From the Daily: Maize+Blue=Green

BY THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Published September 27, 2011

Sustainability has been a buzzword thrown around by campus officials about eco-friendly practices at the University. But yesterday, University President Mary Sue Coleman presented a plan of action for campus to increase its overall sustainability, both in the coming months and years. It’s easy to speak abstractly about green practices and sustainability, but it’s much more difficult to put these ideas into practice. University officials should be commended for making a commitment to reduce the University’s environmental impact, and students should get behind these changes and work to reduce their own carbon footprints.

Coleman — who spoke yesterday at the Hatcher Graduate Library — pledged a serious financial commitment by the University of $14 million that will go toward a variety of projects. The plan, which is outlined on the University’s sustainability website, highlights the effort to combine education, research and operations at the University in order to reach sustainability goals. The city of Ann Arbor has been a national leader in green initiatives for years now, and it's good that the University is finally following in the city’s footsteps.

One of the goals is increasing the number of hybrid buses on campus — making one in six University buses a hybrid by December. This is a positive change that makes transportation around campus more sustainable. The University will also purchase other hybrid automobiles, which will reduce the amount of fossil fuels as well as the quantity of greenhouse gases produced by University operations.

Another large-scale modification that will go into effect in the coming year is a commitment to implementing alternative energy resources throughout campus. From solar panels on North Campus facilities and the Weisfeld Family Golf Center, which will be heated entirely by geothermal energy, campus will slowly reduce its reliance on expendable energy sources.

The plan also outlines general goals to reduce the University’s environmental impact by decreasing greenhouse gases, waste sent to landfills and pollution of the Huron River. While these changes will not be visible on a day-to-day basis, they represent a crucial commitment to sustainability that will make the University a leader in eco-friendly practices among other universities and colleges.

Coleman emphasized in her speech that the initiative was a collaborative effort between University officials, faculty and students. With that in mind, the proposal has many opportunities for students to make sustainability a part of their education. LSA will begin offering a minor in sustainability, as well as organizing the course guide so students can search specifically for classes pertaining to sustainability. Students should explore the available options and consider taking a course to educate themselves on the importance of creating a more sustainable world.

Students, however, shouldn't rely on the University to pioneer all the changes. They should take advantage of the resources at their disposal and initiate changes of their own. Coleman pledged funding specifically for student projects dedicated to reducing environmental impact and waste. There are dozens of student groups on campus focused on the mission of sustainability, some that include large-scale University projects and others that focus on reducing personal environmental impact. The options are abundant, and all students, faculty members, administrators and University employees should explore how to incorporate these practices into their own lives on campus.