University President Mark Schlissel announced in a release last week that the University plans to review its sustainability goals.
“To be the model public university — and to be a responsible leader in the communities we serve — we must achieve our full potential in sustainability,” Schlissel wrote in a release.
The goals, established by University President Emerita Mary Sue Coleman in 2011, included five operations-focused sustainability goals: to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, University transportation emissions and waste tonnage, to purchase sustainable food and to protect the Huron River. The year 2025 was set as the deadline for achieving the goals.
Schlissel has recommended working groups review the University’s progress on meeting these goals and re-evaluate future plans related to sustainability.
Hank Baier, associate vice president for facilities and operations, and Don Scavia, special counsel to the president for sustainability and director of the Graham Sustainability Institute, will lead the process.
In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Scavia said Schlissel received a letter co-signed by the leaders of 50 student organizations expressing their continued interest in the 2011 sustainability goals, which many of them helped to create. In the letter, students urged Schlissel to review the existing goals and to enact more aggressive initiatives. A week or two later, he received a similar letter from members of the faculty.
Scavia said a review of the sustainability goals was originally scheduled for next year, but after receiving letters from students and faculty, Schlissel decided to conduct the review this year.
“He thought it was important as the new president to take a look at it (the sustainability goals) and he wanted definitely to engage the operations staff as well as faculty and students to take a look at it collectively,” Scavia said.
Three teams of faculty, students and staff are now working to schedule their first meetings. One team will review greenhouse gas emissions, another waste reduction and the final group will focus on the culture of sustainability on campus.
While initiatives to improve University transportation emissions and purchase sustainable food have seen success, others have been more difficult to accomplish.
Despite the 2011 goal to reduce carbon gas emissions by 25 percent, University data published by the Office of Campus Sustainability show that emissions decreased in 2012, but then increased in 2013. Transportation emissions have seen decreases, but waste production has actually increased since the adoption of the goals.
“Greenhouse gas and waste reduction are priorities because those goals require the greatest investment to achieve, and our progress is not as rapid as we’d like,” Baier said in a release.
Another goal of the review is to educate students, faculty and staff on campus about sustainability.
Scavia said the Graham Sustainability Institute has created behavior change programs like Planet Blue Ambassadors and the Planet Blue Student Innovation Fund to engage students in current sustainability issues.
The institute also works with the Institute for Social Research to conduct an annual survey that measures campus behaviors and knowledge of sustainability practices. The survey, which targets faculty, students and staff, has run for two consecutive years.
The survey conducted in 2012 found that while students were more aware than faculty of campus sustainability initiatives, they were less knowledgeable about protecting the environment, preventing waste and prioritizing sustainable foods.
“One of the things that we recognized when we set the first set of goals related to greenhouse gases, water and waste and those sorts of things, is that you can do a lot with technology, but changing behavior on campus is going to be a really important part of reaching those goals,” he said.