Ann Arbor has a reputation as an environmental leader.
According to a recent study, the University, the city’s largest landowner is also leading the pack among colleges in protecting the environment.
The Cambridge, Mass.-based Sustainable Endowments Institute graded the 100 largest endowed universities based on a number of environmentally friendly campus practices and investment factors. The University of Michigan received a B-plus overall.
Harvard, Stanford, Dartmouth and Williams College topped the list by earning A minuses.
Mark Orlowski, the institute’s executive director said the University of Michigan is definitely a leader in campus sustainability.
The University received A grades in administration, climate change and energy, food and recycling and investment priorities. The Institute gave the University a B for endowment transparency, a C for green buildings, and a D for shareholder engagement.
Some students, though, disagree with the high scores.
Shari Pomerantz and Chris Detjen, co-chairs of the Michigan Student Assembly’s Environmental Issues Commission, said the University’s overall grade was “somewhat higher than it should be” because of errors in the report card – like giving credit for an inactive committee.
The report card attributed the A in administration to University President Mary Sue Coleman’s Environmental Task Force, but the group has been relatively inactive after publishing its report in 2004, Detjen said. The task force compiled a list of broad steps the University could take to be more environmentally friendly.
The report card also said that the University purchases 10 percent of its energy from renewable sources. But according to the University’s Center for Sustainable Systems website, the University only purchases .3 percent.
Orlowski, who said the Institute used data provided by the University and publicly available sources, said he is looking into the errors.
Pomerantz said the University has historically made significant efforts to reduce its impact on the environment, but it still has a long way to go, especially in increasing its use of renewable energy.
Pomerantz agreed with administrators that the University excels in green transportation and recycling.
Andy Berki, the environmental stewardship coordinator of the University’s Occupational Safety and Environmental Health office, estimates that the University recycles about 30 percent of the waste it generates.
In addition to the ubiquitous recycling bins in University buildings, Berki said huge efforts are made to recycle things like chemicals, mercury from thermometers and even things like unwanted clothes and imperishable food after students move out of residence halls.
The University’s transportation system has taken steps toward reducing its use of fossil fuels. All University buses run on an ultra low sulfur, biodiesel fuel. The fleet of more than 400 University vehicles burns E85, a fuel that is 85 percent ethanol – an additive made from agricultural products – and 15 percent unleaded gasoline.
Still, Detjen and Pomerantz said the University could be doing more to offset its negative impact on the environment.
Pomerantz’s main concern was the University’s use of renewable energy – or lack thereof.
The solar panels located on the roof of the environmentally state-of-the-art Dana Building – which boasts waterless urinals and composting toilets – are one of the only sources of renewable energy on campus.
Much of the University’s electricity comes from its natural gas-fired power plant on Huron Street.
The plant uses steam, one of the byproducts of electricity generation, to heat and cool buildings on the Medical and Central campuses. Berki said the process saves the university about $9.7 million a year in utility costs.
MSA passed a resolution last week asking the University to purchase one-third of its energy from renewable sources as soon as possible and then increase that number to half in 2011 and 100 percent in 2015.
Diane Brown, University facilities and operations spokeswoman said there’s just one problem with that.
“You can’t buy (energy from renewable sources),” she said. “It’s not on the grid. It would be like saying to all students ‘you can only buy brown coats’ but there’s not a store in town that sells brown coats.”
She said the University is working with energy providers, the city and other schools across the state to bring renewable energy to the state and University.
Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje, who has a reputation as a leading environmentalist, has consistently pushed for the construction of wind turbines in Michigan.
Pomerantz and Detjen said the University could have an impact, though, by purchasing renewable energy certificates. Companies use the proceeds from the certificates to invest in supporting or providing renewable energy.
“It’s not a long-term solution, but we think it’s what we need to do right now,” Detjen said.