustainable Growth Coalition?

The University of Minnesota is a leader is sustainable research, and so it serves first and foremost as an educational arm to research knowledge and expertise which informs the Coalition’s activities and next steps. The University’s Institute on the Environment is the primary place where the “big questions” of a sustainable circular economy are tackled and studied, and it produces the answers needed to move forward with sustainable practices. Students can engage in this endeavor too, by participating in internships that give the opportunity to research these big questions.

The other way the University participates in the Coalition is, of course, as a sustainable partner. The University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, with its three campuses and 60,000 students, faculty and staff, is a huge consumer of resources. We are constantly faced with the question of how to operate more sustainably and reduce the size of our footprint. How do we further our own goal of becoming a sustainable institution, and how do we fit that goal the circular economy goal of the Sustainable Growth Coalition?

The University has four main goals when it comes to sustainability: clean energy use, responsible water stewardship, sustainable food systems, and sustainable waste management. UMN is committed to reducing its energy consumption by 50% by 2020, a goal that can be met by increasing efficiency in old buildings on campus and implementing energy sources that are both efficient and renewable in new buildings. Solar energy is a special focus on campus, with projects like the community solar garden and new onsite solar installations to power small areas.

The University is also focused rebuilding natural capital, and engineering ways for our campus and consumption to coexist with the environment it inhabits. In practice, this means implementing practices like responsible stormwater management and river purity maintenance, as well as monitoring and managing our consumption and waste of potable water.

Creating a sustainable food system and sustainable waste management practices overlap significantly; in addition to sustainable sourcing and waste management in production, the University seeks to reduce its food waste and to responsibly dispose of the food waste that it does create. That means expanding organics recycling programs on campus and finding ways to introduce our waste products back into the system for reuse and recycling.

Looking ahead

The Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition is one of the first of its kind nationwide, and hopes to play a leadership role in sustainability with its goal of a circular economy. The circular economy is a future state goal, one that ideally could be expanded beyond companies and corporations to include state and regional economies. Through collective steps to reach a collective goal, the Sustainable Growth Coalition is setting an example of how to take steps toward a sustainable future.