Every Monday night, I bring down an overflowing recycling bin to the edge of my driveway. A year ago, I would have considered this a significant act in helping to preserve the environment, but with a brother working in the sustainability and green engineering field, I’m realizing quickly that a blue bin full of recycled bottles and boxes simply isn’t enough. Thus, in this age of green and sustainable living, it is vital that everyone, students included, go above and beyond to protect and save the environment. The blue bin alone won’t cut it anymore.

University President Mary Sue Coleman recently released a new sustainability initiative in a speech outlining the University’s 14-year plan for sustainability. Some of the plans include installing solar panels on North Campus and replacing regular cars and buses with hybrid ones, with the laudable goal of cutting the University’s greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2025. As ambitious and meritorious as the University’s plan is, its ultimate success may very well depend on the involvement and commitment of students. Because when it comes to saving the environment, we’re more than just tuition payers, we’re energy consumers and conservationists. Not to mention, with Ann Arbor ranked one of the leaders in green initiatives, the least we Wolverines can do is live up to our reputation and work as hard as our beloved city does. Students on and off campus must try their hardest, and move into this era of sustainability armed with blue bins, energy-efficient light bulbs and a can-do attitude.

I know many students are regimented in their recycling and energy-saving routines, but I see too many water bottles thrown in trash cans and lights left on in houses to not address these seemingly minor issues. Because, really, at a school with more than 25,000 undergraduates alone, every light switch left on makes a huge difference. I’m a college student, I’m lazy and I’m guilty of committing sustainability crimes too. But how I see it, if we can pull all-nighters and easily careen from pre-game party to pre-game party before trekking on to the Big House on foot, we can handle searching for a recycling bin that might be outside our line of vision. Not to mention, turning down our thermostats a few degrees and taking the time to go upstairs to turn off the lights left on in the rush to get out the front door.

And the bathroom, my friends, is no place to forget about the environment either. In fact, there are important environmental decisions to be made every time you excuse yourself to the little girls or boys room here on campus. First, are you actually going to flush the handle up for liquid waste and down for solid waste? And second, are you really going to use a super-speed, high-tech hand dryer when there are water-absorbing paper towels there too? Well, Yes. You have to. Everyone has to. The University is taking a stance and making changes, and it’s important that the student body does the same. We should be grateful that the University offers us so many eco-friendly options, and we should be eager to take advantage of them at all times. Note — new recycling bins like the ones in North Quad even have an opening shaped for bottles to make the process virtually foolproof!

Other small steps students can take to help the University make a big difference include using refillable water bottles, switching to energy-efficient light bulbs and walking to places instead of driving (not only good for the environment, but good for your health too!). So although we can’t all go around installing solar panels, we can and should go around milking these new green accessories for all they’re worth. So keep those blue bins overflowing and toilets flushing in the right direction because a flush in the right direction doubles as a step in the right direction — the green direction, that is.

Leah Potkin can be reached at lpotkin@umich.edu.

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