Though Earth Day is celebrated nationally on April 22, University celebrations came weeks early this year to accommodate potential conflict with final exams.

Central Student Government’s Commission on University Sustainability, the Student Sustainability Initiative and University Dining co-hosted the festivities, in partnership with more than 20 campus groups Friday. The event drew in both University students and local attendees, with activities underway on both the Diag and in Palmer Commons.

On the Diag, activities included sustainability-themed games, moss graffiti and a “take-the-tap-water taste test,” in which students were asked to taste test unlabeled containers of bottled and tap water and guess which was which.

Students selected Knute Nadelhoffer, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and director of the University’s Biological Station, to address attendees and explain the significance of Earth Day. He spoke from the steps of Hatcher Graduate Library to the crowd.

Nadelhoffer spoke to the intentions of Gaylord Nelson, the former Wisconsin senator who founded the day in 1970, whose wish was to raise awareness about a multitude of environmental issues, including pollution and the impact of overpopulation on the environment.

“Back then, we had no idea about fossil fuels and burning forests,” Nadelhoffer said.

LSA senior Angela Yang, the CSG Commission on University Sustainability chair and SSI board member, said many of the participating organizations meet together regularly, and so hosting this event was a way to share the work that these groups have done.

“I think sustainability is something that our previous president and our current president, Mark Schlissel, have kind of seen as a really important value for the University to have and I think a lot of students feel that way,” Yang said. “For CSG to put on an event like this really represents how key sustainability is as a value to everyone.”

Sustainability was the tagline of the day, with each group present weighing in on the concept.

LSA sophomore Stephanie Galczyk is a member of the LSA Student Government’s Taking Responsibility for the Earth and Environment subcommittee — which promotes more sustainable practices within LSA. At the event, she said, to her, sustainability is “preserving of natural resources that are far from abundant.”

The subcommittee distributed natural cleaning products and “seed bombs,” colorful clumps of birdseed with biodegradable paper adhesive.

Keith Soster, director of student engagement for University Unions, said sustainability through the scope of Michigan Dining means providing students with locally produced food processed within 250 miles of campus. In the spirit of representing local produce, Soster dressed as a carrot.

He added that making use of seasonality is another way the University reaps maximum benefits regarding food quality as well as cost efficiency. Soster spoke to the effectiveness of this technique in incorporating healthier food into the campus diet.

“Right now, asparagus is out of season, so it tastes bad and would be expensive,” he said. “We save money by not getting it.”

Michigan Dining chefs were prominently featured in Friday’s event, performing cooking demonstrations and distributing healthy snacks.

Friday’s festivities also drew discussion on the role of students in promoting environmental protection.

Rackham student Jonathan Morris, a member of the Divest and Invest campaign, said activism is a campus’s most powerful tool in making constructive, sustainable change. Divest and Invest has repeatedly called on the University to divest from coal and fossil fuels.

Most recently, Divest and Invest worked with the CSG to pass a resolution calling for the University’s Board of Regents to create a committee to consider the University’s investments and the potential of divesting from oil and coal companies.

“The best thing for students to remember is that they have a tremendous amount of political power,” Morris said. “Just by coming out to an event, or signing petitions, they can make a change. Activism works when it is run on clean, student powered energy.”

Engineering junior Jessica Abfalter, president of the University’s chapter of Take Back the Tap, a student group that promotes the importance of municipal water facilities and the value of tap water, said the event showed her that most people want to reduce the use of plastic bottles. She said altering public opinion is perhaps no longer the primary goal at hand.

“It’s been really refreshing to see that it’s not really a matter of changing public opinion that we need to focus on as much as getting the administration to kind of follow along in what the student body and the citizens of Ann Arbor already have expressed that they feel about bottle water,” Abfalter said.

The Earth Day celebration also showcased the efforts of Beat the Bottle, a petition launched last week by LSA senior Joanna Thelen that calls on the University to phase out plastic bottle sales.

LSA sophomore Jayson Toweh, CSG Sustainability Commission treasurer, added that student activism for sustainability has expanded significantly since Earth Day’s conception — a positive sign for the future. He dressed as “Rufus the Recycler,” the blue mascot of the University’s Waste and Recycling Office.

“Informing people about a cause and going to the people in charge, is the right way,” he said. “It shows education and gets rid of the crazy tree-hugger image and makes it about the science.”

This new wave of “formal activists” are what Toweh believes is the future of a less radical and more mature method of making change on campuses.

“This event raises awareness of the wonderful things our Earth provides and celebrates these things, as well as identifies the problems our planet faces,” he said. “We hope students will participate in more sustainable actions and take initiative around campus.”

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