Though you’ll never hear it chanted on a football Saturday, those sporting the Maize and Blue have gotten a lot better at going green since University President Mary Sue Coleman made sustainability one of her four presidential initiatives in 2009.
In a 2011 address, Coleman re-emphasized the importance of sustainable practices by announcing the results of an Integrated Assessment, which investigated and suggested improvements for the University and made a $14 million investment toward four main areas on campus: climate action, waste prevention, healthy environments and community awareness.
She then set University-wide goals in each of the areas to be reached by 2025, including cutting greenhouse emissions by 25 percent and purchasing 20 percent of all University food from local and sustainable sources — a goal that has already been reached.
To say that the University’s focus on sustainability has flourished since Coleman made it a priority would be an understatement. Though measuring progress on the sustainability initiative is often more subjective than whether or not the campus smoking rate has declined or more students are studying abroad — two of Coleman’s other initiatives — fiscal year 2013 marked the sixth consecutive year that energy conservation measures saved millions of dollars, according to an annual energy consumption report. While public funding for many projects has decreased in recent years, the amount of sustainability research-related funding has increased by 200 percent since 2003.
Don Scavia, director of the Graham Environmental and Sustainability Institute and special counsel to the president on sustainability, said since Coleman placed an emphasis on the issue, projects at the University have begun snowballing, and students have become more active than ever in sustainability initiatives. The Graham Institute’s mission is to bring facets of campus together on sustainability initiatives.
The difference even in just two years, he said, is marked — evident in the growth of institutes, enterprises, departments, student programs and clubs at the University dedicated to sustainable practices.
“There are very few places that have the kind of programs we do here at Michigan, at the scale we have here,” Scavia said. “Michigan is so well-positioned to deal with it.”
But student efforts are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to implementing tangible, eco-friendly solutions. The growing sustainability culture on campus addresses operations, construction and behaviors, as well as undergraduate and graduate programming. The “green” efforts have touched the University of Michigan Health System and the Michigan Athletic Department facilities, all of which have been influenced by the president’s ambitious sustainability goals.
Scavia said Coleman was moved to take action after she realized that the environment would be the defining issue for this generation.
“It’s critically important. It’s the kind of thing we can’t do casually — we have to focus on it,” Scavia said.
There are 640 sustainability-related courses offerings at the University, reaching across departments from the School of Art & Design to the Ross School of Business, according to the 2012 sustainability report. The Program in the Environment major, often called PitE, has been the fastest growing concentration at the University for six years, according to Scavia, and a minor in sustainability was added last year to meet demand from students interested in the topic.
Faculty across campus have incorporated sustainability into their courses, an interdisciplinary approach that is critical if the University wants to continue to prioritize sustainability, according to Coleman.
“Sustainability is an area that presents some of the most complex problems we face — challenges that no single discipline will solve,” Coleman said in a recent statement to The Michigan Daily. “We’ve positioned our approach to be broad, including key research activities and educating students how to apply sustainability to all fields for the greatest impact.”
Mike Shriberg, the educational director of the Graham Institute and a Program in the Environment professor, said Coleman’s prioritization of sustainability allowed professionals and campus leaders interested in the issue to pursue projects and research that otherwise may not have come to fruition. While many programs at the University have begun incorporating sustainability into their courses, broadening the interdisciplinary approach to all corners of campus is his next objective.
Shriberg has been involved in sustainability issues on campus for 15 years. He said in the past, there were “pockets of good activity,” such as recycling and energy conservation measures. However, he said having the president of the University prioritize sustainability allowed students, faculty and staff to pursue ideas they otherwise may have considered pipe dreams.
“I think what President Coleman did was take those initiatives, leverage them up to the highest level and provide resources to advance them,” Shriberg said. “When the president says, ‘This is something I value,’ it opens all kinds of venues for students, faculty and staff across campus.”
For Shriberg, the need for sustainability isn’t a niche topic or partisan issue — it’s the basis of existence, and needs to be a focus of a robust education.
“The president of Cornell said sustainability is the frame of the liberal arts education,” he said. “That’s what I believe and I think President Coleman has helped move it in that direction. It’s not so much that it’s more important than any other issue, but it underlies everything else.”
Scavia, too, said though there is little direct top-down control at the University — which was done specifically by administrators to allow individual programs and colleges to do as they see fit without running into bureaucratic red tape — Coleman setting sustainability as a priority was critical to the progress the University has seen in the past two years.
So far, specific initiatives have largely focused on changing individual behaviors on campus, such as turning off lights and buying sustainable produce, and basic institutional changes, such as the purchase of seven hybrid buses and the implementation of water refill stations and “trayless” dining halls.
Last year, a campus farm was created at the University’s Matthaei Botanical Gardens through the Sustainability & the Campus course, which Shriberg teaches. Students also created the “How to Be a Green Wolverine” guidebook, which is available to all students and provides tips on how to modify behaviors for more sustainable living, produced using recycled paper and ink. More than 10,000 guides were distributed in 2012, according to the 2012 sustainability guide.
Scavia said the University still needs to improve on the operational side of sustainability, which has proven difficult as the University continues to expand in size by one to two percent each year. Total energy use increased from 6.51 trillion BTUs in 2009 to 7.41 trillion BTUs in 2012, though the amount used per person per square foot of building space has declined steadily by 22 percent since 2004, showing a decreasing per capita ratio.
Additionally, 137 campus buildings conserved energy in 2013, resulting in an 8.4-percent energy use reduction.
Despite the continued expansion of existing facilities and construction of new ones, the University helped to mitigate green gas emissions from 2011 to 2012 through multiple channels, including expanding the North Campus Chiller Plant, which saves money by serving the whole area instead of relying on units in each building. However, the original 2025 goal to decrease emissions by 25 percent still stands. The University has reduced its waste tonnage by about 1 percent according to the 2012 sustainability report — its goal is to hit 40 percent by 2025.
Certain sustainability measures, such as carbon neutrality, are not feasible because of the University’s mission as a research institution and the continual need for improved lab spaces and facility, Scavia said.
“There’s always an interesting balance between our mission and these goals,” Scavia said.
That’s not to say sustainability initiatives in operations have not been undertaken. On the contrary, various energy conservation and waste reduction measures have been successful. Five buildings on campus are LEED certified — including C.S. Mott Children’s and Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital, the Business School, the Dana Building (home of the PitE program), Crisler Center and the Law School’s South Hall — meaning they have achieved the highest marks in human and environmental health standards as verified by a third party.
The Dana building is Gold LEED certified, as is Crisler Center, which is the second-highest level of LEED certification.
Since June 2010, all new construction projects undertaken at the University that exceed $10 million must attain at least a Silver LEED certification, according to Andrew Berki, the manager of the University’s Office of Campus Sustainability.
Berki, who has led the Office of Campus Sustainability since its creation in 2009, said though Michigan has led strong environmental efforts for years, Coleman’s development of University-wide sustainable goals was a critically important step forward.
“President Coleman’s support and endorsement from the very top administrative level definitely pushed us to a whole new level,” he said.
Michigan Athletics and the University of Michigan Health System
Though many units across campus have enthusiastically adopted Coleman’s sustainability cause, perhaps none have done so as visibly as the Michigan Athletic Department.
Athletic Director Dave Brandon has pushed sustainability to the forefront of athletic operations in the past two years, according to Facilities Manager Paul Dunlop, the chair of the Athletic Department Sustainability Committee. Since then, the Athletic Department has adopted a four-pronged approach to sustainability, including waste reduction and recycling; energy efficiency and sustainable building infrastructure; water conservation and chemical usage; and education and awareness.
Energy efficiency is the department’s biggest focus, as energy saving measures not only help the environment — they save money. Crisler Center’s Gold LEED certification is a point of pride for the department, Dunlop said, and future construction projects will continue to focus on sustainable measures.
According to statistics on the Office of Campus Sustainability’s website, each home game at Michigan Stadium generates an average of 18 tons of waste, one-fifth of which is diverted from landfills thanks to the efforts of the University of Michigan Football Stadium Recycling Program, which was initiated in 1994. Overall, in fiscal year 2012, more than one million pounds of total waste were collected from athletic facilities, including Michigan Stadium, of which 40.8 percent was recycled.
At the Big House, organic waste from food preparation is being composted for the first time this year. Dunlop said while the department does a fairly good job on current waste reduction and recycling measures, one of its long-term goals is to look at large-scale waste reduction and zero-waste events.
While Athletics hosted a zero-waste men’s soccer game against Akron in October, Dunlop and Scavia said any hopes of a zero-waste football game are not feasible at the moment.
“Michigan Stadium is so iconic, and if we’re going to do it, we need to make sure that it works,” Scavia said.
“We’re still in a study phase of that,” Dunlop said.
Student Athletes for Sustainability, created by Law student Courtney Mercier, a former Michigan women’s soccer player, was developed in 2012 to connect student athletes with officials involved in sustainability initiatives, and seeks to educate other student athletes on the issues. A representative from the student organization also sits on the Athletic Department Sustainability Committee.
Though he acknowledged there is a lot more Athletics can and will do on the sustainability front, Dunlop said in just 18 months, the Athletic Department has made significant strides in improving its practices.
“We went from literally not doing anything to developing a plan, to organizing a committee, to putting it into action, to seeing results,” he said. “We’ve really come a long way in a short amount of time. I don’t see sustainability as a target, we’ve done it and we’re done with it. It’s an ongoing part of our operations.”
On the other side of campus, the University of Michigan Health System was named one of the 50 greenest hospitals in the United States by Becker’s Hospital Review earlier this year.
The recognition comes after UMHS completed 12 energy conservation projects in 2012, including installing advanced air handling unit controls and restructuring heating and cooling schedules, according to UMHS’s website.
Increasing sustainable practices in the University’s hospital system is a priority for the Office of Campus Sustainability, according to Berki, though these implementations will face unique problems, as hospital waste cannot be disposed of as easily as other waste. To combat this, the University will work with vendors who can provide more easily recyclable supplies, such as IV bags.
“We’re on the brink of doing some things over there to really take a look to try to reduce some of the things coming out of their waste streams,” Berki said.
In a statement, Coleman said though the University has shown improvement in curriculum, research and operations, the move toward greater sustainability won’t end when she leaves Ann Arbor in July.
“While I’m proud of what our university has accomplished during my tenure, our commitment to sustainability has deep roots,” Coleman said. “We continue to build on the solid foundation laid before and I anticipate much more to come from U-M in the world of sustainability.”
Sustainability will continue to be an important issue for the next president to address, building on Coleman’s strong foundation.
“Who would be opposed to it?” Scavia asked.
Shriberg said working with peer institutions such as Yale, Princeton and Harvard is one of the best courses of action to further the objectives of this “collective social goal.” Additionally, further integration across campus will be vital for sustainable technologies to evolve.
“I think President Coleman has put a tremendous amount of effort into a framework to build from,” Shriberg said.
Berki said students can expect to see additional hybrid buses added to the fleet as more of the existing diesel buses are replaced. The Office of Campus Sustainability will also switch from synthetic pesticides and herbicides to more organic options for campus’s green spaces, including the golf courses and lawn around the Diag. There will be a continued push to increase the purchase of locally grown sustainable foods for use in residence halls.
Additional projects are in the works, Berki said, adding that cutting green house gas emissions will continue to be a priority.
“We’ve had a lot of support from President Coleman, and we’re excited about new leadership coming in because we feel it’s a very important issue for them and for the institution,” Berki said.
LSA senior Libby O’Connell, a PitE peer advisor and a member of the PitE Club and EnAct — an Environmental Activism student organization — said sustainability is a major issue when determining Coleman’s successor. O’Connell said Coleman will leave a sustainable legacy for the next president to inherit.
“This is something we’re really looking for in the next president, someone who’s really focused on this and wants to advance the concept of sustainability on campus,” O’Connell said. “(Coleman) prefaced it well and is going to pass if off to the next president, I think, in good shape.”
Still, O’Connell said there is much room for improvement when the next president comes. Specifically, she encourages the president to consider longer-term changes beyond increasing the number of recycling bins on campus.
Following the example set by Ann Arbor City Council, O’Connell hopes administrators invest more in renewable energy sources and divest from fossil fuel industries, though she admits this is easier said than done.
“I would like to see a president who’s thinking higher up,” she said. “Looking through more of a lens that’s for the long term, so how are we going to benefit students 50 years from now?”
O’Connell and Shriberg emphasized the importance of fostering student opportunities in sustainability to help catalyze a larger cultural shift in this generation toward creating a more sustainable planet.
Students, O’Connell said, will be key to the success of initiatives and larger scale environmental projects, regardless of their school or college.
“The creativity and the passion that students have here is what’s really important,” she said.