Nestled in the heart of a culturally rich and active local community, the University of Michigan’s goals seem to mirror the objectives of local Ann Arbor. The city is a buzzing hub of innovation — start-up entrepreneurial enterprises, cutting edge technology and research firms seem to make up the nucleus of Ann Arbor economy. Because such endeavors prove costly, efficiency seems to be a priority amongst local civilians, a primacy that’s reflected in their business approaches. Efficiency can be achieved on a variety levels: capital allocation, minimal time or energy expenditure and strategic business structures that minimize costs and boost profits. Such efficiency standards can be met with numerous approaches. However, Ann Arbor companies seem to equate efficiency with “green” sustainability and consider local options and careful environmental practices to reach the bar.

While residing in Ann Arbor for four years, I noticed incentives for reducing waste around the city. Many food businesses receive base ingredients from local farmers and donate leftovers to the homeless population. Local farmers markets are highly publicized and well frequented by students and locals alike. Clothing and product drives reallocate excess, and a noticeable shift toward biodegradable materials for disposable products has become widespread in University and local businesses. A new wave of businesses promoting increased accessibility to public transportation has also emerged. By means of more expansive bus routes and initiatives to provide larger-capacity cabs, Ann Arbor moves more people and burns less fuel. Within the community, there’s a consistent biking population and, more recently, an emerging skateboard culture. Governmental regulations have rejected proposals for increasing parking accessibility, and this has been proven to deter individuals from driving, which is a positive for fuel conservation.

Additionally, the physical layout of Ann Arbor makes walking or alternative transportation an easy, viable and reasonable option, along with the construction of new residence halls, co-ops and apartment buildings on Central Campus — bringing people closer in proximity to their destinations. The “dual” suburban life in Ann Arbor provides the perfect marketplace for local and student businesses to test new ideas and receive rapid feedback from the student community, which strives for “efficiency” in all sectors of life, as academia proves rather grueling and time-consuming. Essentially, Ann Arbor makes it easy to be environmentally conscious by providing the means to promote desired actions.

The “green” movement swept through Ann Arbor like a storm, and the Ross School of Business proved to be Ann Arbor’s jewel. An entirely “green” building, constructed by using preexisting recycled materials, it boasted goals of modernity while achieving energy and water efficiency through design innovation. Through carefully crafted and creative design practices, the functioning building has increased profitability, saved funds and resources and reduced the negative environmental impacts of development on the surrounding community. Modern and energy-efficient: It’s possible.

Additionally, Ann Arbor has employed solar-powered parking meters throughout the city and receptacles for recycling next to virtually every waste repository. Participating in this movement becomes inevitable and, as a result, students and locals develop sustainable habits.

My fascination with urban living and sustainability was redefined when I moved north of downtown Chicago. Generally speaking, subways and buses are the predominate mode of transportation for many city dwellers. As a graduate student, it’s an option to purchase an unlimited public transportation card for six months of accessibility. Purchasing a pass was a necessity for me because my proximity from school wasn’t conducive for walking. My commute on the subway has opened my eyes to the amount of fuel, finances, energy and time allotment that is being saved per person. Calculate $2.50 per one-way ticket, the price of a car, gas, parking and time in the context of the city and your result is astounding. Chicago utilizes public transportation in a way unlike most other big cities, by utilizing both above ground and underground subway transport. By doubling the expansive public transportation network, Chicago transports more people and employs more individuals to service and maintain the tracks and trains. Read: Public transportation is quick, efficient, expansive, and arguably entertaining.

Illinois also provides a number of incentives for renewable efforts. These opportunities are available for commercial, industrial, residential, educational and institutional interests, and help to further the employment and adoption of new technology and environmentally beneficial practices. Some of these practices involve: “green” building designs, geothermal heat pumps, solar space and water heaters, photovoltaics, hydroelectricity, LED lighting, renewable fuels and biomass. The implementation and employment of new technology through state and federal incentives encourages a healthier environment and provides a financially feasible way to sustain efficiency by reducing the costs of operation and conserving resources. Such information for your own city is available through the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency, an online database funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

On a smaller scale, I’ve noticed a number of changes within my two short months of residence in Illinois. Public restrooms remove paper towel dispensers and replace them with strong air current dryers. Inner-city farmers markets extend their hours of operation to weekdays, specifically lunch hours, providing an alternative for the working world’s lunch break and grocery run. Recycling containers are found on every corner and clothing dispensaries for the needy are numerous. Water bottle fillers providing a “number of bottles saved” to users are engineered into many of the public water fountains, becoming a city norm. A number of restaurants provide cloth napkins, regardless of their level of formality. Chicago provides easy ways for people to minimize waste and reuse or reallocate resources. Small incentives and practices add up, and the collective result could be major.

We’re the generation that will turn the tables. We’ll change and revitalize the American culture by using innovative ways to introduce and implement sustainable and efficient business regimes into our communities. Through education, networking and imagination, it’s possible to take advantage of this “green” sector of the business economy, tweak it to your needs and maximize its results for both your benefit and that of the environment. To an extent, our health, safety and happiness derive from our atmosphere. If we focus on sustainability and intentionally challenge ourselves to reuse materials in innovative ways, we will revive our communities and provide for multidimensional, positive remunerations. Look at your lifestyle, identify the source of waste, start small-scale and take an active role within your community to further new practices and become a catalyst for reform.

Adrianna Bojrab is a University alum.

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