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Sustainability Goals & Initiatives

As a rural liberal arts school “in the middle of everywhere,” Morris is blessed with abundant wind, rich soil, and ample sun. We are also at the intersection of diverse ecological prairie and forest regions. Our location is an ideal laboratory for new ideas in sustainability. It's a place for students to engage in substantive work in sustainability and to lead.

Morris has a broad array of initiatives devoted to sustainability. Among our areas of focus are renewable energy, food, and student leadership, but our efforts extend to almost every field of our operations.

Renewable Energy and Emissions

Morris is an original signer of the American Colleges & Universities President’s Climate Commitment, and through our Climate Action Plan we are dedicated to becoming carbon neutral by 2020. So far, we have reduced our direct emissions (Scope 2) by about 40 percent relative to 2007 baselines. We are reducing both direct and indirect emissions by using renewable energy and maximizing conservation efforts.

Renewable energy sources provide the bulk of our power, heating, and cooling needs.

Wind Turbines

Two 1.65 megawatt wind turbines are situated just off campus at the University of Minnesota West Central Research and Outreach Center (WCROC). The first wind turbine was funded by the University of Minnesota’s Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment (IREE), which provided nearly $4 million for renewable energy research and demonstration at WCROC and Morris.

Biomass Generator

Our biomass gasifier annually consumes several thousand tons of corn cobs, wood, and agricultural residues, all gathered from areas near the campus. It generates 19 million BTUs at full capacity, keeping 8,000 tons of CO2 emissions out of the environment each year.


The campus solar array is located at the Regional Fitness Center and is used to heat the recreational swimming pool.


Conservation is one of the ways Morris got started in sustainability. In 2001, when students requested we purchase wind energy to reduce our carbon emissions, the administration asked the students to find ways to cover the added costs through conservation. They did so by reducing power and water usage and increasing campus recycling. We now have conservation efforts in place across a wide range of our activities.


We are in the process of switching our entire fleet of campus cars to hybrid gas-electric vehicles. The new cars use less gasoline, thereby emitting fewer greenhouse gases than conventional vehicles. This decreases emissions by more than 21 tons of CO2 per year. Diesel-powered grounds equipment runs on B-20, a 20 percent blend of soy biodiesel. The Morris fleet also includes a zero emission vehicle, the ZEV, which runs completely on electricity.


We put flow restrictors on bathroom faucets and showers, installed low-flow toilets, and automated urinal flushers. We also recycle water from our steam plant. Campus water use is now reduced by two million gallons each year.

Light and heat

We invested $4 million in energy-saving retrofits to our buildings, swapped out conventional lights for energy-saving LED lights or compact fluorescent bulbs. We also installed programmable temperature controls to reduce power usage. The improvements generate several hundred thousand dollars of savings a year and have paid for themselves via an innovative financing arrangement with McKinstry, an engineering and energy services firm.


Students run the Morris recycling program. The campus recycles aluminum, tin, plastic, glass, and electronics waste as well as cardboard, glossy paper, office paper, and newsprint. Disposable plates and cutlery are made from biodegradable starch. Students have instituted a new composting initiative to reduce campus waste.


Morris students led the effort to install VendingMisers® on refrigerated vending machines. The devices automatically power down the machines when they are not in active use, cutting energy consumption by more than 40 percent.

Construction and Renovation

In construction, reusing existing structures and reclaiming materials are some of the best ways to reduce consumption of resources and cut down emissions. Our new residence hall will meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold sustainability standards. Future construction and renovations will also adhere to LEED standards, a policy that grew out of a student-led initiative.


The Community Services Building, built in 1915, is in the National Register of Historic Places It was originally an engineering building, and we needed to renovate it to create the campus Welcome Center. As part of our commitment to our heritage, we decided to bring it up to 21st century environmental standards while preserving its links to the past. The Welcome Center is now a campus centerpiece.

  • The new structure earned a LEED Gold rating.
  • It is one of the most energy efficient structures in Minnesota and is the first building in the state––as well as the first listed on the National Register of Historic Places—to use chilled-beam technology.
  • Its interior features wood reclaimed from exterior demolition.
  • Motion sensors and dimmable light fixtures cut power use.
  • Placement and design features provide ample sunlight and passive solar benefits.
  • The Welcome Center received the 2011 Minnesota Construction Association’s award.


Opened in fall 2013, the LEED-Gold certified Green Prairie Community is an innovative living and learning environment that complements Morris’s focus on environmental sustainability. Environmentally friendly features include:

  • Real-time energy monitoring system, which helps residents use power wisely
  • High thermal mass insulated concrete forms for superior insulation
  • Low VOC interior finishes and furnishings for improved air quality
  • Site placement and building design that provide daylight in all public and residential spaces and enhance green design features and links to the prairie ecosystem
  • Orchard, edible landscaping, and gardens
  • Low-flow water fixtures
  • Power, heat, and cooling from campus renewable energy sources
  • Abundant bike racks
  • Residence programs on sustainability issues
  • Community meals prepared with food produced onsite and locally


Morris has two majors devoted to environmental issues, Environmental Science and Environmental Studies, and sustainability is woven throughout our academic offerings.

  • Climate neutrality is addressed in courses and co-curricular activities, making use of the renewable energy resources on and near campus.
  • The Green Energy tour is part of some courses—the tour covers both scientific and policy issues.
  • Faculty regularly include students in technological research related to renewable energy and the environment.
  • Environmental policy issues are addressed in courses across multiple disciplines.
  • Morris Office of Sustainability staff train Green Ambassadors to lead green tours for visitors at student orientation and other events.
  • Students continually find new and innovative ways to address sustainability issues, making Morris a laboratory for sustainable learning.

Learn more about how sustainability plays a part in our curricula »


Faculty research is a vital part of our sustainability work. Much of the research is done at our renewable energy sites on or near campus, but faculty are also working on projects devoted to environmental conservation and other topics with environmental benefits.

In addition to Morris, two other research facilities—the West Central Research and Outreach Center (WCROC) and the USDA Soil Conservation Research Center—form a research triangle called the Green Prairie Alliance.

Current research projects by the Green Prairie Alliance include:

  • Biomass gasification district heating and cooling
  • Biomass collection, handling, densification, and storage
  • Wind power and gasification economics
  • Renewable nitrogen fertilizer production
  • Solar energy demonstrations
  • Sustainable crop residue harvesting

Learn more about the work being done at Morris and partner organizations »


Morris has made considerable investments in sustainability, which are providing immediate savings and environmental benefits. In addition, we will continue to save money as a result of these investments while reducing our carbon footprint. Significant portions of these investments go directly to the local economy, supporting farmers and small businesses in the region.

  • Over $2.6 million invested in energy conservation and retrofits for the campus, facilities, and operations, which helped us reduce electricity consumption by 1 million kWh between 2007 and 2012
  • $4 million invested in our second wind turbine, greatly increasing the amount of power from renewable energy, now averaging about 60 percent annually
  • Approximately $9 million invested on the biomass gasification plant, which included about $3 million in federal and other grant funding
  • $1.4 million invested in capital equipment to further improve the performance of our systems, like the absorption chiller and the steam turbine on the biomass plant
  • Solar thermal fixtures, purchased locally, avoid approximately 15 tons of carbon emissions per year
  • Biomass purchases put over $500,000 into the farming community annually while displacing significant carbon emissions
  • Investments to build the new Green Prairie residence hall will yield financial benefits in energy savings for decades
  • A solar thermal system was funded by grants, an anonymous donor and other funds, was purchased locally, and lowers emissions by approximately 15 tons of carbon emissions per year

Student Leadership

Students began the sustainability movement at Morris in 2001, and students regularly lead efforts today in classrooms, on campus, and beyond.

  • Research projects
  • Local and healthy food
  • Community outreach and collaboration
  • Policy research and debate
  • Green tours

More information about student leadership and the genesis of our sustainability efforts »

Local Food and Healthy Eating

Eating local helps support your local community and provide nutritious, good tasting food for you. Buying local supports local farmers and producers. We can all play a role in helping to improve the long-term sustainability of our food system by learning more about how our food choices affect the environment.

Our efforts include:

  • Implementing sustainable/local food purchasing plan for all facilities
  • Acting as founding partner in the Pride of the Prairie Local Foods Initiative
  • Hosting sustainable food expos and dinners
  • Partnering with Morris Healthy Eating
  • Creating community engagement and outreach opportunities

More information on our activities and programs »


Sharing our knowledge, learning more about the needs of our communities, and collaborating with stakeholders and others concerned about the environment and sustainability issues are vital parts of our sustainability policies and goals.

Community engagement

Morris works with American Indian communities to find improved energy options. At the Center for Small Towns students get involved with local groups like Stevens Forward! to help them reach carbon neutrality. And, students engage with the Office of Community Engagement on sustainability projects in the community and on campus. The general public is welcome to see what we are doing on campus, and the Office of Sustainability regularly gives tours.


We work with local and regional partners and stakeholders to address issues of mutual interest and share our resources.

Chancellor Emeritus Jacqueline Johnson, an original signatory of ACUPCC, has appeared before a United States Senate subcommittee to discuss Morris initiatives and advocate for legislation to promote sustainable practices.

Morris is working with collaborators to produce “green blueprints” for small communities and other institutions. The blueprints include information on gasification operations and revenues, budgeting, best practices, and more.

A list of our partners in sustainability »



We employ many green, best practices: storm water gardens, wetlands, jewel box greenhouses, low-maintenance native plants, pedestrian-friendly roadways, and an organic vegetable garden are examples.

Campus maintenance crews use eco-friendly cleaners and recycled paper products whenever possible.

In April 2019 the campus began using a new electric commercial mower.

Sustainability Leaders for the Future

Thanks to generous grant funding, the Sustainability Leaders for the Future (SLF) program is developing the next generation of leaders prepared to live in a carbon-constrained, more sustainable world.

Replicable across other college campuses, the program builds on Morris’s international reputation for:

  • Engaging student leaders
  • Developing sustainability curriculum
  • Building environmentally sound facilities

The Sustainability Leaders for the Future program is sustained in part by a grant from Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies.

Learn more about SLF »