Letter to the Editor: Coleman should continue to push sustainability forward

BY THE STUDENT SUSTAINABILITY INITIATIVE ROUNDTABLE AND BOARD

Published October 20, 2011

Dear University President Mary Sue Coleman,

The Student Sustainability Initiative would like to recognize and thank you for your commitment to an environmentally sustainable University. The long-awaited sustainability goals you announced were widely celebrated across campus and represented a truly momentous day for the University. We commend you for your leadership and thank you for listening to the voice of the students.

The first steps we take moving forward now are crucial for setting the pace at which we pursue a sustainable University. With this commitment, the University has moved towards institutionalizing the pursuit of sustainability; however full institutionalization requires translating the speech and written commitments into a fully embraced culture of sustainability. It means imparting in all University decision-makers a strong understanding of what sustainability is and what it means for them. It means integrating sustainability into their decision-making processes and instilling a willingness to make changes, try out new things and even accept the occasional failure. It means taking the responsibility for the success or failure of a single event or initiative off the shoulders of an individual and placing it in the broader context of the University’s commitment.

We embrace the boldness and vision in the guiding principles of carbon neutrality and zero waste, but the 2025 timeline and the 2006 baseline establish an incremental, not a visionary, framework. These stated goals do not capture the true potential of the University; however we are very optimistic about the ability of the University to surpass the quantitative targets that it has set for itself. We encourage you, as the decision-makers, to always keep the guiding principles in mind and let their boldness drive and inspire you. We should monitor global climate change trends and listen closely to University climate scientists, realigning our goals periodically based on the latest data and analyses. We should collaborate with other bold institutions and strive to surpass them in our pursuit of sustainability.

Now that you have defined long-term sustainability goals for the University, the Student Sustainability Initiative is excited to participate in making these goals a reality. We are eager to build on recent developments and pursue new initiatives. We thank you for supporting the Planet Blue Ambassadors Program, which has already begun educating University dorm residents on how they can live more sustainably. We thank you for creating the Planet Blue Student Innovation Fund, which will provide $150,000 over three years for large-scale student projects. Moving forward, we should pursue similarly bold initiatives: Making recycling and composting available everywhere on campus, instituting a zero-waste University football season and creating a functional, sustainable on-campus farm.

Thank you once again for your commitment to advancing sustainability at the University. We look forward to continuing our relationship with you this year and into the future. We are confident that the University will make great strides going forward, and we are thrilled to be a part of this historic commitment to sustainability and social responsibility.

Respectfully,
The Student Sustainability Initiative Roundtable and Board

Editor’s Note: This letter was submitted to University President Mary Sue Coleman and The Michigan Daily.