About 30 University of Michigan graduate students, researchers and community members attended a discussion on pathways to sustainable action as part of the annual University-wide Sustainability & Environment Conference in Rackham Assembly Hall on Friday afternoon. The panelists discussed ways of connecting research in sustainability to the general public.

Sandra Turner-Handy, member of Michigan Environmental Council, said she thinks the behavior of businesses has never been about sustainability. According to Turner-Handy, “sustainability” only serves as a buzzword.

“I work a lot with residents in the city of Detroit and when I say ‘sustainability,’ they don’t know what the heck I’m talking about,” Turner-Handy said. 

She stressed the importance of explaining to people how sustainability can affect quality of life daily.

“Behavior is what affects sustainability,” Turner-Handy said. “And that may mean, in our daily life, turning off a light or just stopping a leaking faucet.”

Art & Design professor Joseph Trumpey talked about his class on green building, in which they have built sustainable straw-bale houses. Trumpey said the class shows how engaged, meaningful work is critical for development.

Trumpey also mentioned how, in the grand scheme of things, it may not seem like much has improved towards sustainability. However, he said, he still advises people to look for opportunities in their community and get involved in some way.

“If you talk to the 40 students involved and talk about carbon neutrality, (the impact of their work extends) far, far greater than that fractional percent,” Trumpey said. 

Information graduate student Hsin-Yu Yang said she learned how important it is to practice teamwork and other real-world skills in the classroom.

“I’m learning now, through my design courses, how empowering (it is) when faculty can lead the students to make change through practical demonstration of skills,” Yang said.

Daily Staff Reporter Varsha Vedapudi can be reached at varshakv@umich.edu

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