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UWRF launches sustainable institute for new development, goals

April 26, 2007

UW-River Falls has always supported sustainability principles, both on campus and off. In the face of new sustainability issues involving growth and change in the surrounding communities, UWRF created the St. Croix Institute of Sustainable Community Development (SCISCD).

In February, Chancellor Don Betz introduced the strategic plan, “Living the Promise 2007-2012,” in a campus-wide meeting. The set of 10 goals is expected to reinforce core values and help the University carry out its mission to help students become productive, creative, ethical, engaged and informed citizens and leaders. These goals will employ sustainable principles with the intention of UWRF will becoming “a leader in upholding the principles of a sustainable society in which current needs are met without compromising opportunities for future generations,” according to the University’s strategic planning Web site.

Betz said the intent behind the SCISCD is not only to move the strategic plan along, but to ensure that sustainability becomes a primary focus throughout all aspects of the University, on campus and off.

“We want to explore a full range of issues,” Betz said. “It’s not only how do we preserve [what we have], but how do we continue to develop responsibly. It’s not just campus, but communities around and in the St. Croix River Valley.”

UWRF takes part in both national and global sustainability organizations, such as the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. Betz is also one of the founding participants of American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment as well as a charter member of its Leadership Circle of presidents and chancellors.

Last August, Gov. Jim Doyle announced four universities in the UW-System, including UWRF, will take part in a pilot program to make their campuses completely energy independent within the next five years, according to the governor’s Web site. To help this along, the campus recently signed an agreement with River Falls Municipal Utilities and Wisconsin Public Power, Inc., to commit to purchasing “better” sources of energy as well as the exploration of alternative energy sources.

Kelly Cain, an environmental sciences professor, has been named director of the SCISCD. A long-time faculty member, Cain said much of his personal and professional life has revolved around sustainable community study and service, but that with the creation of the Institute, it will become an all-encompassing campus issue.

“The SCISCD is the collective commitment of the chancellor and the University as a whole to set the bar high for “walking the talk,” Cain said. “If we can’t practice what we preach on our own campus, then we will have a hard time having credibility of providing … to communities outside our own.”

Students on campus have shown commitment to sustainability in recent years. In January, the new University Center was opened, funded entirely by students with nearly $1 million invested solely for sustainability measures. With the help of environmental interest groups on campus, such as the Earth Consciousness Organization (ECO), students have made huge strides in educating students about issues from energy consumption to recycling.

It is the hope of the University, Betz said, that students will feel the need and desire to get involved with the institute as well.

“This will translate into new opportunities for students,” Betz said.

Students from every facet of the University will play critical roles in the growth of the Institute. While students are encouraged to participate in initiatives spurred by the Institute, they will also be needed to participate in various committees that will work to help the Institute evolve over time.

“My experience with multi-disciplinary projects, service learning and student efforts in this area are all the evidence I need to know how valuable that input and enthusiasm is to everything we’ll be working on,” Cain said. “We will seek every opportunity to get students and faculty involved through…a wide variety of efforts in support of our research, scholarly and creative initiatives.”

Students interested in learning more about sustainability issues at UWRF can visit www.uwrf.edu/sustain.