This University’s annual Sustainability Town Hall focused this year on three main goals: reducing waste, cutting greenhouse gas emissions and creating a culture of sustainability on campus.
About 40 people gathered Thursday morning at the Hatcher Graduate Library to hear University President Mark Schlissel and other University officials discuss campus sustainability efforts.
“What we’re doing together isn’t new,” Schlissel said. “What we’re doing is continuing the efforts made by many of you to push hard as a university to live up to our responsibility to environmental stewardship and our responsibility to subsequent generations.”
During a leadership breakfast in October, Schlissel outlined several efforts to improve sustainability through a new recycling and compost plan, a waste management study within the University’s health system, a new natural gas fuel turbine project and piloting a zero-waste game day during the 2016 football season.
Last year, Schlissel called for a review of the University’s sustainability goals, first launched under former University President Mary Sue Coleman in 2011. The goals were not originally scheduled up for review for another year, but Schlissel moved up the process after receiving letters from faculty and students.
The University’s most recent annual sustainability report found that carbon gas emissions decreased in 2012, but increased in 2013. Waste production has increased since the adoption of the 2011 sustainability goals, but emissions from transportation have decreased.
Richard Robben, executive director of Plant Operations, outlined the University’s plan to reduce carbon emissions. He said the University aims to cut emissions by 25 percent by 2025.
One of the biggest contributors to that goal will be the new turbine, which uses natural gas to produce electricity. Once in place, Robben said, the turbine will increase Central Campus’ power plant efficiency significantly. The plant is currently fueled by both gas and oil.
“The central power plant is a combined cycle, cogeneration facility,” Robben said. “It is using two technologies coupled together to produce a very efficient design. We were then able to use that to create a facility that is operating at 80-percent efficiency.”
John Lawter, associate director for building services and grounds, discussed the University’s waste reduction goals — a 40-percent reduction in waste sent to landfills by 2025.
He said while 40 percent is a bold target, he hoped it would motivate the campus community.
“We had an opportunity to change it, but we decided not to because we felt there is nothing like an aggressive goal to inspire and challenge the University to make these fundamental changes.”
Lawter said one of the first initiatives the University is working on is standardizing recycling and waste signage across campus.
“We have all these different containers out there, different signage, different locations and it can be very confusing,” he said. “We want to try to make this simpler and make it better.”
Drew Horning, deputy director and chief of staff of the Graham Sustainability Institute, also discussed the University’s efforts to create a “culture of sustainability” on campus.
He said awareness and concern for sustainability varies widely, the goal is to find a way to reach people across the spectrum.
“It quickly became aware that people are at very different places on this campus in regards to their levels of awareness, dispositions and behaviors, and we need to recognize that,” Horning said. “We cannot assume that everyone is going to be gung-ho at the forefront trying to be a leader on this issue.”
Horning said the University plans to employ major statement events, like the zero-waste football game planned for the 2016 season, to draw attention to sustainability.
“These are things that are highly visible symbols that people on campus and people who come to campus from the outside will see and will demonstrate a visible commitment to sustainability,” he said. “Zero-waste athletics is one example how we show people who don’t necessarily work for or attend the University that this is something that is important to us.”
Terry Alexander, executive director of the Department of Occupational Safety and Environmental Health and the Office of Campus Sustainability, concluded the events by addressing the need to change people’s thinking.
“The common thread through all of this is how do we get people to adjust?” Alexander said. “We can put all of these recycling bins in place but if we can’t get people to do it, we’re never going to make it.”
LSA junior Jacob Grochowski, who attended the event, said he thought the ideas presented in the talks were important, but needed additional explanation.
“I think they are really exciting, but I hope they continue to iterate on them,” Grochowksi said. “They are an important first step and I’m glad the University is taking action to put these in motion, but I hope that they will keep building on them.”