A University student group that aims to make campus more energy efficient called on the University Board of Regents yesterday at its monthly meeting to create a centralized sustainability office at the University.

Members of the Student Sustainability Initiative, a coalition of 14 sustainability-minded student groups, said that by creating a central office of sustainability on campus, the University could become a leader in environmental sustainability and save money in the long run.

The group submitted a letter at the end of last month to University President Mary Sue Coleman and has met with the University Chief Financial Officer Timothy Slottow on the issue.

Merry Walker, team coordinator for SSI, said now is the optimal time for the University to take action, considering President Barack Obama’s and Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s energy plans.

“President Obama has outlined energy and environmental legislation with plans to make more than 5 million green jobs in the new economy,” she said. “There is no better time for our university to seize this opportunity of change and guide these transitions.”

Walker added that many companies are making sustainability a priority, through partnerships with universities on energy-related issues. In some cases, companies are creating new, executive-level positions focusing on sustainability.

Walker said the biggest challenge to existing sustainability groups on campus is the decentralization of the University. Sixty-one environmental groups currently exist on campus, but Walker said there is no central group to coordinate events and communications between the groups.

Another member of SSI told the regents that a director would be necessary to manage the office’s activities, but that more planning is needed.

“Decisions need to be made about where the office sits, who will lead it and how it will be funded — until it pays for itself,” he said.

Rackham student Aaron James, an SSI member, stressed that sustainability efforts will pay for themselves.

“We have an opportunity to simultaneously improve our finances and our environmental record,” he said. “Green buildings are not an added expense, they are investments in the future of our university.”

James added that buildings account for 98 percent of the energy use and greenhouse gas emissions on campus.

Slottow said the University is taking steps to achieve sustainability, including changing from the 1999 American Society for Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers energy standards — which the state of Michigan currently uses — to the 2007 standards.

“We have recently, in the last week actually, formally adopted the 2007 standards, which are 10 to 20 percent more efficient than the 1999 standards that the state is using,” Slottow said.

Slottow called energy performance extremely important to the University, and added that he is working with students to make sustainability a reality on campus.

“We have been working with the students,” he said. “We are making significant progress.”

– Erik Torenberg contributed to this report.

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