The University has a subpar record on environmental friendliness. But last week, the administration took a positive step in announcing that all of its future construction projects would meet at least a LEED-silver certification level. This commitment is commendable, but considering that some colleges and corporations are committing themselves to carbon neutrality, it’s clear the administration could still do more. If the University is to be a world leader in both research and social responsibility, it should aim to attain the highest standard of environmental sustainability.

A project of the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) provides its certification to buildings that meet its eight standards of environmental friendliness at the certified, silver, gold or platinum levels. These standards include energy and water use as well as materials used and location. Two University buildings, the Ross School of Business and the Dana Building, are already silver and gold certified, respectively. The new Mott Children’s and Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital and the law school addition are also expected to meet some level of LEED certification. North Quad, however, is not.

The University is right to recognize the importance of environmental sustainability. The threat of climate change is a powerful reminder of the very real impact humans can have on the planet and its resources. An institution of the vision and prestige of this university should know that, in the long-term, sustainability won’t be a choice — protecting the environment now is the only way to be able to continue using it later. As Michigan’s flagship of higher education, the University should act as a model, setting an ambitious and unparalleled standard for environmental stewardship. Adopting a policy of LEED certification is an important step toward doing just that.

But a vague policy for silver certification on “major” construction projects won’t make the University the leader it needs to be. University policy should clearly and forcefully dictate what constitutes a “major” construction project and have similarly stringent policies for more minor projects. And whatever the language of the policy, administrators should consistently seek to go above and beyond its requirements. If the University is to be an environmental leader on the international stage, it must relentlessly strive to out-green its own standards.

That’s why silver-certification should be the University’s baseline, not its final goal. It’s true that the University has made an impressive commitment to green building by this recent action. Even before the adoption of its new LEED-silver policy, the University plans to exceed national energy use standards by 30 percent. But other colleges, like Middlebury College in Vermont, for example, have committed to complete carbon neutrality. LEED-silver is a great stepping-stone, but it falls far short of placing the University at the forefront of the environmental sustainability movement — a place an institution with the University’s resources should invariably hold.

Only setting that kind of international example is acceptable for this institution. And the way to do that is by striving for the top certification on all construction projects, not settling for third-best on most.

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