Report: University moving forward in 'green' goals

By Ian Dillingham, Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 29, 2013

The University is on track to become a lot greener.

According to a newly released report, the University has doubled its funding of sustainability research since 2003 and has made significant progress toward its 2025 long-term goals — known as “Planet Blue” — of advancing education, research and efforts to make the University itself more sustainable.

In a press release, University President Mary Sue Coleman said environmental sustainability is very important to the school.

“We understand our legacy as a leader in reviving Michigan’s Great Lakes and forests, integrating environment and business in our curriculum and protecting vital systems throughout the world,” Coleman said.

Coleman laid out the University’s long-term sustainability goals in a major address in 2011.

On an operations level, the report stated that the University has made strides in decreasing carbon emissions from its vehicle fleet, purchasing more sustainable foods and participating in greener landscaping practices.

Nonetheless, Andrew Berki, manager of the University’s Office of Campus Sustainability, said keeping operations sustainable will be difficult considering the fact that the University will continue grow at a rate of 1 to 2 percent per year.

“With growth and an increase in growth of research activities, we’ll see a higher demand on utilities and energy use,” Berki said. “I think that will provide us a challenge going forward.”

Efforts to remain sustainable despite growth could include projects in energy conservation, alternative transportation, pesticide and herbicide control, storm water runoff reduction and an increase in sustainable foods purchased by the University.

Berki said it's important the University strives to be a leader in sustainability.

“As a worldwide institution of higher education, we should set an example for other schools around the country and globally,” Berki said.

Berki added that the University is focusing more on its efforts in research and education.

“The work that we’re doing in education and research … is of most importance because we’re responsible for teaching and educating our future leaders,” he said. “… (They) are really going to be creators of change.”

While the annual report traditionally focuses on the University’s internal sustainability efforts, Berki said external organizations — such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — have played an important role in collaborating on research.

“We work together and learn from each other so that we’re not re-creating the wheel all the time,” Berki said.

Berki said that it is important to involve more University students in sustainability research, education and outreach. There are currently 600 courses on sustainability offered at the University.

“I would really like to see students get really involved in (Central Student Government and the Student Sustainability Initiative),” Berki said. “They both have strong environmental interests (and) they advocate for environmental sustainability in an organized fashion.”

Berki said he's pleased with the effort the University has made toward sustainability.

“The one thing that I’m most proud of is the holistic approach we take here,” Berki said. “More focus is being put on sustainability on all levels.”

Don Scavia, director of the Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute, said two focuses of research are energy technology and consumer choice.

“I think there’s some really important research going on in energy technologies,” Scavia said.

But Scavia said research is practical only if students are educated in sustainability practices that they can bring back into their personal lives.

“Everyone — in our personal lives — needs to think carefully about how we use energy, how we use water, how much waste we generate,” Scavia said. “We need to find ways to use less and be more efficient in what we use.”

Daily Staff Reporter Aaron Guggenheim contributed to this report.