For those who attended University President Mary Sue Coleman’s sustainability speech on Tuesday, many things were made clear. For one, I was finally convinced of her existence, and the audience was convinced of the University’s strong and growing commitment to sustainability.
“Sustainability” gets thrown around quite a bit, especially in an eco-conscious town like Ann Arbor; its overuse often leads to a softening of its meaning. However, Coleman made it abundantly clear to all those in attendance that sustainability isn’t a mere buzz word but a deep, underlying theme that’s to guide this University into the future. “I want this message to be clear,” Coleman asserted, “Sustainability drives the University of Michigan. Combine maize and blue, and you get green.”
The goals the University has set are commendable, highly attainable and are large enough in scope to truly make an impact. Among the goals Coleman enumerated were a 25 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, a 40 percent reduction of waste sent to landfills, the use of 40 percent fewer chemicals to treat grass and trees around campus and the transformation of the University bus fleet to hybrid vehicles.
All these changes are scheduled to be fully implemented by 2025, and judging by Coleman’s Hoke-like resolve and steel-like gaze, I have no doubt she meant every single word she said.
However, the eventual success or failure of these ambitious plans lies not in firmly pressed pantsuits or paraphrasing ubiquitous Hoke-isms but squarely in the laps of all Michigan students, regardless of year or concentration. In order for sustainability to truly take hold at the University, it must become a part of campus life, not just a message preached to us by the administration. As current students, we all have a deep obligation to begin to alter the way the student body thinks and acts in relation to the natural world. Just like Denard Robinson’s dreads are the source of his speed, the student body is the source of the University’s vitality. Collectively, we have the power to take the University in any direction we choose. All we need to do is “plant (the) seeds of ideas” and “forge new trails.”
The continued development and expansion of student groups committed to various areas of campus and global sustainability is a sign that students are beginning to realize their enormous potential to bring about change on campus and in the community we love. In addition to the numerous student organizations that already exist, Coleman announced the formation of a $50,000 annual “Planet Blue student fund,” which will be used to support the best and most innovative student-developed campus sustainability ideas. We not only have the dreams and the plans, but we now have the money to make it happen. Anyone who thinks they don’t have ample opportunities to become involved with sustainability on this campus and to truly make a difference is as blind as the Ohio State NCAA compliance office.
It’s imperative that students seek out the opportunities that exist all around them. Even the smallest change for good, when done on a scale as large as the University of Michigan, has enormous potential to bring about real, tangible results. So, fellow students, I implore you all to seriously consider your everyday actions and reflect on the ramifications these actions have on the local and global environment. We sit here today with the tremendous opportunity to direct our University in a direction few, if any, other universities across the country, or across the globe for that matter, can achieve. We have a duty to ourselves, to future generations, and as Wolverines, to seize this opportunity and bring our University into a new era.
David Schwartz is an LSA senior.