Taking care of our planet.

In order to better understand and address environmental and legislative challenges affecting freshwater quality, agriculture, rural economics, and access to natural spaces, the College has established four centers of excellence. They all hold research opportunities for students.

Sustainability at Work

Get Involved

Explore our Centers

Core Values


There’s a reason why Northland ranks among the top colleges in the nation for sustainability curriculum—it’s infused in everything we do. And as part of your liberal arts core, you’ll have at least five classes with an environmental focus. We give you tools to excel in a greening world.


If you have big questions—like, how to solve the world’s plastic problem—you’ll likely be able to research the answers. Northland is one of the best schools for research experiences due to our location, committed faculty, and our wide breadth of national, state, and regional partners.


We care about food—where it comes from, how it’s raised, and the social and environmental impacts. Just by eating in our dining hall, you’re creating change. Beyond that, you can minor in sustainable agriculture and get involved with our gardens, compost crew, or the Food Recovery Network.


Climate change issues weave through many of our courses, and for a deeper dive, you can major in climate science or tack on a minor in climate change studies. We’ve taken a stand by divesting from fossil fuels, investing in renewable energy, and looking for ways to reduce our carbon footprint.


Resilient and just communities are key to addressing the challenges of the future. It’s important that we incorporate themes of social justice throughout our coursework. Northland’s faculty is passionate about community, place, and equity. Expect lively discourse in all corners of campus.

Fresh Water

The health and usage of freshwater resources is one of our greatest global challenges. In addition to our water science major, Northland’s Mary Griggs Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation conducts research and does policy work. They offer a research track that grows with your skills.

Sustainability Initiatives

REFund Grant Program

The REFund program (which used to be called the Renewable Energy Fund) is a student-administered grant program that funds projects designed to enhance sustainability and/or increase energy efficiency on the Northland College campus.

REFund project requests are evaluated on the following criteria on how the project is able to:

  1. Enhance one or more spheres of sustainability
  2. Address one or more of the College’s mission elements (i.e. liberal arts studies, the environment, enabling others, addressing challenges of the future)
  3. Contribute to energy education, reduction, renewability, and efficiency
  4. Involve students
  5. Create a continued and broad impact on campus

REFund Letter of Interest

We are currently accepting REFund project letters of interest and will continue to do so until the year’s funds have been allocated. The first step in submitting your project is to provide a brief project letter of interest.

Use the form below to describe your proposed project, how this project fits into the REFund project criteria above, and a preliminary list of staff/faculty support or other resources needed to complete the project. Alternatively, you may provide a written or physical copy of your project letter of interest to the sustainability grants manager in the NCSA office located on the first floor of the Ponzio Campus Center.

Please include at least 100 words.
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Climate Action Planning

Climate action planning is a strategic planning process for developing policies and programs for reducing (or mitigating) a community’s greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the impacts of climate change. This planning process can bring stakeholders together to establish actions for reducing emissions and/or adapting to climate change impacts and hazards. A key element of climate action planning is establishing accountability for action. Benefits of climate action planning can include informing the public, saving money through improved efficiency, building local economies, and improving community health and livability.

Northland College last engaged in climate action planning during 2008–2010, which is documented in the College’s 2010 Climate Action Plan. During the 2023–2024 academic year, campus community members are again engaging in this process with the goal of creating an updated Climate Action Plan (CAP). Common components of a CAP for a college or university are:

  • Background information on climate change
  • A history of climate action at the college
  • An analysis of the sources of greenhouse gas emissions associated with college operations
  • An analysis of trends in greenhouse gas emissions associated with college operations
  • Commitments to climate goals and objectives, including greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets
  • Review of previous strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and their successes
  • Planned strategies to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions covering:
    • Buildings
    • Energy
    • Transportation
    • Solid waste
    • Land use
    • Food
  • Planned strategies for adapting to the impacts of climate change
  • Plans for implementing climate action strategies, including accountable parties and their responsibilities, timelines, costs, and mechanisms for financing strategies.
  • Plans for monitoring and reporting on climate action progress

The 2023-2024 climate action planning process is being directed by the CAP Steering Committee.

Committee Membership

  • Director of Facilities Management Michael Brundidge
  • Professor Scott Grinnell
  • Director of Facilities and Technology Todd Pydo
  • Chief of Staff Dawn Rivard
  • Assistant Professor Meghan Salmon-Tumas
  • Student and EcoRep Tennessee Swearingen
  • Associate Professor Dave Ullman
  • Director of Grants and Sponsored Awards Lisa Williamson

Students in four classes are contributing to the climate action planning process: SCD 250 Climate Action Planning, SOC 481 Qualitative Research Methods, SCD 412 Planning Studio, and CLM 386 Monitoring Climate Change.

Together, we have established the following goals for this year’s activities:

  • Assess Northland’s climate action and its effects since the 2010 CAP,
  • Collect input from campus stakeholders to direct Northland’s future climate action planning,
  • Determine high-feasibility, high-impact climate actions for Northland College to take over the next 3–5 years
  • Establish clear accountability and durable programs for monitoring and evaluating climate actions

We have produced a list of potential strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and responding to the challenge of climate change. We are now seeking input from campus stakeholders to help us refine this list and select from it the highest-priority strategies for the next 3–5 years. Thank you for participating in this group and sharing your input with us.

Sustainability Workgroup

Workgroup Charge

To collaboratively advance full-spectrum sustainability at Northland while positioning the College in the national conversation and contributing to the strength and sustainability of community and regional partners.

  1. To clarify options and ramifications of sustainability-related decisions;
  2. To make recommendations concerning campus sustainability including:
    1. infrastructure (energy, food, waste, materials, facilities);
    2. community (student and employee responsibilities, College impact on city and region, wellness);
    3. learning (professional development, interpretation, campus as living lab, and aesthetics); and
    4. climate action planning
What We Do

The Sustainability Workgroup coordinates sustainability initiatives institution-wide; works with the Board of Trustees to implement large changes, coordinates with facilities maintenance to manage buildings and grounds; and oversees a variety of sustainability projects.

Recently, the College has created a new fitness center, food center, compost facility, and initiated improvements to existing gardens. It has facilitated the realization of many student-led projects on sustainability, attended to deferred maintenance of buildings, successfully advocated for the divested from fossil fuels, pursued relationships with the local utility, Xcel Energy, to create a 1.0 MW local solar garden, and created meaningful advances in other areas of sustainability.

Food Committee

The Food Committee was established to help push forward the sustainability goals of the College regarding food procurement and dining. The committee has facilitated a campus food policy and the implementation of the Real Food challenge, communicated goals to campus, and worked to improve processes for local foods procurement.

Sustainability Policies

Electronics Purchasing Policy

Northland College is dedicated to sustainability and ensuring the technology utilized by the College is energy efficient and made through environmentally responsible methods, while prioritizing reuse through the purchase of refurbished equipment. The policy provides guidelines and information to guide sustainable purchasing practices in line with the mission and values on Northland College. This policy applies to electronics procurement conducted by all Northland College departments and offices.


  • EPEAT: EPEAT is a certification for computers and electronic products that includes standards for energy efficiency, materials selection, longevity, and other criteria related to sustainability. Learn more.
  • EnergyStar: EnergyStar is a third party certification for energy efficiency backed by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Northland College has a preference for purchasing refurbished electronics, when available and appropriate for the intended use.

All units of Northland College will purchase new electronics (computers, monitors, laptops, tablets, phones, printers, and scanners) that are EnergyStar certified and rated at least EPEAT silver.

This policy excludes specialized equipment for which no EPEAT or EnergyStar certified products are available.

Food Procurement and Sustainable Dining

This policy guides and informs all institutional food purchasing and Food Service at Northland College. Additionally, this policy describes institutional priorities as the College strives to improve sustainable dining initiatives.

Procurement Definitions
  • Community Based: a privately or cooperatively owned enterprise, based within a 250-mile radius of campus, grossing less than $5 million per year (produce) or $50 million per year (other food products). (Defined by REAL Food)
  • Fair: individuals involved in food production work in safe and fair conditions, receive fair compensation, are ensured the right to organize and the right to a grievance process, and have equal opportunity for employment (RFC)
  • Fair Trade: certified by a third-party certification agency such as Fair Trade International
  • Humane: animals that have their mental, physical, and behavioral needs met in a low-stress environment and are only administered drugs for treatment of diagnosed illness or disease. Determined through third-party certification
  • Hyper-local: food or beverage grown within or comprised of ingredients grown within a 50-mile radius of campus, including multi-ingredient products comprised of 50 percent or more hyper-local ingredients. (defined by NC)
  • Local: food or beverage grown within or comprised of ingredients grown within a 250-mile radius of campus, including multi-ingredient products are comprised of 50 percent or more local ingredients (Defined by REAL Food)
  • Organic: food or beverage certified organic by a third-party certification agency
  • Real Food: food products that meet at least one of four categorical standards of the Real Food Challenge: local; ecologically-sound; humane; and fair
Additional Definitions
  • Compostable: any carbon-based substance, natural or manufactured, that will decompose in a composting facility
  • Food Committee: the collaborative body, comprised of faculty, staff, students, administration, and Food Service staff that oversees campus dining and food initiatives, a subcommittee of the Sustainability Work Group
  • Food Service: on-campus food services in the cafeteria, and catering for the campus community
  • Planetary Health Diet: a diet recommended by the EAT-Lancet report that is both healthy, does not undermine the environment, and primarily composed of plant-based food, but may include animal products
  • Plant-forward: a style of cooking and eating that emphasizes and celebrates plant-based foods—including fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds, plant oils, and herbs and spices
  • Standing Purchase Order (SPO): a purchase order with a specific farm or business where all key details of the order are known: the quantity, price, and delivery schedule.
  • Top Food Allergens: milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, soy
  • Ultra-processed Foods: products made with any of the following ingredients: aspartame; butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA); butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT); caramel coloring; partially hydrogenated oil (trans-fats); potassium bromate; propyl gallate; rBGH/rBST; saccharine; sodium nitrate added; sodium nitrite added; artificial dyes: Red #3, Red #40 Yellow #5, Yellow #6
  • Vegan: food not derived from or containing any ingredients derived from animal sources
  • Vegetarian: food not derived from or containing any ingredients derived from animal flesh
Policy Statement

Northland College seeks to align campus food system operations with the institutional mission, vision, and curriculum by taking into account environmental impacts, student needs, and the desire for social and environmental justice. This policy guides the adoption of a bold campus food systems model that strengthens our partnerships with local growers and businesses, and shifts food sourcing to ecologically sound, humane, and fair trade foods. The Food Procurement and Sustainable Dining policy acts as a vision and a roadmap to bolster an experiential and place-based education that deepens our campus connection to the south shore of Lake Superior, and supports our community in making sustainable food and dining choices. There is a pressing need to prepare food-literate citizens that value the inherent pleasures of eating and understand the local and global impacts of food production, so they may lead meaningful and healthy lives.

This policy is informed by the longstanding commitments made by Northland College to supporting local foods and local farmers, as well as work of the Hulings Rice Food Center, faculty, staff and students. The goals and values are influenced by the work of the EAT Lancet Commission which promotes a plant-forward, planetary health diet, and the REAL Food Challenge which provides a framework for sustainable food procurement.


Northland College, a committed leader in higher education sustainability, will continually work to develop a robust and visionary food procurement and sustainable dining program that is healthy, inclusive, seasonal, local, and sensitive to impacts on climate and the environment.

  1. Procurement: We are committed to sourcing food sustainably, which is the central pillar of this policy. In addition to the longstanding commitment to hyper-local (within 50 miles) purchasing, Northland adopted the REAL Food Standards in 2019 to guide procurement for dining operations. We have committed to expanding the proportion of food served that is classified as REAL meeting at least one of four categorical standards of the Real Food Challenge: local; ecologically-sound; humane; and fair. Because one metric doesn’t capture the complexity of the food system, we will continue to use additional criteria, such as supporting community based businesses, consideration of the climate and environmental impact of our food choices, and purchasing from hyper local farmers.
  2. Dining Experience: We are committed to enhancing the dining experience of our students by providing healthy, nutritious food that meets the dietary needs of all students, is prepared in appealing and diverse ways. Transparent information about food that is served is another critical element of the dining experience so that students can make choices informed by health considerations and personal values.
  3. Waste Reduction: We are committed to reducing waste associated with campus dining and catering operations. This includes food waste reduction, composting food waste, and eliminating packaging and the use of single use disposables.

This policy applies to all contracted on-campus food services (cafeteria and catering) intended for the Northland College community


To move procurement towards the Real Food Standards Food Service will continue the longstanding Local Foods Initiative and work to increase hyper-local, local, and community-based purchases. Food Service will prioritize business relationships with current and new hyper-local, local, and community based producers, and establish seasonally appropriate menus that reflect the availability of these offerings. The ultimate goal is to increase the proportion of food purchased from hyper-local and REAL Food sources. The following categories represent the prioritization of these categories:

  1. Hyper-local
  2. Local or Community Based
  3. Certified Organic
  4. Humane / Fair Trade
Purchasing Procedures
  1. Local Foods Commitment: Northland and Food Service will uphold commitments to hyper-local food producers. Food Service will work with the Hulings Rice Food Center and hyper-local producers to annually establish pre-season Standing Purchase Orders (SPO) for both immediate use and for storage.
  2. Campus Gardens: Food Service will purchase all produce grown by the campus garden program at fair market value. If Food Service cannot utilize available produce while fresh, it will be processed and preserved in the Hulings Rice Food Center. The Food Center will work with Food Service to coordinate selection of produce to be grown on campus.
  3. In-House Preparation and Processing: Food Service and the Hulings Rice Food Center will collaborate to identify prepared foods that can be produced in-house using local and/or sustainable ingredients.
  4. Animal Products: Animal products produced from locally raised animals, or animals raised in compliance with third-party ethical and sustainable certifications are preferred. Northland and Food Service will encourage community members to think critically about the source and environmental impact of animal products and work to shift and replace conventional meat products with local, humane, and sustainable alternatives, decreasing the total amount of meat served and consumed.
  5. Seafood: Food Service should prioritize purchase of local fish, and all non-local seafood purchases will be rated “best choice” or “good alternative” by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. Food Service will eliminate seafood products that do not meet these standards.
  6. REAL Product Lists: Food Service, the Hulings Rice Food Center, and the Food Committee will work with food distributors to identify available products that meet REAL Food standards and prioritize a purchase of those products.
  7. Ultra-processed Foods: Ultra-processed food products should be minimized. Less processed alternatives should be identified and replace ultra-processed versions.
Dining Experience Procedures
  1. Health: Food Service will offer healthy and balanced meal options that meet the dietary needs of our campus community (allergies and intolerances, low-sodium, diabetic, and religious and cultural needs). The dining program will provide a diversity of balanced and complete-protein vegan and vegetarian options at every meal including non-soy plant proteins
  2. Ingredient Labeling: For the safety of all Food Service customers, Food Service will label top food allergens, and provide accessible nutrition information and ingredient lists.
  3. Sustainability Labeling: Food Service will label REAL foods: local, organic, fair trade, and humane.
  4. Cost-Saving Measures: Northland and Food Service shall develop and implement creative cost-saving measures wherever possible. Such strategies may include bulk food purchases, generic and unbranded foods, whole and minimally processed ingredients, in-house processing, serving fewer options, waste reduction measures, and meat reduction.
Waste Reduction Procedures

*Public health recommendations during the COVID-19 Pandemic may require deviations from these procedures, but decision makers will make every effort to creatively adopt environmentally-friendly practices that meet public health guidelines.

  1. Composting: Food Service will compost pre- and post-consumer waste at all service locations. Designated compost collection vessels will be present at all service locations and catering events.
  2. Trayless Dining: Food Service will not utilize dining trays in the dining program in order to reduce dining waste and serving sizes. Exceptions will be made as needed for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
  3. Food Waste Reduction: Food Service will implement food waste reduction strategies.
  4. Food Recovery Network: Food Service will collaborate with the Food Recovery Network to facilitate the recovery of edible leftovers for distribution to those in the community and campus who experience food insecurity.
  5. Single-Use Disposables: Food Service will not purchase or use polystyrene or petroleum-based plastic disposables (i.e. cutlery, straws, etc). Reusable dining and packaging materials for Food Service and catering are always preferred. If a service or dining event requires the use of non-reusable materials, certified compostable products will be used.
  6. Plastic Bottles: Beverages in single use plastic bottles will not be served at catering events.
Reporting and Accountability
  1. Purchasing Data: Food Service will regularly provide food purchasing data to the Food Center in order to calculate the REAL Food percentage and hyper-local percentage.
  2. Annual Report: An annual report prepared in cooperation with the Food Center will be presented to the Food Committee and Sustainability Work Group, outlining progress towards implementation of this policy, and the REAL Food and hyper-local purchasing percentages.
  3. Regular Updates: Food Service will provide monthly updates to the Food Committee detailing changes to procurement practices to meet the REAL Food Standards or other elements of this policy.
  4. Collaboration: Food Service will regularly attend Food Committee meetings and collaborate with the Food Committee and Hulings Rice Food Center to adopt new practices in line with this policy. Necessary procurement, service, and operational changes will occur in a reasonable timeline to ensure the implementation of this policy
  5. Food Committee: The Food Committee will continuously review progress towards implementing the procedures and meeting the goals of this policy, and will recommend changes to this policy to the Sustainability Workgroup.

Paper Purchasing Policy

Purchasing office paper products that are made of post-consumer recycled content or agricultural residue, and are certified sustainable by third parties, is in line with the mission and values of Northland College. Using products made of recycled content promotes a market for recycled materials and reduces environmental and land use impacts. Purchasing paper without recycled content contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, so purchasing recycled paper is one of many efforts towards carbon neutrality.


  • Post-consumer recycled: contains material recycled by the end user and used as an input in making new paper
  • Agricultural residue: residues left over from food production or other processes including straw, stalks, or other fibers.
  • Multi-use office paper: standard 8.5×11 white copier paper
  • Other office paper products: specialty papers, colored paper, non-standard sized paper, post it notes, stationary, glossy paper for publications
Policy Statement

Northland College will purchase paper with post-consumer recycled content or with a third party sustainability certification.

  1. All multi-use office paper purchased by the College shall contain 100% post-consumer recycled content, or agricultural residue content. Paper must also be certified to meet sustainability standards of one or more of the following: Forest Stewardship Council, Chlorine Free Products Association, or Sustainable Forestry Initiative.
  2. All other office paper products purchased by the college will contain some post-consumer recycled or agricultural residue content if the option is available.

Walking the Talk