Ann Arbor Sustainability Forum calls for community engagement, improved goal setting
Community members gathered to attend the second meeting of the 7th annual Sustainable Ann Arbor Forum series on Thursday, which focused on methods to measure and track the progress of sustainability. About 40 students and Ann Arbor residents attended the event at the Ann Arbor District Library.
Attendees came to discuss the success of the city’s sustainability programs. Moderator John Mirsky, executive policy advisor for Sustainability for the Ann Arbor City Administrator, began the forum by emphasizing the importance of measuring and tracking sustainability.
“If you speak with data, that drives informed improvement,” he said.
According to Mirsky, the best way of measuring progress is through metrics and by tracking the information through review meetings, along with community engagement.
“Stay engaged,” Mirsky said. “Hold (the city and) the University accountable for achieving results, and if we're not achieving results, you need to say ‘Folks, you're not doing what you need to do.’”
The City of Ann Arbor has outlined four theme areas for its Sustainability Framework: climate and energy, community, land use and access, and resource management. These theme areas contain 16 specific goals, or “smart goals,” where progress is tracked using a series of 38 different metrics.
Considering these measurement methods, Mirsky said Ann Arbor’s sustainable future will rely heavily on this research.
“I think it’s self-evident that a sustainable community is what Ann Arborites value and what we want,” Mirsky said.
Speaking next on the panel was Matthew Naud, environmental coordinator for Ann Arbor, who commented on Ann Arbor’s experience as being one of 68 cities across the nation involved with Sustainability Tools for Assessing and Rating Communities. STAR helps Ann Arbor compare its sustainability progress with other cities. Out of a five-star rating, Ann Arbor received four stars, ranking the same as Columbus, Ohio and Portland, Oregon.
Andrew Berki, director of the University of Michigan’s Office of Campus Sustainability, spoke on behalf of the University and its goals in regards to sustainability.
According to Berki, by 2025, the University will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent and reduce University-produced waste by 40 percent.
Much of the University’s power is produced at the Central Power Plant, which converted to natural gas in the 1960s and provides steam, electricity, compressed air and hot water to Central Campus and Michigan Medicine. Though natural gas is twice as efficient as coal, the University would like to increase the power plant’s efficiency and introduce a larger percentage of renewable energy systems.
These goals, however, come with a number of challenges. Campus infrastructure increases 1 to 2 percent every year, and with a new batch of students every year, it takes time to educate them on sustainable habits.
Berki responded positively to the collaborative effort among students and faculty to address these issues.
“One thing that really benefits us is that we have a rich environment with a lot of really smart people that take this seriously,” he said.
Among the crowd was Rackham student Gabrielle Vuylsteke, who said she has a deep connection and love for the city. Raised in Ann Arbor and having attended the University as an undergraduate student, her current research focuses on examining how the University could meet its carbon emission goals.
“I’m very invested in the community,” Vuylsteke said. “I want Ann Arbor to be the best that it can be.”
Berki reminded students their individual impact can lead to big results, advocating for the University's Planet Blue Ambassador program.
“The biggest thing I can suggest for students is to get involved with the University’s sustainability initiative and also be a Planet Blue Ambassador,” Berki said. “It’s a really short 15-minute training program, which overall tells students how to live more sustainably on campus through recycling, our Zero Waste program and energy conservation. It’s the best way to get involved and your friends involved.”