Students learn about the unique paths to pursue in sustainability work from leaders in the arts, government, environmental justice, and more at the Sustainability Leaders Summit at the Michigan League Saturday afternoon. Keith Melong/Daily. Buy this photo.

The Student Sustainability Coalition (SSC) held the Student Sustainability Leaders Summit at the Michigan League Saturday afternoon. The SSC, a student organization dedicated to promoting a sustainable campus culture and elevating campus-wide student sustainability efforts, celebrated the student sustainability movement on campus and brought students together to learn, grow and explore many aspects of sustainability. The event included a session on intention, purpose and goal-setting, two breakout sessions and a summit sustainability panel.

Roughly 65 attendees attended the event. Among them included Dr. Martino Harmon, vice president of student life at the University of Michigan, and Michaela Zint, professor and associate dean for academic affairs at the School for Environment and Sustainability.

LSA sophomore Andrew van Baal, SSC collective impact coordinator, said the organization has been planning for the summit since the beginning of the fall semester. He said the process has been very detail-oriented, especially when setting intentions and goals for the summit. 

“The intention of the summit is really to bring together various stakeholders and avenues of sustainability from across campus into one collective space to share, celebrate and advocate for the various aspects and actions of sustainability that are happening across campus, whether that be one that’s connected to voter engagement and political advocacy or ones that are focused on carbon capture and utilization on the more technical side,” van Baal said. “We want to highlight, in specific fields and branches, what students are doing and celebrate that in just a really eclectic way.”

The Student Sustainability Leaders Summit began with the intention, purpose and goal-setting session, which was introduced by Riley List, LSA senior and SSC co-president. List gave an overview of the event and acknowledged the Indigenous origin of the land that the University of Michigan stands on today. 

“This land acknowledgment does not rectify this inhumane treatment of and violence towards this land’s original occupants,” List said. “It reminds us that we, and institutions we belong to, are on stolen lands. Today, we illuminate the presence of Indigenous peoples who are still here in order to build a sustainable future on a solid foundation of truth. We do this land acknowledgment not to check a box but with the understanding of this as a starting point for action that supports Indigenous peoples, and that is going to be a recurring theme throughout today’s event.”

Attendees warmed up by writing down sustainability initiatives that were important to them. Then the group was directed to find a partner to discuss those initiatives with and see what problems or sustainability issues were shared. Attendees also played “sustainability bingo” to help them get to know each other and build a sense of community. 

The first breakout session of the event allowed attendees to choose between attending talks and engaging with activities from Turn Up Turnout, Global CO2 Initiative Student Association or the Student Sustainability Coalition. Public Policy junior Rose Reilly is a part of Turn Up Turnout, a non-partisan organization of students, faculty and staff that is focused on voter education, registration and turnout. Reilly helped organize a game of jeopardy, which focused on Nov. 8 ballot initiatives and knowledge of federal, state and local government while connecting these voting topics to sustainability. 

“We have had a relationship with the Student Sustainability Coalition in the past, combining our efforts with their passion for sustainability and our passion for voting and finding ways to intersect those on voting on sustainability issues,” Reilly said. “We came today to hopefully help folks who are passionate about this particular policy area get ready to register to vote, as this is a nonpartisan effort. We try to access everyone who would like to register, so we go to a lot of these different kinds of events on campus.”

After the first breakout session and a lunch catered by MDining, attendees chose between attending short lectures and discussions from Central, SEAS, Engineering and LSA Student Governments, a discussion on the A2 Climate Action Campaign with Ann Arbor government officials or a session run by Sustainability Cultural Organizers Jasmine Paulk and Cat Diggs for the second breakout session of the day.

At the A2 Climate Action Campaign breakout session, Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor and Joe Lange, energy coordinator in the Office of Sustainability and Innovations, spoke about the city’s community climate action millage. The millage, which would aid Ann Arbor’s plan to achieve community-wide carbon neutrality by 2030, is a type of property tax whose funds would help the city achieve climate action initiatives such as instating year-round composting and community and rooftop solar programs. Taylor spoke more about the purpose of the funding and the millage, which will be on the Nov. 8 ballot as a city proposal.

“It’s a one-mill, 20-year millage, and over the course of that whole time we’d raise anywhere between $140 (to) $180 million depending on inflation and new construction here in the city,” Taylor said. “I really think that the community climate action millage is a multi-front effort to improve basic services and enhance quality of life.”

After the breakout sessions concluded, attendees heard from a student panel that included four U-M students and sustainability leaders. The panels included Engineering senior Gaby George, Public Health junior Aarushi Ganguly, SEAS graduate student Neeka Salmasi and SEAS and Taubman graduate student Cat Diggs. The panelists discussed their passions for sustainability and their incorporation of diversity, equity, inclusion and justice into their work and at the University.

“I think we need to just not have high tuitions like this to really have a sustainable campus because we actually need to make these institutions accessible to everyone without massive barriers the way that we have,” Diggs said. “It is very inhibitive for sustainability because it creates a culture of individualism where everyone is like, ‘I gotta be the best. I gotta network. I gotta. Me. Me. Me.’ But to build sustainability, we have to build community.”

The panel also addressed how personal sustainability is important and how more people in the sustainability field should actively take care of themselves to avoid burnout. 

“I feel like a lot of this productivity, endless productivity, can actually serve to be a distraction from the real reasons in our hearts of why we do this work,” Salmasi said. “When we’re on that constant grind, we’re just acting, but I think there’s a heart to this work that lies within each of us that is deeper than all of that mental energy that we need in order to actually drive that work and create good outcomes.”

LSA freshman Kit Bellovin said she attended the summit after hearing about the event from another member of the Sierra Club, which focuses on sustainability and environmental political engagement. Bellovin said the summit exceeded her expectations and was overall very engaging. A highlight for her was learning about the intersection between Indigenous communities and sustainability.

“I really liked learning about Indigenous rights and the land back movement and decolonization in general and how that relates to sustainability, especially sustainability on campus and the University’s role and its colonizer history,” Bellovin said. “I think it was interesting to think about sustainability from that perspective because often it’s seen as sustainability going hand in hand with the values of Indigenous people, but in reality, it’s something that had to be created because of colonization and the displacement of native people.”

Daily News Reporter Rachel Mintz can be reached at