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Earth Day conference to showcase sustainability

April 5, 2011 By Tom Sinclair

Two dazzling new gathering places on the University of Wisconsin–Madison campus will share the spotlight on Wednesday, April 20 as joint venues for the Nelson Institute’s fifth annual Earth Day Conference, and the public is invited.

The Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, which debuted in December, and next-door neighbor Union South, opening this month, will house a full day of activities highlighting innovation, and rightly so. The facilities incorporate earth-friendly design features such as the use of local building materials, natural daylighting, and cutting-edge geothermal heating.

“Pursuing a More Sustainable Wisconsin: Innovation in Buildings, Energy, and Food Systems” is the conference theme. Breakout sessions will showcase sustainability in building construction and operation, alternative energy, community development, institutional food systems, clean technology, and art and design.

Featured speakers include John Rowe, chairman and CEO of Exelon Corporation, one of the country’s largest electric power companies; Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, executive director of Green for All, a national organization working to build a green economy that lifts people out of poverty; and Gary Hirshberg, chairman, president, and CEO of Stonyfield Farm, a leading producer of organic yogurt, ice cream, milk and other foods.

Kevin Reilly, president of the University of Wisconsin System, and Dickson Despommier, professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University, also will speak.

Award winners in the third annual Climate Leadership Challenge will be announced at the conference. A yearlong UW–Madison student competition for ideas to reduce the impacts of climate change, the Climate Leadership Challenge is a project of the Nelson Institute Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment. First prize is $50,000. All finalists will have exhibits in the Town Center of the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery.

General conference registration is $25. College and high school students with valid student IDs may attend for free. Preregistration by April 15 is required. Details are available on the conference website at

A related event, “Ecotones,” the Nelson Institute’s second annual Earth Day Concert, will feature ambient environmental music on electric guitar and keyboards by UW–Madison students Chris Bocast and Emily Blessing and an ecologically inspired blend of classical and bluegrass acoustic music by Madison “class-grass” ensemble Graminy. The free outdoor concert is set for 5-7 p.m. on Friday, April 22 at the Memorial Union Terrace.

The Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery building is located at 330 N. Orchard St., while Union South sits directly across Campus Drive at 1308 W. Dayton St.

UW-Madison’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, host of the conference and concert, is named for Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson and was established in 1970, the same year as the first Earth Day.

The conference is presented in partnership with the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, Wisconsin Union, Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, and Wisconsin Bioenergy Institute.