With global warming hurdling down upon us, even as government officials remain aggressively oblivious, the latest in environmentally friendly architectural technology might be coming to the University. If the student group Environmental Enthusiasts manages to beat teams from other campuses in a contest sponsored by MTV and General Electric, the landscape of our campus – or its roofs anyway – may soon change. Isn’t it just a little troubling that it would take MTV to bring about environmental innovation to our supposedly scientifically and politically involved campus?

Sarah Royce

Before jumping into a debate over the merits of green roofing, we would first like to congratulate the Environmental Enthusiasts – the ones responsible and conscientious enough to design a project to replace the tile roof on the Elbel building with a green roof that grows, breathes and lasts. That’s not a bad deal for $23,000, especially for a campus that should have taken the initiative on such projects long ago.

A green roof consists of plants, has a natural drainage system and can last up to 60 years without maintenance. Considering average shingling only lasts about 20 years and has none of the insulation and conservation benefits of a green roof, this one should be a no-brainer for the University and a forward-thinking city like Ann Arbor – both known for their greenery and environmental activism.

We wish the Environmental Enthusiasts the best of luck this March, but whether the student team wins or loses, it’s time for the University to set the example in an age when the perils of carbon emissions are more imminent than ever. Green roofs are already being planned for the Ross School of Business and Mott Women’s and Children’s Hospital. These buildings are already undergoing major renovations. Building green roofs on them now, rather than after renovations are complete, would be a smart and cost-effective move.

But that’s not enough: As many campus buildings as possible should install green roofs. The University is a massive consumer of energy, and even minor improvements in the energy efficiency of its buildings will add up. Green roofs cool buildings in the summer and keep them warmer in the winter. That’s a vital duality, given not only the record-breaking summers of recent years, but also this recent spell of unbearably frigid temperatures.

The University should not have to rely on MTV contests to spur environmental activism. Indeed, it’s a shame that an institution globally revered for its intellectual prowess hasn’t been properly endowed with the financial means to remain at the front lines of environmental activism – let alone lead the pack. That’s thanks to shortfalls in state funding, something Gov. Jennifer Granholm and the state legislature can correct.

Green roofs are one way the University can live what it advocates. Consuming more green energy and fewer fuels derived from non-renewable resources is another. The University certainly has the know-how to curb its considerable greenhouse emissions – it’s time to do it.

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