Coleman outlines new University sustainability goals

Terra Molengraff/Daily
University President Mary Sue Coleman speaks about the University’s upcoming environmental sustainability initiative in the Hatcher Graduate Library Gallery Room on Tuesday, Sept. 27. The $14 million initiative intends to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next 14 years. Buy this photo

By Paige Pearcy, Daily Staff Reporter
Published September 27, 2011

University President Mary Sue Coleman told University students yesterday that they are going to be living, seeing and breathing a lot more green in the next 14 years.

Speaking in the Hatcher Graduate Library’s Gallery Room, Coleman introduced an ambitious new set of sustainability goals that the University will start working toward this year and are projected to be completed by 2025, including changes to the University’s transportation, emissions and academic offerings.

Coleman announced a $14 million investment the University is making for several sustainability projects including one that will fund new hybrid cars and buses — making one in six University buses a hybrid. The seven new hybrid buses are expected to arrive in December.

The University will also partner with DTE Energy to install solar panel fields on North Campus. Additionally, the new Weisfeld Family Golf Center, which is scheduled to open this fall, will be heated with geothermal technology, Coleman said. When the Weisfeld Center opens on South Campus, it will be the first building at the University to use the technology.

Coleman also announced that the College of Literature Science, and the Arts will offer a new academic minor in sustainability through its Program in the Environment. The minor will be available to all LSA undergraduates.

“I want the message to be clear: Sustainability defines the University of Michigan," Coleman said. "Combine maize and blue, and you get green.”

By 2025, Coleman said, the University will cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent and decrease University vehicles’ carbon output by 30 percent for every person in the vehicle.

Other goals include reducing University waste sent to landfills by 40 percent and protecting the Huron River. The University aims to do so by using less chemicals on campus and diminishing the amount of storm water that directly flows into the river.

Coleman also announced yesterday that all new or renovated dining halls on campus will not use trays in order to be more sustainable.

Starting in January 2010, the University conducted the Campus Sustainability Integrated Assessment, which examined at sustainability in seven areas on campus — buildings, energy, land and water, food, purchasing and recycling, culture and transportation. The University's new goals were created based on findings from the CSIA.

Coleman spoke about the ways sustainability has been incorporated into all facets of the University, from teaching to research. She noted that of the 100 new employees the University hired for interdisciplinary teaching, more than 25 percent of them were previously involved in sustainability projects.

However, during the talk about sustainability efforts, Coleman told the audience why the University decided not to sign the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment — an agreement between U.S. colleges to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions on campuses nationwide.

“After seeking expert counsel, we have concluded we cannot set a date by which we will achieve carbon neutrality,” Coleman said in her speech. “There is simply no viable way forward at this time to achieve such a feat, and I will not place an undue burden on the backs of future presidents of this great institution.”

Engineering graduate student Ryan Smith, who attended the event yesterday, was involved with the University's Student Sustainability Initiative and the CSIA. In 2009, the Student Sustainability Initiative collected information about which sustainability issues the student body cared about and relayed it to the administration. The CSIA then began, and Smith worked on the energy use team of the assessment.

“Through this whole process (the administration) really depended on all the data that was generated by the students and the integrated assessment process,” Smith said. “I’m proud of them for just putting all that on the table, saying, 'OK, we care about this. Let's really get some real good data.' ”

Smith said his only concern is that some students will want bigger and faster changes.

“I know the student body tends to be very zealous and very energetic about issues," he said. “They always want to push it further. Really based on the all the data that was presented to us, (the University has) the most reasonable, and quite honestly, ambitious step forward.”

To help encourage student involvement in the sustainability efforts, the University's Planet Blue Student Ambassador Program recently started having student and faculty advisors. The ambassador program involves selected students who live in residence halls and make others in the community more environmentally conscious through a variety of programs.

“I think this Planet Blue ambassadors program has great promise,” Coleman said. “The best thing possible would be to accelerate the pace of change so that we really begin to see more and more people taking personal responsibility. So I’m very hopeful.”

During the announcement the lights were turned off in the Gallery Room when someone in the audience pointed out that there was sufficient lighting from outside and the lights were unnecessary — a reminder that the little changes will make a difference.

“Students are the story of environmental awareness and sustainability at Michigan,” Coleman said. “They exemplify our belief that a great public university continually strives to make the world a better place.”