• Solar panels at ELLC residence hall

Northland values sustainabilityIn everything we do, we consider how it will advance sustainability in all of its forms:  health, community, culture, environment, energy,  and economy. These mini-systems interact in a larger context. It is from a full-spectrum point of view that we seek to understand, develop, and respond to our institutional goals to support sustainability.

Sustainability Photo Tour

Campus Leadership

The students at Northland are very involved in our campus sustainability initiatives. It starts with the Student Environmental Council that serves as a catalyst for change and development. The council develops, implements, and oversees sustainability initiatives and are advocates for sustainability at the local, national, and global levels.

The Student Director of Sustainability organizes the Northland College Environmental Council, runs the REFund grant program, and is a member of the Northland College Student Association.

The Sustainability Work Group is a joint faculty, student, and staff committee charged with collaboratively advancing Northland’s sustainability commitments.

Green Buildings

Northland has several demonstration scale renewable energy systems on campus. Solar photovoltaic arrays for generating electricity are located at the McLean Environmental Living and Learning Center, Dexter Library, Straw Bale Building (home of the Sunshine Community Bike Shoppe), and the President’s house. Learn more.

Green Living

Northland’s campus has large areas of restored native plant communities, plenty of chemical-free lawns, and a variety of perennial edible gardens to eat and enjoy. Students also run a ReUse Room to recycle and reduce unwanted items. Learn more.

Since the mid-1990’s, Northland’s Sunshine Community Bike Shoppe has served as a hub for bike enthusiasts. They also offer free bikes to anyone who needs to borrow one. Learn more.

Eating Local & Composting

We’re already half way to our goal of having 80% of the food served on campus supplied from local sources. Currently nearly twenty farms and businesses within one hundred miles of campus supply the cafeteria. Learn more.

It wouldn’t be right to talk about eating without also mentioning composting. Because it’s something we do at every meal. Even our res hall kitchens are stocked with compost pails. Approximately 28,000 pounds of food scraps are collected annually from the cafeteria and residence hall kitchens. Learn more.

REFund Grant Program

The REFund, formerly called the Renewable Energy Fund, is a student-administered grant program that funds projects designed to enhance sustainability and increase energy efficiency on the Northland College campus.

REFund projects are evaluated on the following criteria from the program goals and effects, based 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: 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.


In 2007, Northland became a member of the leadership circle of signatories of the American Colleges and Universities Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC). As part of its commitment under the ACUPCC, Northland College has committed to pursue carbon neutrality by 2030. This will involve identifying aggressive opportunities for energy efficiency improvements in all campus buildings, exploring opportunities for purchasing and producing large amounts of renewable energy, and investigating technologies that will allow us to dramatically reduce or even eliminate our dependency on fossil fuels to heat and cool the campus.


Northland is currently conducting a comprehensive, institution-wide campus sustainability assessment using the STARS program. The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System™ (STARS®) is a transparent, self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance. Northland’s STARS assessment is currently underway and will be completed by spring 2017. Previously, Northland has been rated as a STARS Silver institution.

A History of Leadership


Since its founding in 1892, Northland College has been both a leader and a pioneer, bringing higher education to the north woods and making a bold decision to be a different kind of college by focusing our mission and liberal arts curriculum around issues of the environment and society.


The Northland College Board of Trustees initiated the development of the College’s environmental studies program.


Northland hosted its first Environmental Conference. Guest speakers were Senator Gaylord Nelson and renowned outdoors writer and conservationist Sigurd Olson. Regional problem-solving workshops on local impacts on the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore were also held.


The College enrolled its first class of environmental studies students and founded the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute (SOEI) and its advisory board and designated its charter for environmental outreach.


Northland began a systematic upgrade of all windows and boilers in every building on campus.


The Environmental Studies Committee designed the first iteration of the outdoor education program with five distinct majors.


Construction began on a new building for the SOEI, which features passive solar design principles, and also began a community education program on energy conservation.


Northland created its peace studies program as a problem-based but forward thinking outgrowth of the environmental studies program.


Northland College Environmental Council was formed of staff, students, and faculty to determine environmental projects and policies for the College.


Campus and the Biosphere conference hosted at Northland to discuss ecological impact of college campuses.


The College became US secretariat for the Lake Superior Binational Forum to promote citizen involvement in a program to virtually eliminate the discharge of nine critical pollutants into Lake Superior.


The College and SOEI received the national award for environmental achievement from Renew America.


Mino Aki, a student-run garden, was created on campus, fertilized by compost from the cafeteria. The garden continues to grow food for the community. After a group of students studied the feasibility, Northland’s cafeteria began offering local vegetables.


Students began the Sunshine Community Bike Program, which provides free bikes to anyone who needs to borrow one. The bike shoppe also repairs bikes, and students can build their own bike in exchange for service hours.

The cafeteria has offered vegan and vegetarian entrees at all meals since 1995, and now features 100 percent sustainably harvested seafood, cage-free shell eggs, no trans-fat frying oils, and Fair Trade coffee.


Northland College Student Association, the faculty, the administration, and the board of trustees signed a self-designed Sustainability Charter and the college president, Robert Parsonage, signed the Talloires Declaration.


The McLean Environmental Living and Learning Center, which served as a model in developing the national LEED green building standards, began housing over a hundred students a year. The building features advanced sustainable design principles such as furniture and carpet made with recycled content, lighting occupancy sensors, two composting toilets, low-flow water fixtures, three photovoltaic arrays, a wind turbine, and much more.


Northland College redesigned the environmental studies majors to reflect the changes in the environmental careers market and the environmental movement.

Students finished major construction on the Straw Bale Lab, a demonstration off-grid building powered by a small wind turbine and photovoltaic array, and heated through passive solar design and in-floor heat from hot water solar panels.


Northland adopted a green building policy for all new construction or major renovations, and in 2007, with the signing of the ACUPCC, the college committed to a standard of LEED Silver on all new construction and substantial renovation.

The Northland College Student Association began including a Renewable Energy Fee for students. The funds raised have been used for many projects, including a Prius hybrid vehicle for the admissions department and a solar water heater on McMillan Hall.


The Craig A. Ponzio Campus Center was constructed, featuring a geothermal cooling system.


The EcoLeague was founded, allowing students of Northland and five other green colleges around the country opportunities to pursue environmental study at any and all league campuses.


Northland College received the Award for Excellence in Environmental Resources and Stewardship from the American Bar Association.


In the College’s Strategic Plan, Northland’s President Karen Halbersleben reaffirmed the institution’s vision to be the nation’s leading environmental liberal arts college: “Northland College aims, by academic excellence and sustainable practice, to lead the way to a world where human and other biological communities can thrive together indefinitely.”


Northland officially adopted the Natural Step Framework as its definition of sustainability.


Northland became a member of the leadership circle of signatories of the American Colleges and Universities Presidents’ Climate Commitment.

The solar hot water system is completed on McMillan hall, partially heating the water with the sun and thereby reducing the use of non-renewable energy.

Students open the Reuse Center, a space to give and receive free clothes, books, and other items instead of throwing them away and buying new.

The Northland College Student Association formed a contract with Bay Area Rural Transit (B.A.R.T.) to provide free transportation to students wishing to travel around the bay area without a car.


The campus store, managed by Chartwells, stopped using plastic bags and began offering reusable cloth bags.

Students in a May term course installed a solar panel array at the President’s house. Students participating earned certification in solar panel installation. Dexter Library, renovated in the summer of 2008, is Northland’s first LEED certified building, featuring Northland’s second geothermal system.

Northland wins two national sustainability awards: a Campus Sustainability Leadership Award from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education and a Sustainability Innovator Award from the National Endowments Institute.

After positive response from students using the free B.A.R.T. passes, the free service was expanded to include faculty and staff.


After a successful fall 2008 pilot project, trays are no longer offered in the cafeteria, saving water and energy while reducing food waste.

Northland students expand the community garden to include individual summer plots for those who want to grow food, but don’t have a space of their own.

The Arbor Day Foundation honors Northland College as a Tree Campus USA college for its dedication to campus forestry management and environmental stewardship. The College is the first college or university in Wisconsin to earn Tree Campus USA status.

Northland College Student Association created a new student position of sustainability director.

Students enrolled in Sustainable Living: Photovoltaics, helped install thirty-eight solar panels on the roof Dexter Library.

Students voted to double their contribution to the Renewable Energy Fund.


Northland’s greens growing project starts selling to the cafeteria.

Planning begins for a new compost facility.


The college hires its first regional sustainability coordinator.

Northland joins the Billion Dollar Green Challenge and establishes a $200,000 revolving loan fund for energy efficiency projects.

Initiated “Keep Northland Beautiful” week of celebration and events.


Residence hall renovations feature recycled content flooring, low-VOC paints, and re-upholstered and sustainably-sourced furniture.

An enhanced local food purchasing initiative is launched in partnership with the Chequamegon Food Coop, UW Extension, and a number of local farmers.

Composting moves to a new, much larger building constructed of locally-sourced timbers clad in energy efficient structural insulated panels.

The Sunshine Community Bike Shoppe moves to its new location in the Straw Bale Demonstration Energy Lab.

Northland’s ReUse Room moves into a new and much larger space in the basement of the Townhouses.


Northland approves a new Strategic Plan in which we commit to:

  • Creating distinctive and transformational educational experiences for our students, preparing them for service, leadership roles, global citizenship, and fulfilling lives and careers.
  • Being a healthy, thriving organization built on a sound financial base.
  • Providing leadership and scholarship that address regional and global challenges.
  • Cultivating collaborations that support the resiliency of our communities, preserve our natural resources, and strengthen our region’s intellectual, cultural and economic assets.
  • Modeling sustainable practices that recognize and respect ecological systems and societal needs.
  • Upholding the principles of trust, respect, and accountability in the creation of an innovative, nurturing, and just campus community.

Grant funding is received from the Margaret A Cargill Foundation for a three-year sustainability initiative that focuses on three critical and interconnected sustainability challenges facing our community today:

  • a centralized food supply that requires extensive use of fossil fuels to maintain and transport;
  • over-use of carbon-based fuel sources for energy and transportation;
  • and habitual consumer behaviors that perpetuate over dependency on fossil fuels and waste of natural resources.

A comprehensive Energy Study for Climate Action plan is completed. The study assesses technical, economic, and environmental costs and benefits of the options available for reducing campus CO2 emissions from our current level of about 3,500 metric tons of CO2e/year to net zero.


Infrastructure for a new edible perennial garden is constructed at Memorial Hall.

Construction begins on the Food Systems Facility.