'U' officials talk campus sustainability at town hall meeting

Samantha Trauben/Daily
A meeting that discussed campus sustainability efforts took place in the League Ballroom yesterday afternoon. Buy this photo

BY MICHELE NAROV
Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 28, 2010

University leaders and administrators held a town hall meeting yesterday to discuss environmental sustainability on campus.

The meeting — hosted by the University’s Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute and the newly formed Office of Campus Sustainability — aimed to introduce and invite discussion on a new initiative on campus, which University administrators have dubbed an "integrated assessment" by the two organizations.

Members involved in the project are examining ways to increase the University’s commitment to the environment through initiatives in research, academics and operations.

A group of panelists took the stage at the meeting and discussed the project's goals from both operational and academic perspectives. Faculty leaders from each committee spoke of possible objectives for the initiative and University administrators discussed the organizational components of the project.

Addressing a crowd composed of about 200 students, faculty and staff members and Ann Arbor residents, Timothy Slottow, executive vice president and chief financial officer, said it’s necessary for the University to take a multifaceted approach to increasing the University’s commitment to the environment because there are so many important parts of the issue.

“In a complex system with multiple components you rarely will achieve best results by looking at one component in isolation,” he said at the meeting.

Slottow said integrated assessment is a new concept that represents an opportunity for the University to act as a global agent for change in the national environmental sustainability movement.

“It is a unique time for the University of Michigan to really seek out a position of leadership nationally, in higher education and hopefully beyond,” he said.

Don Scavia, the director of the University's Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute, said he believes the University’s collaborative approach will yield greater results than simply focusing on one aspect of environmental sustainability.

“Other universities set carbon reduction goals,” he said. “We believe we can leap frog our competitors.”

Philip Hanlon, vice provost for academic and budgetary affairs, said the entire University community’s involvement in the movement is vital to its success.

“A lot of the urgency behind (this) actually came from students, faculty, alum, friends of the University, and so it’s entirely appropriate you’re all here today,” said Hanlon — who will take over as the University provost when Teresa Sullivan steps down in June.

“We want to really have everyone’s ideas in this process,” he continued. “What we’re trying to do is draw on the key expertise we have on this campus.”

Terry Alexander, executive director of the Office of Campus Sustainability, emphasized that in setting goals for the initiative, moderation is key.

“If we put a simple goal out there, that’s not going to do it,” he said. “If we put something out there that’s so outrageous, it’s never going to be achieved; that won’t work either. What we really need is something that will move us forward.”

In her October State of the University address, University President Mary Sue Coleman said one of the University’s main priorities for the year would be spearheading programs and research in environmental sustainability.

After yesterday's meeting, Drew Horning, GESI deputy director, continued to stress the importance of involvement from members of the University community and the general public, and said anyone can submit his or her idea for the endeavor on the institute's website.

— Jennifer Domingue contributed to this report.