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EarthFest takes fun approach to promoting sustainability

By Joey Steinberger, Daily Arts Writer
Published September 19, 2012

Can sustainability be fun? Is it possible to throw an eco-friendly party big enough for the entire University to attend? The organizers of EarthFest 2012 think so.

“(EarthFest) is a program to engage and educate the campus community on what we’re doing from a sustainability standpoint,” said Andrew Berki, manager of the Office of Campus Sustainability.

2012 EarthFest: Party for the Planet is an annual sustainability event organized by students and the Office of Campus Sustainability. The event will have food, entertainment and giveaways. Rufus, the recycling mascot of the University, is also set to make an appearance.

Around 40 booths will be constructed at EarthFest. About half will be student groups such as the Student Sustainability Initiative and Environmental Issues Commission. The rest will be Campus Operation Units such as Utilities for Energy Reduction and Grounds and Waste Management Recycling.

The booths will be divided into four major themes: climate action, waste prevention, healthy environments and community awareness. The themes are based off of goals for sustainability that University President Mary Sue Coleman set last year.

In the beginning, student involvement was limited. According to Berki, 17 years ago, the event was previously called EnergryFest and was run by the University of Michigan’s Utilities department.

“We really wanted to change it from being an operations-driven exercise to a student-led exercise to engage students more,” he said.

The change broadened the focus of the event from Campus Operations to sustainability as a whole at the University. Education and research groups soon joined the event, such as the Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute.

“It’s been really successful the past couple of years.” Berki said. “We’ve had huge participation. Students seem to love it. Faculty and staff seem to love it. So it’s been good and we’re hoping for good weather.”

The event aims to be zero-waste. Free tote bags (made from the banners used to advertise the event) and GoBlue reusable lunch boxes will be given away in a raffle as part of the drive to engage students.

“We want to collect everything and get it recycled and composted,” Berki said. “We’re really trying to be conscious right down to the little details about those kinds of things.”

One of those "little details" will be the food, which will be handed out without plates as part of the no-waste effort. In addition, no plastic will be used in the event.

“We want to be able to do something that’s not going to create waste. So whether that’s going to be apples or cider or doughnuts we’re not sure yet. But there will be some food.”

This fall, the University unveiled a new bicycle rental program, Blue Bikes, that will be at the event. The Blue Bikes program will have more than one rental site so students can return the bike in different places from where they rented.

EarthFest is the one of the biggest annual sustainability related event on campus. The Office of Campus Sustainability holds other smaller events on a more frequent basis.

“There are sustainability town hall meetings which we host that are open forum,” Berki said. “There is one coming up on Oct. 4. We’ve reached out to many student groups to talk about sustainability issues (there).”

Berki hopes that EarthFest will lead to more student involvement with sustainability issues on campus.

“We like to see a broad student representation in (sustainability) groups,” Berki said. “So not only students from the School of Natural Resources or the PITE program but we’re really trying to encourage students from engineering and the med school and all over. Students are critical to moving the sustainability agenda here on campus.”

Though EarthFest is primarily a means to educate the campus about sustainability issues, the organizers also want people to have a good time.

“Sustainability is fun,” Berki said. “I enjoy it everyday.”