University of Minnesota’s “Next Generation Environmental Leaders” Drive Statewide Sustainability Policy

Applicant Information

Beth Mercer-Taylor
University of Minnesota, Morris

Additional Authors
Key organizers and presenters: Natalie Hoidal - overall strategy and logistics - planned for student involvement across U of M campuses, handled event logistics, arranged student transportation, coordinated communications and will write the summary of our Congress experience Elizabeth Just - communications and video - developed and executed communications strategy, including social media, produced a short video (see supplemental materials) and served as a liaison to the MN Youth Environmental Network Christy Newell - high school involvement -attended meetings of YEA-MN and other high school environmental groups and provided “stealth” climate science learning as well as support for Congress attendance. Patty O’Keefe - registration, volunteer coordination and support - leveraged students to fill key roles at the Congresses and kept our group members in close communication Juan Medina Bielski - connecting science research to policy - demonstrating how U of M research in chemistry and other fields drives sustainability policies, communicating science using stories at the Congresses Other important partners: Emma Wright - facilitator and coordinator of small-group work - structuring small group process, crafting questions and collecting input from groups, as well as inviting key student stakeholders to participate, helped to align interests of MPIRG lobby day with Next Gen conference Kristian Nyberg- key facilitator at Next Gen conference- hosted a conversation and presentation around community engagement and organic gardening Aaron Goemann- key recruiter of students for forums and Next Gen conference - assisted with photo collage and planning Jordan Wente - key recruiter of students for forums and Next Gen conference - assisted with photo collage and planning Next Generation Conference and Forum Attendees from U of M system: Anna Pratt Perry Moore Ande Saunders Siri Simmons Phil Kelly Aaron Goemann Bryce Blankenfeld Ande Saunders Joey Daniewicz Jordan Wente Laura Korth Katherine Spurgeon Melinda Kawalek Anna Pratt Adrian Schiller Perry Moore

Essay

Co-submitted by Troy Goodnough
Introduction

As student members of the University of Minnesota’s Next Generation Environmental Leaders group, we made the most of our experiences leading sustainability projects on the University’s Twin Cities and Morris campuses and helped to shape statewide sustainability policy this past year.

When we challenged our political leaders to allow young people like ourselves to participate in crafting a strategy to respond to our state’s – and the world’s – many sustainability threats and opportunities, they heard us and brought us into the heart of the process. Our campus-based group and other young leaders across the state, who we organized into a coalition, earned a place at the policymaking table.

This legislative session, we helped achieve several key policy goals related to clean energy, modernizing transportation and increasing sustainable agriculture.

An Invitation by Our Governor

In early 2012, we were invited by Governor Mark Dayton’s Energy Advisor, Ellen Anderson, to organize a statewide “Next Generation Environmental Congress” that would allow us to coalesce, as youth, around shared goals and models for change. We also hoped to play a role at the main event, the Environment Congress, which Governor Dayton, Ellen Anderson, the nine agency heads making up the Environmental Quality Board (EQB) and their professional staff would host, inviting hundreds of influential environmental leaders.

Our Next Generation Environmental Congress

We held our “Next Gen” Congress on February, 24, 2013, after months of holding our own strategy meetings on our campuses, doing social media work, postering, making phone calls, tabling, presenting in classes and working hand-in-hand with high school leaders organized as the Youth Environmental Advocates- Minnesota (YEA-MN). The quality of our work was recognized by Sierra Student Coalition staff Alexis Boxer, who had recently moved to Minnesota. Writing for “We Are Power Shift,” she tells our Next Gen story.

One of the first chances I had to engage with young Minnesotans is an event that goes above and beyond the typical forms of youth engagement. Happening right now is the Next Generation Environmental Congress, a rare chance for young people to weigh in on the state’s environmental priorities and to take action on climate change. This event was proposed by the state government. SERIOUSLY. How often does it happen that politicians approach young people to propose solutions and really mean it when they say they will listen? In my experience, not too often. So here I am with 200 young folks from around the state, spanning the ages between high school and post grad, deciding on their generation’s priorities, meeting with their state legislature and elected officials and talking with their Environmental Quality Board to ensure that progress is made on climate change and clean energy. http://www.wearepowershift.org/user/12428

In an intensive day with nearly 200 attendees at the Next Gen Congress, three main ideas emerged that we wanted to share with the EQB and with leaders across the state:
1) sustainable agriculture will reinvigorate rural Minnesota and encourage and incentivize healthy and local crops to be grown for direct consumption,
2) modernizing our transportation system will reduce the need for cars by increasing public transportation options and bike trails,
3) a clean energy economy based on community economic development, energy efficiency and renewable energy will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions

In the weeks leading up to the Next Gen Congress and on the day itself, we heard over and over again from youth concerned about the impacts of a warming climate on future generations as severe weather and shifting biomes, especially in Minnesota, become the new normal. Many youth fear that policymakers will continue to debate and discuss possible actions instead of implementing them, and thus fear for their future.

Becoming a Powerful Coalition

Our experience implementing sustainability projects on our campuses enabled us to build an effective team, distribute roles, communicate with one another and grow our coalition. Through leadership retreats organized with our sustainability staff at the University, we shared effective projects and started to collaborate on new ones. We got to know each other well, even though we came from different campuses - the very urban Twin Cities and small-town, rural Morris. Statewide meetings of an emerging multi-campus program called the Minnesota Youth Environmental Network (MNYEN) as well as the more established Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG) also helped us organize. On all our University campuses, which participate together through our System-wide Sustainability Committee, an explicit, agreed-upon goal is to develop students into sustainability leaders able to work beyond campus boundaries.

Minnesota’s Environmental Congress

In March 2013, the Environmental Congress was called to order by Governor Mark Dayton. Governor Dayton had previously ordered that Citizen Forums be held across the state for the purpose of sharing results from a new Environmental Report Card, developed by nine state agency heads, EQB and agency staff and academic experts. The purpose of the Environmental Congress was to report the results of the citizen forums, and identify environmental priority areas that state agencies would work more collaboratively to address. Nearly one thousand environmental change-makers, policy makers, scientists, and activists joined together from for this unique opportunity.

The statewide EQB leaders also requested that youth be represented at the Citizen Forums, which we did attend, and at the Environmental Congress. At the Environmental Congress, more than an hour was devoted to time for students and youth from across the state to share their concerns and hopes.

Our Powerful Presence

What nobody could have anticipated is how we, as Minnesota’s youth, would shape the entire Environmental Congress experience. During our presentation time, our Next Gen Group developed a panel presentation featuring emerging youth leaders, who spoke on themes regarding fuel poverty, climate change, and new models for community energy. Different students read aloud concerns and ideas collected from students from across the state from different schools, colleges and universities, including many outside the University of Minnesota system. Students also produced a compelling film -- a video collage -- of student feedback to the EQB and to state leaders encouraging them to keep making progress and urging them to take action.

We as students asked the several hundred environmental leaders in attendance to consider the following questions:
1) think of a young person in your life you care about,
2) what does that person’s future look like and what do you want to guarantee for them when they are your age?
3) think about that same person and their future today, knowing that many of our environmentally-related decision have long term implications.

Our presentation changed the tone for the entire Environmental Congress, as evidenced by the glowing comments we ourselves received that day and later (a collection of these are included as supplemental material). During the breakout group sessions, which included many well-known government, business and non-profit environmental leaders, Congress participants frequently made reference to the quality and significance of “that student presentation” that began the day.

Reflecting the positive impressions made on Governor Mark Dayton, dozens of elected leaders and the nine EQB agency heads and hundreds of their staff in attendance at the Congress, Ellen Anderson concluded: “The youth voice played a key role in this event. Their presentation was powerful and shaped the tenor of our conversation throughout the day.”

Our Roles

We all played important roles organizing fellow students, recruiting partners for the Next Gen Congress and Enviromental Congress and connecting students to numerous new post-Congress projects (these include community solar project development, organizing regional food hubs, holding composting workshops for cities, etc.).

We summarize our roles:

Natalie Hoidal - overall strategy and logistics - planned for student involvement across U of M campuses, handled event logistics, arranged student transportation, coordinated communications and will write the summary of our Congress experience

Elizabeth Just - communications and video - developed and executed communications strategy, including social media, produced a short video (see supplemental materials) and served as a liaison to the MN Youth Environmental Network

Christy Newell - high school involvement -attended meetings of YEA-MN and other high school environmental groups and provided “stealth” climate science learning as well as support for Congress attendance.

Patty O’Keefe - registration, volunteer coordination and support - leveraged students to fill key roles at the Congresses and kept our group members in close communication

Juan Medina-Bielski - connecting science research to policy - demonstrating how U of M research in chemistry and other fields drives sustainability policies, communicating science using stories at the Congresses

Thank you to all fellow students, youth, supportive faculty, staff, community members and environmental leaders who stood behind us this past year and joined us at the Environmental Congress and in the many different projects that emerged thereafter. "We Are Youth: Protect Our Future."

Supplemental URLS:
KEY LINK! Minnesota Youth Voice - Our Next Generation Story - Made for the MInnesota Environmental Congress
Minnesota Environmental Congress Plenary Presentations
Minnesota Daily (student newspaper) Story on Environmental Congres
UWire Story on Environmental Congress
Next Generation Environmental Congress Sign Up Form
Will Steger Foundation Newsletter Story on Next Generation Environmental Congress
"We Are Power Shift" Blog Story on Next Generation Leadership
Civic Forum/ Listening Session - In Preparation for Environmental Congress

Supplemental Materials: