Students and staff filled the Hatcher Graduate Library gallery Thursday for the annual Campus Sustainability Town Hall Meeting to discuss the University of Michigan’s efforts to meet long-term sustainability goals.
In 2011, the University set several goals for reducing the campus’s negative effect on the environment by 2025, including the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent and of landfill waste by 40 percent. At Thursday's event, various University staff members addressed these particular goals by outlining initiatives to reduce both emissions and waste.
Andy Berki, director of the Office of Campus Sustainability, said the University’s efforts thus far have been moderately successful, citing the relative stability of the University’s environmental footprint despite its 22 percent growth in infrastructure — an increase of 8 million square feet in the past 10 years.
However, he also said additional efforts and innovative solutions are necessary to meet the reduction numbers set in 2011.
“A lot of efforts are making a difference, yet our goals are not normalized,” he said. “They’re absolute. … As an institution, that’s one of the big challenges we face, is how to meet our long-term sustainability goals.”
Presenters described several operations that will be implemented in the coming years, including an increase in the amount of power the University produces internally, the transition of the Big House to zero-waste production by 2017 and a boost in composting opportunities around campus. Presenters also raised the topic of fostering a sustainability-oriented campus climate, highlighting initiatives like the Sustainable Living Experience theme community for freshmen.
The event also included various booths, manned by various University departments and student organizations that audience members could visit before and after the event. Focusing on sustainability efforts, these booths included Planet Blue Student Leaders and the Student Sustainability Initiative, which aim to facilitate a campus-wide commitment to sustainability-related actions.
Tracy Artley, an employee with the University Waste Reduction and Recycling Office who presented during the town hall, emphasized the importance of events like this one that bring together different groups dedicated to sustainability.
“You get a bigger bang for your buck; everything kind of reinforces everything else,” she added.
“What we’re doing reinforces what Recycle Ann Arbor’s doing, which reinforces energy management, all of those kinds of things,” she said. “It’s a bigger message when we all come together to reach a bigger audience.”
However, LSA senior Liz Bedrick, a board member for the Student Sustainability Initative, voiced disappointment regarding the lack of a Q&A session, which was a part of the town hall in previous years. Bedrick also said she felt the event’s scope was narrower than she expected and focused on the efforts of only a few departments.
“I thought it could have been a little more comprehensive,” Bedrick said. “A lot of stakeholders weren’t accounted for here. They only had four people talk from three different offices, so I think they could have had a wider array of people.”
Nonetheless, she said she felt the representatives from these departments demonstrated a positive trajectory for sustainability on campus.
“But I think in terms of their goals they all seem to be on track, and I think a lot of the initiatives going on are really great,” she said.
Engineering senior Natalie Salton said she appreciated the format of the town hall event because it provided opportunities for the community to actively engage with the topic and interact with others involved in sustainability programs.
“If the University only put out reports, I think you’ll have a lot lower participation and awareness of what’s going on,” she said. “… You can still talk to people, see what things are available around campus by having interpersonal relationships. It’s a lot more effective at communicating stuff than throwing reports and fliers at people.”
Correction: A previous version of this article stated sustainability goals were set in 2006. The University's goals were set in 2011.