If the University’s annual Environmental Report is any indicator, the University is talking the talk rather than walking the walk when it comes to making campus more environmentally friendly. The report released yesterday described the continued failure of administrators to set and reach truly ambitious goals for reducing the University’s carbon footprint. Educational institutions should be leaders in the fight against global climate change, and the University shouldn’t lag behind. Administrators need to commit to aggressive goals for environmental sustainability and make a much more concerted effort to meet them.

The Environmental Report was released by the Office of Campus Sustainability and tracks the University’s performance in creating a more environmentally sustainable campus by looking at a variety of factors including energy consumption and emissions. The report was quick to point out areas in which the University had achieved stable levels of energy consumption and waste. But University buildings also used at least 6.4 trillion British Thermal Units in the 2009 fiscal year, the energy equivalent of 3,200 100-ton railroad cars filled to the brim with coal, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Energy.

To its credit, the University reported gains in recycling and was the only university to make the 100 Alternate Fuel Fleets list published by Automotive Fleet magazine. These details show that on some environmental fronts, the University is leading. Administrators deserve credit for these achievements.

But despite these positives, the University still wastes a lot of energy, and it hasn’t yet made a substantial effort to fix this. For instance, the University’s Planet Blue program, aimed at conserving energy in campus buildings, has only been instituted in 30 of the University’s more than 480 buildings, and only 30 more buildings will be added next year. Such a small number shouldn’t be good enough for the University.

The University should be pushing harder for sustainability. Investing in green energy in the short run means lower energy costs in the future – a must for a university that needs to lower its operating costs in the face of Michigan’s economic turmoil. But the movement for sustainability is also a moral fight in which institutions of higher education should be at the forefront.

One way to address the University’s sustainability shortcomings is to obtain LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) approval for more of its buildings. The University has only two buildings certified by LEED, whereas the University of Florida has 16 and is attempting to register five more. And the University’s newest LEED-certified building — the Ross School of Business — received a lower certification than similar business schools completed and planned by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University, respectively. There’s no reason for the University not to make LEED-certification a priority, too.

Another way to push the University to aim for higher environmental goals would be for President Mary Sue Coleman to sign the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. The commitment aims to curb global warming by reducing carbon emissions at places of higher learning. College and university presidents from 662 institutions have already signed the agreement. But Coleman claims the environmental goals endorsed by other university presidents are impractical. Even if that’s true, setting difficult goals would force the University to take impressive strides to try to meet them. And even if these goals weren’t reached, the University would still have made tremendous progress.

The fight against climate change demands more than just lip service. Administrators should be wary of falling any farther behind other universities in implementing sustainability on campus.

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