Group wants to plant change

BY NICK STREICHER
For the Daily
Published February 5, 2007

Some students watch MTV for entertainment.

Others want the company's help to save the world.

Environmental Enthusiasts, a campus group that works to get students involved with environmental issues, has been selected as a finalist in a contest sponsored by mtvU - an MTV channel aimed at college students - and General Electric.

The group wants to replace the current roof of the Elbel Building with a green roof composed of plants native to Michigan.

The contest asked college students to submit proposals for original projects that could improve the environment. The winner will receive $25,000 to implement their plan.

After consulting with Stephen Kunselman, the University's energy management liaison, the club proposed the construction of a green roof on the University's Outdoor Activities Center. The Outdoor Activities Center, also known as the Elbel Building, stands on the corner of Hill and South Division streets.

Green roofs are covered with plants and have a drainage system to prevent damage to the roof. While conventional shingle or tile roofs must be replaced every 20 years, green roofs can last for more than 60 years without maintenance, said LSA junior Sarah Benatar, who helped found the group last fall. Green roofs provide buildings with insulation, retain water to prevent storm water runoff and filter pollutants like carbon dioxide out of the air.

The green roof would cost about $23,000, Benatar said.

If the Environmental Enthusiasts succeed in building a green roof on the Elbel Building, it will be the first on campus. There are plans to build green roofs atop the Mott Children's and Women's Hospital and the newly designed Ross Business School, both under construction. Several other proposals to implement green roofs have been rejected because of the high cost, Benatar said.

Joel Perkovich, a Rackham student who helped design the green roof, said mtvU has helped the Environmental Enthusiasts increase public awareness of the benefits of environmentally-friendly technology.

Perkovich said he is happy to see an idea with great environmental and societal benefit get out of academia and into a more mainstream medium like mtvU.

The judges at mtvU will decide the winner of the contest in March. They will select a winner based on creativity and how effectively the project would limit global warming and conserve resources.

The Environmental Enthusiasts' proposal was chosen as one of 10 finalists from a field of more than 100 applicants.

Other finalists include a team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that hopes to build a solar-powered biodiesel processing and filling station and a team from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst that wants to fill batteries with the energy collected from exercisers riding a stationary bike.

People can vote for their favorite proposal at ecocollegechallenge.com.

If the Environmental Enthusiasts get the opportunity to convert the roof of the Elbel building, the installation will begin at the end of April and would take about a week. After five months of watering, the roof would be self-maintaining, Benatar said.

If the Environmental Enthusiasts don't win the mtvU contest, Benatar said the group plans ask the University for funding for their project.

Although the technology is proven, people are hesitant to set up green roofs because their use isn't yet widespread in the United States, Perkovich said.

Still, the technology is starting to catch on, he said.

"You're starting to see the pendulum turn the other way," Perkovich said.