It looks like the University might need a tutor in environmental sustainability. Recently, it received a lower grade than usual in a sustainability report card published by a respected survey of North American colleges. Officials have stated that the University deserved a higher ranking than it received. For an institution that says it has a strong commitment to being environmentally conscious, this year’s grade shows that the University’s actions don’t support its words. Despite protestations that the survey was flawed, there is more that the University can — and should — do to improve campus sustainability.
According to an Oct. 28 article in The Michigan Daily, the University’s grade from the Campus Sustainability Report Card dropped from a B+ in 2010 to a B on the 2011 report card, which was released last week. The Report Card grades 332 North American colleges in nine different areas of campus-wide sustainability. The executive director of the University’s Office of Campus Sustainability, Terry Alexander, told the Daily that he believes the University deserved an A. He also believes the Campus Sustainability Report Card’s process of rating is faulty.
Part of the problem, according to Alexander, is that the Michigan Student Assembly Environmental Issues Commission never filled out the student portion of the survey, which was sent out in July. The commission has filled out the survey in the past, but somehow it slipped through the cracks this summer. Students and the Office of Campus Sustainability must work together to create a greener campus, and students need to keep up their end of that responsibility.
But the Office of Campus Sustainability must lead the charge for a more sustainable campus. It’s easy to blame the grading system, but the reality is that the University doesn’t deserve an A. There are many easily identifiable areas in which campus could be more sustainable. For example, the University’s fleet of vehicles — which increased by about 60 in the last year — doesn’t run completely on alternative fuels like ethanol or biodiesel. And the University has no intention to switch to hybrid buses in the near future, even though the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority started purchasing hybrids 2007. The University could also implement trayless dining across campus, a program that encourages students to not use trays in dining halls. The program has already been successfully implemented in East Quad.
The University’s construction and renovation projects also haven’t prioritized green initiatives. North Quad wasn’t constructed to earn LEED certification. And the University currently has only two LEED-certified buildings, which is astonishingly bad considering the University’s size, construction budget and supposed commitment to going green. Grand Valley State University, a much smaller institution than the University of Michigan, has seven LEED-certified buildings on its Allendale campus alone, and is waiting on approval for two more as of September 2010.
The University’s current sustainability programs seem to only pay lip service to its environmentally friendly reputation. But half-hearted environmentalism isn’t acceptable. The University must remember that environmental consciousness isn’t just a mindset. It also requires progressive action.