Care for creation has deep roots in Catholic social teaching, and this past fall the University of St. Thomas advanced our mission by adopting our first comprehensive sustainability strategic plan.

From treeless paper to LEED-certified buildings, nearly every aspect of life on campus has been touched in some way by St. Thomas’ commitment to sustainability. This year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and five years since Pope Francis published Laudato Si’, an encyclical on care for our common home. We asked Amir Nadav, assistant director of campus sustainability, for some tips on being more sustainable (and teaching children along the way, too).

What are some easy ways parents can introduce sustainability to their children?

Make it fun! Challenge your children to help turn off lights, televisions and appliances when not in use. Track your utility bills to measure your savings and then celebrate your successes each month.

Try experiments like placing a few drops of food color in your toilet’s water tank before bed. If the water in your toilet is a different color in the morning, you’ve detected a leak.

If you have a yard, show your kids how in nature there is no waste by composting and planting a garden. Get a compost bin and fill it with your food waste. Watch the food turn into fresh compost and use it to grow your favorite herbs, vegetables or flowers in your garden. Try plants that make an impression:

  • For a scented garden try mint, basil, lavender, or lemon balm.
  • For opportunities to enjoy a fresh harvest throughout the summer try cherry tomatoes or ground cherries.
  • Attract butterflies and other pollinators with perennials like coneflowers, milkweed, bergamot and asters.

Do you have tips for changing our habits at home?

Changing our habits at home can lead to measurable cost savings while helping the planet!

  • During the summer, open the windows at night to let in fresh, cool air and close them during the day.
  • Using a smart thermostat can yield significant cost savings while maintaining comfort at home.
  • Overnight and when the home is empty during the workday, try turning down the temperature setting in the winter and adjusting it higher in the summer.
  • In the summer, use the fan while limiting use of the A/C unit can save energy and dollars.
  • Use your window shades to keep out the sun’s heat in the summer and let it in to your home in the winter.
  • Reduce waste by investing in durable, reusable shopping bags, storage containers, water bottles and straws.
  • Turn off and unplug appliances when you don’t use them.
  • When you purchase appliances and products for your home, consider the long-term costs in addition to the upfront costs. Look for the ENERGY STAR and WaterSense labels for the most energy and water efficient appliances for your home.
  • Estimate your personal carbon footprint and explore ways to reduce it that fit your lifestyle.

The recent stay-at-home orders have forced many organizations to rethink Earth Day plans. The good news is that there are still many ways to engage.

Enjoy nature with your kids by going to a local park or taking them on a hike while practicing social distancing. Look for a trail with interpretive signs about the local environment or use the opportunity to learn about local plants and animals and what we can do to protect them.

Consider watching a movie or documentary about an environmental topic you care about and find ways to take action. Some kid-friendly options include the BBC “Planet Earth” series, “The Lorax,” “WALL-E,” “Chasing Ice” and “March of the Penguins.”

Tune in to a portion of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network’s 24-hour global webinar on April 22, the 50th anniversary of Earth Day to explore the Sustainable Development Goals through the lens of well-being and happiness.

Explore the digital events available through the Earth Day Network and take part in their Earth Day Challenge.

This month, St. Thomas students and employees are competing in a virtual EcoChallenge, which highlights many actions we can take from home. Explore the challenges for tangible ideas you can pursue at any time.

Celebrate the five-year anniversary of Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, in May by joining a virtual training and a global day of prayer.

Are there ways alumni can be involved with St. Thomas’ sustainability efforts?

We love to stay in contact with alumni, and there are several ways to connect with sustainability at St. Thomas:

  • The Sustainable Communities Partnership (SCP) develops multiyear partnerships with communities to integrate a set of community-identified sustainability projects into St. Thomas courses across disciplines, engaging students in real-world, applied research and innovative problem-solving. Through SCP, students have had a chance to conduct real-world sustainability research for an alumnus who works at one of the partner organizations. Alumni across the Twin Cities can also learn more about past SCP projects that were completed in communities where they live.
  • Alumni can help us build the next generation of sustainability leaders by keeping in touch about sustainability-related internship and job opportunities for current students and recent graduates, helping us build a Tommie Network of sustainability professionals, and coming back to campus to participate in a career panel.
  • Check out the university’s Pollinator Path next time you visit campus, or visit the Pollinator Path website to learn more about how we can support our declining population of pollinators.
  • Stay current on what St. Thomas is up to:
    • Learn more about sustainability at St. Thomas on our website.
    • Watch a video that St. Thomas students created about the university’s sustainability initiatives.
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