Sustainability on campus is more than the recycling bins you find in Mason Hall. In reality, University of Michigan student organizations, departments and local nonprofits are focusing their efforts on outreach and staying green in a number of ways.
One example of these outreach efforts is EarthFest. The 21st annual event was held on the Diag Thursday, and, hosted by the Office of Campus Sustainability, allowed students and staff to browse through dozens of booths and learn about how to get involved with sustainability on campus.
OCS Sustainability Representative Barbara Hagan said EarthFest provides new possibilities for students previously unaware of environmental organizations’ activity on campus.
“Students are very interested in sustainability and how to protect the planet and how to make the world a better place,” Hagan said. “It’s our way of match-making students with a group that they may want to participate in.”
University spokeswoman Dana Elger said the event sends a message that anyone can be involved in making the University a more environmentally friendly place.
“People want to get engaged, they’re just not sure how to do it,” Elger said. “You have new students, returning students. I have seniors coming up and saying, ‘Hey, I want to get involved. I care about this and I want to learn more about it.’ ”
The booths were divided into sections relating to each organization’s goal: greenhouse gas reduction, transportation, sustainable food, protecting the Huron River, waste reduction and community awareness. Many were interactive, handing out free food samples and engaging students in activities. Michigan Dining, for example, offered students free bruschetta with a display showcasing their sustainable food practices.
LSA freshman Yasmeen Shakour said she learned valuable information about Michigan Dining’s efforts to source their food locally.
“I always wonder where they got their food, or whether it’s GMO-free, organic or local, so it was cool to learn about that,” she said.
LSA senior Ben Iuliano, co-president of the University’s Sustainable Food Program, said he hoped to get more people interested in the environment through food and expand on the University’s sustainable food program together.
“Thinking of new ways to organize our growing practices and food systems will be really important in fighting climate change,” he said. “I think putting a big focus on (food) is a really easy way to draw people into environmental issues because everybody eats, lots of people love food, so it’s something a lot of people can get really excited about.”
Off to the side of the Diag, students representing the Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum helped students pot their own succulents. LSA senior Mason Opp recounted how he was able to relieve daily stress by working in the gardens and said he hopes other students can also learn the joys of horticulture.
“I think it gives people a chance to take a break from classes and do something interacting more with their environment,” Opp said. “I started working at the botanical gardens in February and I found it was an awesome break from stress and nasty weather by working inside a greenhouse.”
The School for Environment and Sustainability offered a virtual reality tour of Ann Arbor through Oculus Rift glasses.
Landscape Architecture Prof. Mark Lindquist explained how technology can give students and residents a new perspective of the city’s nature and environment.
"Hopefully what (people) get out of this is a better sense of what the landscape's going to look like, but also with some of the functionality that we built in a better sense of how the landscape might perform," Lindquist said.