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UW–Madison Earth Fest offers education, inspiration, motivation with nearly 50 campus events

April 9, 2024 By Nathan Jandl
People cut tree branches and pile them up.

Volunteers cut buckthorn branches at Lakeshore Nature Preserve during Bucky’s Big Event in April 2023. Earth Fest activities this year will include another clean-up event at Lakeshore Nature Preserve. Photo: Althea Dotzour

The UW–Madison Office of Sustainability and the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies are launching UW–Madison Earth Fest, a new, campus-wide celebration of the environment and sustainability that will run from April 19-26, 2024. Almost all events are free and open to the public.

Building on established events that celebrate Earth Day on campus, Earth Fest will feature inclusive, holistic ways to learn about the environment; collaborative and interdisciplinary approaches to environmental challenges; and fun, interactive experiences that engage participants with the world we all share.

Thanks to the collaborative efforts of more than two dozen student organizations, academic centers and campus units, Earth Fest will offer nearly 50 events to community members. These events will cover a range of topics, including the university’s recently announced environmental sustainability goals that reflect UW–Madison’s commitment to stewardship and addressing challenges to the state’s natural resources and a changing climate.

Events will be held at locations across the UW–Madison campus, including the Lakeshore Nature Preserve and the UW Arboretum. The full schedule — which includes a kick-off celebration with Chancellor Mnookin, a workshop on aquaponics, campus sustainability tours, zero waste workshops, and a talk by Project Drawdown executive director, Jon Foley — is available on the Earth Fest website.

“Doing great environmental scholarly work, but also making sure it connects to the real world and does some good — that legacy is in the spirit of the Nelson Institute,” Foley said.

Earth Fest is centered around Earth Day, a holiday with deep historical connections at UW–Madison. Gaylord Nelson, namesake of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, developed the idea for a teach-in on the environment in 1969, which later became the worldwide Earth Day celebration.

Eventually, the Nelson Institute created its Earth Day conference, which launched in 2008 and was held for many years at Monona Terrace. In 2018, the UW–Madison Office of Sustainability developed a complementary, campus-facing initiative called Earth Week, which convened a variety of student organizations and other campus units to hold a range of events from trash pickups to movie showings and panel discussions. Earth Fest, which combines these two established offerings, will stand as a yearly celebration of UW–Madison’s commitment to environmental sustainability by inviting students, faculty, staff and the broader community to participate, learn and celebrate together.

“The demand for meaningful discussions, for practical solutions, for new learning avenues, it’s bottomless,” says Paul Robbins, dean of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. “The students, the community, our faculty and staff, they all want to see new ideas and a real commitment. Earth Fest is the front door to all that. It can’t substitute for real action on climate change and biodiversity decline, but it’s a convening that makes that kind of action imaginable, possible, real.”

For more information, visit