ND-GAIN index aims to lower climate risks, promote adaptation to climate change

Increasingly people, governments and corporations must cope with the impact of climate extremes, Professor Jessica McManus Warnell said.

According to McManus Warnell, an affiliated faculty member of the ND Environmental Change Initiative which houses the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative (ND-GAIN). The organization aims to help private and public sectors prioritize climate adaptation, ultimately lowering risk and enhancing readiness.

ND-GAIN is a consortium of researchers dedicated to examining vulnerability and adaptation data globally and within the United States. The initiative works to enhance the world’s understanding of adaptation through knowledge, products and services that inform public and private actions, and investments in vulnerable communities, McManus Warnell said.

However, sustainability metrics are a separate issue. Notre Dame is a member of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education and tracks campus sustainability through its STARS program. 

Danielle Wood, the project director of ND-GAIN, added that ND-GAIN is “an open-source index,” meaning it can “help private and public sectors prioritize investments for climate adaptation to better lower risk and enhance readiness.”

McManus Warnell said she introduces the index to students in her business ethics and sustainability classes as “an example of a science-based tool for communicating climate change data to key stakeholders including communities, governments and businesses.”

Classes in which she has shared the index with students include several offered through the management department at the Mendoza College of Business, like Foundations of Ethical Behavior, Sustainable Communities and Global Business and Climate, Economics and Business Ethics.  

ND-GAIN is “one of the first and still one of the few international climate indices,” Wood said. “It is used by a variety of stakeholders, from federal agencies around the world to NGOs like the Global Center on Adaptation out of the Netherlands and financial entities like Morgan Stanley. It gathers 45 core indicators to measure vulnerability and readiness and allows users to compare countries for risk and readiness.” 

McManus Warnell said she believes ND-GAIN is an important program that addresses a pertinent topic. As the impacts of a changing climate impact communities around the world, “stakeholders and decision makers need robust data upon which to base policy development, investment decisions and other public and private actions.”  

The decline of ND-GAIN leader scores is driven by the index’s measurement of climate readiness, which consists of economic, governance and social components. At the same time, “many of the highest-ranked countries saw an increase in vulnerability to the effects of climate change,” McManus Warnell said.

ND-GAIN measures vulnerability across six components — including food, water, health, human habitat, infrastructure and ecosystem services — for sensitivity, exposure and adaptive capacity to climate risks.

There are similarities among leaderboard countries, Wood said.

“Many do face moderate exposure to climate change, but they have good capacities to deal with the potential climate risks,” she said. “In general, they are also better prepared for natural disasters and practice good governance, which is essential to adaptation.”

At the same time, Wood said the drop of ND-GAIN scores among the highest-ranked countries should serve as a critical reminder.

“The decline of the top-ranked countries underscores that no country is immune to potentially extreme impacts of climate change,” she said.

In McManus Warnell’s courses, she introduces ND-GAIN as the class examines issues of adaptation to climate change.

“Adaptation, or the process through which humans and human systems adjust to climate and its effects to both minimize harm and identify benefits, depends on good data,” she said. “Government officials, business leaders and other decision-makers can’t determine how to respond if they can’t measure what’s happening and what’s coming.  ND-GAIN’s vulnerability and adaptive capacity data is informing decision-makers around the world, and it is a powerful example for students of how data can inform decision-making. Students will, of course, soon be the decision-makers in these leadership roles.”

On Notre Dame’s campus, McManus Warnell said the University has the Office of Sustainability along with other initiatives such as a standing committee representing students, faculty and administrators in operations and from functional units across the campus who work on Notre Dame’s sustainability strategies.  

“Communities can use ND-GAIN data to determine their specific vulnerabilities to climate impacts, to understand readiness and to inform decisions about their adaptation initiatives,” McManus Warnell said. “Businesses can use ND-GAIN data to identify where and how to invest resources, determine new opportunities and respond to specific needs of communities around the world.”

Contact Maxwell Feldmann at


ND campus dining opens for a new semester, improves student experience

Luigi Alberganti, senior director of campus dining, said he was excited for the school year to start back up again.

“Speaking for the staff, we couldn’t wait until we could go back to our activities,” he said.

This year, the Notre Dame campus hosts three new dining options. The Gilded Bean, located in the Hammes Bookstore, features a café menu with bagel sandwich options. Rollin’ and Bowlin’, a new concept featuring smoothies and acai bowls, will be served at the Hagerty Family Café in Duncan Student center.

Sophomore J.P. Polking’s favorite new addition is FlipKitchen in LaFortune Student center.

“I love FlipKitchen. I’ve been probably like four times already in the past week and a half which isn’t good because I’m spending too much money, but it’s really good food,” he said.

At FlipKitchen, which replaced Subway, Alberganti explained the menu will be shifting throughout the year.

“There’s a core menu but then there is also a section of a menu that gets changed every three weeks in provide variety and excitement about that,” he said.

Dining Halls

Notre Dame’s wage increase has allowed the dining halls to also be more ambitious, Alberganti said.

“The university changed their compensation policies, allowing us to budget for a little bit more labor,” he said. “It’s all about the labor at this point.”

Executive chef of North Dining Hall (NDH) Matt Seitz said the University’s increase in wages has allowed the dining halls to increase performance by increasing worker productivity.

“We are paying (workers) an adequate wage. Because of that, we have simply asked that they do a little more,” he said.

With higher productivity, Alberganti said the dining halls are cooking more fresh food.

“We eliminated 20% of prepared convenience foods so we’re actually cooking from scratch a lot more now,” Alberganti said.

At the Welcome Weekend first-year dinner, which the dining halls served for free, Alberganti said the dining hall capabilities were tested, yet remained strong, when they provided “about 7,000 meals in a matter of 35 minutes.”

Sustainability and Supply Chain

Increase in personnel has also allowed the dining halls to increase sustainability programs once again, according to the campus dining director of supply chain and sustainability Cheryl Bauer.

“Some of the things that we’re really working to this year is bringing back programs that we had in place pre COVID-19,” she said.

Two major sustainability initiatives, Grind2Energy and Leanpath, are now being used again by the dining halls to monitor again and reuse food waste. The labor shortage during the 2021-22 year and the prior year’s COVID protocols weakened the initiatives, Bauer said.

“This year, we’ve taken the steps to really focus on those and get them going back up to where they were previously,” she said.

One step that is being implemented according to Bauer is signs at the dining halls telling students not to throw away food waste, which allows staff to scrape it and use it for the waste management programs.

Bauer also said the dining halls have had a smoother supply chain than last year.

The one exception to this year’s positive supply chain, Bauer said, is turkey. Due to the avian influenza wiping out turkey flocks throughout the country, she said there will be a shortage of deli turkey.

“You won’t see it on the deli bars in the dining halls. We’re putting roast chicken breasts out instead,” Bauer said.

Student feedback leading to improvements

Seitz mentioned that QR codes in the dining halls allowing students to give feedback on the dining hall experience has been helpful in improving the dining hall experience.

“I had one the other day that was, ‘can we please have pesto added back to the pasta line?’ That’s not an unreasonable request, so you’re going to see pesto added back to the pasta line,” Seitz said.

Another improvement Seitz noted was the chicken that is available every day. After hearing bad reviews of the chargrilled chicken last year, the staff changed the standard process to sear the chicken instead of grilling it to retain more of the chicken’s moisture. The improvements, Seitz said, is already evident in numbers.

“We used to go through between 400 or 500 pieces of chicken per meal for lunch and dinner. We’re actually upwards now to 1100 to 1200 pieces per meal.”

Lingering complaints along with positive reviews

Junior Emily Kirk, who mainly eats at NDH, said the dining hall experience compared to years past has been overall better, but that she still believes there’s improvements to be made, such as long lines.

“I’ve had friends who like wait an hour in that line,” Kirk said of the stir-fry line at the dining hall. “Most people don’t have time to do that. So, although it is a good option for food, it’s not always a practical one.”

Kirk said she also felt the salad offerings were not adequate.

“I like to get like a salad as like a backup option, but I feel like the salads are not that fresh,” she said.

Polking said, though he was happy with the overall dining experience, he has also experienced long lines.

“The lines are really long,” he said. “I don’t really know how you fix that, but at dinner last night, I waited for like 20 minutes just to get pasta.”

Despite this, Polking said he was not bothered by the overall dining hall experience compared to last year.

“I’m happy with it,” Polking said. “I don’t really have too many complaints.”

Sophomore Lucy Ordway, however, felt as though the dining hall experience has improved significantly from her first year.

“I think that the selection is better, and I also think that the quality of the food is better,” she said. “Tonight, at dinner, they had a much wider variety of vegetables and things that felt like I was eating healthier.”

Liam Price

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