I want to do something that I haven’t really had a chance to do with this blog before: explain something vs. telling a story. I had the amazing opportunity to go to the second annual SELFsustain summit hosted on the U of M Duluth campus this year. I’m going to add this disclaimer: I had no idea what to expect when I signed up for it. I didn’t even know it was going on until my roommate told me about it.

Before I write about what happened during the event, I feel like I should give a bit of background about it. It first formed last year as a way to get all the U of M campuses together discussing sustainability. discussions like this are needed because each campus is at their own level when it comes to sustainability. The schools that have been exploring the idea of sustainability can share tools to the other schools, and the schools that are still learning can add another perspective on the topic.

The event was over two days. Participants were asked to arrive around noon the first day. We were able to hear about the U of M campuses and the projects the students have been doing to promote sustainability. After the students gave their presentations, we were given the opportunity to discuss with one another.

After that, we divided up into two groups for a tour. We were able to learn about the efforts UMD has been making to make their buildings on campus more sustainable. Some of the ideas are pretty obvious, such as solar panels. Another thing that I personally take for granted is putting wood panels over windows to prevent birds from hitting them. Something I was most impressed about was the attitude at UMD. Something they’re learning about one of their projects is that it’s hard to be completely sustainable and expand the number of people learning about sustainability. For those of you that were there I’m thinking specifically about compostable toilets. What I mean about this is, it’s impossible to get everything sustainable. It’s important to find that balance. What they’re trying to do is figure out what things they can accomplish and balance out what they can’t.

After that we had dinner and discussed leadership. We were each given a biological term and it was our tables job to connect that to a type of leadership. The terms my table got were anywhere from clouds to bacteria. It was easier to figure out how one term fit into the theme of leadership, but figuring out how to put them together was a bit harder.

After dinner, we headed to the Cloquet Forestry Center where we would spend the night. By the time we had our stuff put away in the cabins, a camp fire was made. Discussion around the fire was focused around reflection of the events so far, and that was when the scope of what we were doing hit home for me. We were a group of like-minded people, but with vastly different backgrounds. Somehow, without much introduction, we were able to have respectful discussions. The biggest concern people had, was making sure people were still involved in these types of events even after the students who started it moved on. The conversation continued until the howls of Coyotes interrupted it, and people decided that it was too late to continue.

The next day, for those of us who woke up for it, the director of the center took us on a walk to talk about sustainable forestry practices. The exciting thing wasn’t seeing the deer, although that was pretty cool, but the fact that it put forestry in a new light for me. I took a forestry class last year, and to have that background and learn about the research that gave people who knowledge puts it in perspective. Maybe that’s the type of job I’ll do someday.

After breakfast, we did something called a world cafe discussion. Each table got a topic, and we had only a certain amount of time to answer it before moving on to the next question. As we brainstormed, and planned our ideas took shape. It was a great way to increase the different people we talked to. It also generated a diverse number of ideas. A step people sometimes skip in their eagerness to get results.

After having one last reflection, people could either chose to go home, or hike to a nearby fire tower. Despite being indecisive, I think the people who went in my group didn’t regret it. I didn’t get a picture of  it from the ground, but imagine The Burrow from Harry Potter without walls. I do however, have pictures that help indicate hight.

Now that I’m done talking about the event, I would like to write about how the things I learned can be transferred to myself and UMC. I feel like UMC is at the planning stage when it comes to sustainability. Many people want to be sustainable, but they haven’t made a commitment to it. What I would like to see at UMC is people to make the next step. Next time someone complains about the lack of sustainability, I’m not just going to brush them off, I’m going to ask how they’ll get UMC more sustainable. Another thing someone said, was that in order to expand sustainability we need to know our audience. I think this is especially true of UMC. Our first step is to find the students and community members that are interested in sustainability. Then, we need to make the next step of figuring out what’s needed to put a plan in place.



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