Thanks to environmental initiatives, the University has a smaller carbon footprint than it did several years ago, according to a new report released by the University earlier this month.
The report, which aims to provide more transparency into the University’s resource usage, marks the first time the University’s energy use, water use, emissions, waste production, mass transit systems and other environmental concerns have been compiled into one document. It seems to signal that the University will continue examining the efficiency of its building and promoting conservation initiatives.
The Annual Environmental Report, charts the amount of resources used by each campus building between 2004 and 2007, along with the University’s total carbon footprint. The report found that the University’s carbon output decreased from about 430,000 pounds in 2004 to 390,000 pounds in 2007.
Andy Berki, manager of the University’s Occupational Safety and Environmental Health department, said the University has increase the use of materials and technology that conserve resources in both new construction and renovations to old buildings. Those energy saving devices include the installation of more efficient lighting and wiring, as well as motion sensors that shut off lights when rooms are vacant.
Berki said the University also plans to improve conservation efforts on campus. In order to determine in which buildings practices can be modified to save resources, the University created Wolverine Teams consisting of engineers, environmental experts and marketing representatives who evaluate campus buildings and make recommendations.
The teams try to reshape how building occupants use resources. They start at a basic level, telling occupants to turn off computers when they’re not being used, Berki said. He said the teams plan to track 30 buildings a year and teams have already been dispatched to 17 campus buildings, he said.
One concern Wolverine Teams have is that occupants will return to wasteful behavior once the teams leave campus buildings. Berki said a designated person will periodically check each building to prevent occupants from backsliding.
The– report also calls for individuals to increase their own conservation efforts.
The Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute, part of the School of Natural Resources and Environment, is teaming up with campus activists to develop a public forum for students to address environmental concerns at the University. Although the forum is still in the planning stages, Berki said he hopes that it will encourage more student input in University policy-making.
Chris Detjen, president of the Michigan Student Assembly’s Environmental Issues Commission, criticized the University for failing to garner student input on environmental policy decisions.
“Not enough efforts were made to incorporate students’ interests and efforts into this report,” he said. “I wish there had been references made to what students have been doing with environmental issues on campus in past years.”
Detjen said he appreciates the work put into the report but thinks the University has a long road to sustainability ahead.
Currently, about 45 percent of the energy used on campus is generated at the Central Power Plant on East Huron Street. The rest is purchased on the grid from DTE Energy, which uses carbon-producing coal for much of its electricity production.
So while the campus power plant burns relatively clean natural gas, campus buildings still contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.
Jonathan Bulkley, co-director of the Center for Sustainable Systems in the School of Natural Resources and Environment, said he thinks the report shows the University’s increasing commitment to environmentalism. He said since the report’s first issuance seven years ago, the University administration has consistently supported of its development.
“The information is there and can be acquired reasonably,” Bulkley said. “The challenge now is to plot a course and say where we’d like to go.”
Bulkley was also optimistic about the public’s increasing interest in environmentalism.
“There’s a sea of change taking place among young people who are mindful of achieving sustainability,” he said.