Monday, December 5, 2016

STEP Prof. Ramaswami offers insight into Trump Administration impact on Environment at Humphrey School Panel

A panel of professors from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota discussed how Donald Trump presidency will change the country. Trump promised a trillion dollar investment in infrastructure which would help the economy. STEP Professor Anu Ramaswami said, There will be interest in investing in transit and high-speed rail. Thinking through infrastructure and how it connects with employment, with the environment, and with public health is an area where we could move forward more cooperatively.”

Friday, December 2, 2016

A Week in Paris: Reflections on the International Science-Policy Dialogue on Resource Use


My name is Kyle Flanegin, and I am a first year MS-STEP student at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs on the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus. This past week I attended the 19th meeting of the International Resource Panel (IRP) and its Steering Committee in Paris, France. I was accompanying my advisor, Dr. Anu Ramaswami, who is an expert member on the Panel. Back at home, she is the Charles M. Denny, Jr., Chair of Science, Technology, and Public Policy at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

Functionally, the IRP has two parts. The IRP Panel is comprised of the 34 top experts on global material flows, responsible resource management and city-level decoupling strategies. Meanwhile, the IRP Steering Committee is made up of 25 governments, international organizations, and civil society organizations which provide strategic guidance and political support to the IRP Panel, which produces state of the art independent science reports. The two distinct parts are brought together by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) Secretariat, which develops the procedures and outreach mechanisms for the IRP.

The first day in Paris (Monday) was a pre-dialogue for the official IRP meetings, which was a national science-policy discussion focused on reducing our resource dependence to enhance human well-being. It was carried out half French and half English. The logistics at this event were incredible, with live translation provided by two translators in a sound proof booth who translated for six consecutive hours.

Besides the impressive setup of the event, I was fascinated that many of the ideas that we talk about in the MS-STEP program at UMN are the same exact conversations that the top experts on resources in the world have. For example, a large part of the discussion on Monday revolved around the need for metrics that measure growth, besides GDP. One of the fundamental problems in the science of resource use is that human progress, for the large part of history, has been driven and measured by increased economic capacity. Thus, the developing and developed part of the world have tried to maximize economic growth – which is currently the metric of human well-being – by consuming finite resources and creating large environmental impacts. As the group discussed alternative metrics to measure human development, I couldn’t help but to think back to my courses in the Sustainability Research Network at the University, because we had previously discussed many of the problems with alternative metrics under the guidance of Dr. Ramaswami earlier in the semester. I came to Paris wondering if I would even be able to follow the conversations at the IRP meetings, but soon enough I found myself very engaged in the discussion of the most pressing problems our world faces.

The Monday meeting set the tone for the rest of the trip. I soon found myself engaged in other topics that I had been introduced to, including one that interests me in particular: the interactions between the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals and sustainable resource use in cities. With 60% of the built environment required to accommodate the globe’s urban population in 2050 yet to be built, resource scarcity and equity on a global scale are of high interest to me, and I was humbled to be able to experience the cutting-edge thought and dialogue.

Experiencing the science-policy interactions at the meetings taught me a lot about the place of STEM research in the larger context of policy. In several of the policy reviews of the IRP’s current reports, I noticed that there was a tension between what the policy makers wanted the IRP to produce and what the IRP thought they could produce within a given timeframe. This tension ranged from the need for higher levels of funding for the IRP to produce more detailed work, to the specific language used in the report, and even to the communication structures in the report. For example, some words that existed within the reports had clear definitions and intent between the science panel members, but between policymakers, phrases such as ‘green economy’ were highly contentious. Additionally, it was interesting to view the science and policy interactions revolving around uncertainty. Several aspects of sustainable global resource consumption have varying amounts of uncertainty, but if the policy makers at the meeting got a hint of any uncertainty of the science they became highly uncomfortable in the discussion. In the end, it very hard for policymakers to justify funding science if there is the smallest of uncertainties, and understandably so. 

One last takeaway that I had was in the arena of science communication. At the IRP meetings, many of the scientific breakout sessions focused on the overall narrative that the IRP wants to create surrounding sustainable resource use. The story of resource use and resource scarcity is connected to many other stories in the environmental realm, but many of the researchers wanted to focus on the specific context of material consumption as the key focal point for the reports that the IRP will publish. On the other hand, others were interested in combining the IRP’s previous narrative with other reports from other groups, such as GEO-6, Habitat-III and other work by the UNFCCC.

These conversations hinged on the decision of communicating a concise narrative with very key policy takeaways, versus painting the overall pictures for larger policy change outside the direct scope of resource consumption. Many agreed that a narrow focus may result in only limited policy action, while flaring the scope too far would inhibit policymakers from acting at all. Even further, the group discussed the methods of communications, and how new methods of creative visualization could help the IRP to expand their impact on the policy world.

Overall, this trip was a very enriching aspect of my education in the Sustainability Research Network at the University of Minnesota. As a Master of Science student, being able to witness this international science-policy interaction firsthand could not have been replaced with any amount of classroom work and study.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

STEP-FAR Panel: Recent Engagement in International Environmental Policy

STEP students and faculty shared reflections from recent engagements in International Environmental Policy this November, in a STEP-FAR (Feedback and Research) Panel Monday.
UNEP IRP: STEP Graduate Student Kyle Flanegin discussed his recent trip with Prof. Anu Ramaswami to Paris, France, for a meeting of the UN Environment Programme International Resource Panel.

From Left: Aaron Hanson, Peder Garnaas-Halvorsen, Kate Barry
UMN at COP22: STEP Graduate students, Professor Gabe Chan, traveled to Marrakech, Morocco, to engage with international climate policy discussions, or as Prof. Chan put it, "Swimming in the sea of 25,000 global actors in climate policy."

They discussed:
  • Key Developments
  • Reacting to US Election Results
  • Issue Linkages with Climate
  • Finance, Business and Cities
  • Climate Vulnerability
  • Adaptation Finance 

They were joined by Ellen Anderson (Exec. Dir. UMN Energy Transition Lab), who shared insights into the Trump Administration's impact on the Paris Agreement.
From left: Kyle Flanegin, Gabe Chan, Ellen Anderson
Read UMN Perspectives on the COP 22 trip here:

Questions from attendees

Students: Still looking for a course to add this Spring?

Students: Still looking for a course to add this Spring? Consider one of these offerings from STEP:
  • Water Policy with Peter Calow
           PA 5723 (Tuesdays and Thursdays 4:00 PM-5:15 PM)
 Explore the major water-related issues of our time, and the policy solutions to them.

  • Urban Food and Systems Policy with Anu Ramaswami and Dana Boyer 
           PA 5790 (Mondays 6:00-8:45 PM)
 This course will include guest speakers and cover systems thinking around urban food policies.

STEP Professor Peter Calow to Deliver Freeman Center Global Policy Seminar

 Professor Peter Calow
STEP, Humphrey School
will speak on
Advice versus Advocacy at the Science/Public Policy Interface

12:45 - 2:00 pm
Tuesday, December 6
The Stassen Room (Room 170)
Humphrey School, West Bank Campus

Advocacy based on science can bring scientists into the political arena, but to what extent does that compromise science advice?  As scientists, should we be informing or seeking to influence public policy?  Based on experience in Europe and the USA, and focused on risk assessment and management, this seminar will explore these questions by considering what science - taking a broad view that spans natural and social disciplines - brings to the policy arena.  It will consider how the biases of individual scientists are addressed (or not) by the science process.  A central theme will be that in any complex policy setting science provides choices that can only be resolved on the basis of preferences – but whose preferences?  Social science plays a key role in all this; but can it deliver?  One conclusion will be that the sciences should define policy options not make choices.

All are welcome!  Refreshments will be served

Thursday, November 10, 2016

University of Minnesota at COP22

STEP Professor Gabe Chan and Humphrey School of Public Affairs graduate research assistant teams share two new issue briefs ahead of COP22 Marrakech visit. Guidelines for the Sustainable Development Mechanism: with Brianna Denk, Haly Bloomquist, and Ally Hillstrom. International Cooperative R&D for Mitigation: with Brianna Denk, Haley Bloomquist, and Ally Hillstrom The following week, Brianna (GRA on the first brief), Jill (GRA on the second brief), five other current UMN students, MN Rep. Melissa Hortman, UMN Energy Transition Lab Executive Director Ellen Anderson, and Gabe Chan will be in Marrakech, Morocco to attend the international negotiations under the United Nations Framework Covention on Climate Change. Learn more, and consider supporting their trip here:

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

STEP Senior Fellow Steve Kelley and Former MN State Senator, Comments on Presidential Campaign

Steve Kelley, STEP Senior Fellow and former MN State Senator, commented on presidential campaigns' focus on rural voters and issues in the Fargo-Moorhead Forum. The candidates, said Kelley, "are focused on the emotions of the supporters and of the people who are still undecided." Read more here.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

STEP Students Attend the World Food Prize Dialog

Dana Boyer attended the World Food Prize Borlaug Dialog and Laureate Ceremony this past week in Des Moines, Iowa. The World Food Prize, is awarded annually to an individual or individuals responsible for significant contribution to the global food system. Boyer had the opportunity to attend as a Borlaug Summer Institute Fellow. She and five teammates were awarded the trip by coming in first place in a USAID proposal competition at the Summer Institute for their project to address Vitamin A deficiency in Ethiopia by way of incorporating ghee into school feeding programs.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

STEP Students Present at FEASt Symposium

Dana Boyer and Peter Nixon of Dr. Anu Ramaswami’s food research cohort both presented posters at the FEASt Symposium. This symposium hosted by the University of Minnesota brought together diverse researchers from a number of universities to highlight current agricultural research and discuss visions of future agricultural systems. Keynote speaker, Raj Patel, prominent food activist and best-selling author of Stuffed and Starved, presented on the historical effects of the division of common resources and the effects of gender equality on agricultural production. Dana Boyer presented her work with the Food-Energy-Water Nexus of Delhi and potential tactics for reducing water and energy consumption in Delhi’s food system. Peter Nixon presented on his work with utilizing county-level food, energy, and water metrics to identify water-vulnerable areas of high food and energy production in the United States and co-presented a second poster with Gianna Short and Joesph Nowak as members of the Data Harvest, an interdisciplinary research collaboration of graduate students from different fields. The Data Harvest presented preliminary results from a comprehensive survey of 12 farmers markets across the Twin Cities.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

STEP NEWS: STEP Chair Anu Ramaswami serves on NSF Advisory Committee for ERE

STEP Chair Anu Ramaswami serves on National Science Foundation's Advisory Committee for Environmental Research and Education, and discusses Sustainable Urban Systems.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

STEP-FAR: RCN-SRN Webinar Series on Decoupling Urban Density's Benefits and Costs

Professor Clint Andrews, Rutgers University on Urban Density: Benefits & Cost

Clinton J. Andrews is Professor of Urban Planning and Policy Development, and Associate Dean for Planning and New Initiatives at the Edward J. Bloustein School, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey. His research addresses behavioral, policy and planning questions related to energy use in the built environment.

This webinar presents recent evidence on the correlates of urban density, the relation between urban density and scale, and the implications for urban sustainability.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

From PNAS: "Making Technological Innovation Work for Sustainable Development"

From PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America): "Making Technological Innovation Work for Sustainable Development" by Laura Diz Anadona, Gabriel Chan, Alicia G. Harleya, Kira Matusb, Suerie Moona, Sharmila L. Murthye, and William C. Clarka

New Publication out on Nature: Energy "The pressing energy innovation challenge of the US National Labs."

by Laura Diaz Anadon, Gabriel Chan, Amitai Y. Bin-Nun & Venkatesh Narayanamurti

Accelerating the development and deployment of energy technologies is a pressing challenge. Doing so will require policy reform that improves the efficacy of public research organizations and strengthens the links between public and private innovators.

Here, we discuss the challenges the National Laboratories face in engaging the private sector, increasing their contributions to transformative research, and developing culture and management practices to better support innovation. We also offer recommendations for how policymakers can address these challenges.

Monday, August 15, 2016

STEP Chair Anu Ramaswami's Comparative Case Study Appeared in Waste Management Research

"Ramaswami et al., 2016, Exploring social and infrastructural factors affecting open burning of municipal solid waste (MSW) in Indian cities: A comparative case study of three neighborhoods of Delhi" Appeared in Waste Management Research

In this study we have uncovered social and infrastructural factors that affect MSW-burning at the neighborhood level in Delhi. We couple physical assessments of the infrastructure provision and the MSW-burning incidences in three different neighborhoods of varying socio-economic status in Delhi, with an accompanying study of the social actors (interviews of waste handlers and households) to explore the extent to which, and potential reasons why, MSW-burning occurs. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

STEP-FAR Seminar on Community-Scale Wastewater-Food Waste-Energy Systems

Community-Scale Wastewater-Food Waste-Energy Systems for Sustainable and Equitable Infrastructure Provision in Delhi: Concept Development & Systems Analysis
Ritesh Patidar, Ajay Nagpure
STEP Area, Humphrey School

Please join us to hear from Ritesh Kumar, Visiting UG Researcher from IIT Roorkee, India, and Ajay Nagupre, POst Doc Humphrey School, who have been working on a project led by Professor Ramaswami on developing a new concept for providing clean energy and sanitation in underserved areas of Delhi, India. Learn about early research results and discuss future directions and collaborations.

When: Thu Aug 11, 2016 12pm – 1pm (CDT)
Where: HHH Room 170 (Stassen Room)

Tuesday, July 19, 2016



Please join us in welcoming Gabriel Chan and Cali Curley to the Network’s team of faculty!
  • Gabriel Chan is an Assistant Professor at the University of Minnesota. He will investigate the design and performance of community-scale solar energy initiatives, using Minnesota’s community solar garden program as a test case.  Learn more about Gabe.  
  • Cali Curley is an Assistant Professor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and a Courtesy Professor at Florida State University. She will be coordinating the Tallahassee utilities relationship and managing the utility level data.  Learn more about Cali. 
See a complete list of faculty collaborating on our Network.


On July 8th, we said farewell to our Managing Director, Luke Hollenkamp.  Luke accepted a new position with the City of Minneapolis’ Sustainability Office.  We wish him the very best in his new role!
Joining Tracy Fallon, our Operations Manager, are three additional team members.  Please welcome Robert Johns, Katja Kruit, and Frank Douma to the Network!

Robert (Bob) Johns will be our Senior Strategy Advisor.  Bob returned to the University of Minnesota as a Senior Fellow this January after serving as Director of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center.  His experience and expertise will guide the internal management of the Network and will advise on strategic connections with external partners.  Learn more about Bob.  

Katja Kruit will be our Research Manager.  Katja brings experience in managing other NSF research grants at the University of Minnesota and an expertise in sustainability science and renewable energy.  She will coordinate research in Theme 1, the Energy/Water Testbed, and the Green Infrastructure/Urban Farming Testbed, as well as manage the budget and contractual agreements.

Frank Douma is building on his responsibilities at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs by joining us as a Senior Fellow.  Frank will be coordinating research within the Transportation testbed, Theme 2’s social actors study, and Theme 3.  Learn more about Frank.

Learn more here. 

SRN Researchers Present at Gordon Research Conference

SRN faculty, students, and post-docs participated in the Industrial Ecology Gordon Research Conference from Jun 18-24, 2016 in Stowe, VT. 

From Sustainable Healthy Cities: Director Ramaswami to Chair GRC

Anu Ramaswami, Charles M. Denny Jr. Chair Professor of Science Technology and Environmental Policy and the Director of the Sustainable Healthy Cities Network, was recently elected Vice Chair of the Industrial Ecology Gordon Research Conference (GRC). She was elected by conference attendees at the recent Industrial Ecology GRC held June 19-24 in Stowe, Vermont. Learn more here.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

System-like Thinking for Cities by Anu Ramaswami

Besides advances in technology and big data, a higher order systems-level thinking is necessary to enable infrastructure transition in Indian cities.

Learn more here.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Discover: Science + Technology: Model for addressing climate change Link at:

STEP-FAR Seminar on Transmission Planning and CapX2020

Join us for an afternoon seminar with Marta Monti, lead research associate on the Humphrey School report, "Transmission Planning and CapX2020: Building trust to build regional transmission systems."

The report is the product of research led by STEP Professor and Institute on the Environment Fellow, Elizabeth Wilson, and tells the story of CapX2020, a coalition of eleven utilities from Minnesota and the Upper Midwest that worked together to plan, develop and build the region’s first major energy line expansion in 40 years.

Monti is a third-year MPP-STEP (Masters of Public Policy and Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy Concentrator) and CIL (Center for Integrative Leadership) student at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. She will discuss the team's research and offer her reflections on the project.

To read more about the report,
 go to this article on the UMN Discover site, or to view the full report, visit the STEP Center site

Date: 5/11/2016
Time: 4:00PMLocation: HHH RM 215Learn more here.

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