Hybrid buses, solar panels on North Campus, funding for students to find ways to conserve resources: In a broad, green stroke across campus, U-M will invest $14 million in new commitments announced Sept. 27 to achieve ambitious environmental goals.
This is on top of $64 million in one-time construction activity including energy efficient buildings, plus ongoing core operations of $20 million in recurring funding that directly supports sustainability efforts on campus such as the Office of Campus Sustainability and M-Ride during the next three years.
Further commitments are being made through the hiring of new faculty in sustainability areas, creation of a new sustainability minor, participation in STARS — the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System — and more.
“I want the message to be clear: Sustainability defines the University of Michigan. Combine maize and blue, and you get green,” President Mary Sue Coleman said Sept. 27 in a speech kicking off the university’s annual EarthFest celebration.
The impact of U-M sustainability work already is far-reaching from the classroom to the field. In Liberia, U-M graduate students just built a merry-go-round that generates power to light a schoolhouse. U-M and a Chinese university jointly are funding projects aimed to improve wind turbines and electric vehicle batteries and to better understand the combustion physics of biofuels. And closer to home, researchers are leading a federally funded effort to help Great Lakes residents anticipate and adapt to climate change.
The presidential declaration marks an important new chapter, one that will alter the face of the campus and, more important, the character of U-M teaching, research, operations and public engagement, Coleman said.
By 2025, the U-M will:
• Cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent, the equivalent of removing nearly 42,000 cars from the road.
• Make the university transportation system more efficient — decreasing vehicle carbon output by 30 percent for every person in the car, truck or bus.
• Shrink the amount of waste sent to landfills by 40 percent.
• Protect the Huron River through best-in-class storm-water control strategies and by applying 40 percent less chemicals to campus landscapes, and ensure that at least 30 percent of storm-water runoff does not flow into the Huron River.
• Promote sustainable foods while supporting more Michigan farmers and producers. From the residence halls to the unions and hospitals, the university is introducing new purchasing guidelines and making a commitment that at least 20 percent of U-M food comes from local and sustainable sources.
Some changes will be noticed almost immediately.
The university is purchasing 37 hybrid vehicles, including seven new hybrid buses that will begin to arrive in December. One in six university buses will be hybrids, and the long-term goal is an entire fleet of highly efficient vehicles.
U-M is partnering with DTE to install extensive solar panel fields on North Campus. And on the South Campus, the soon-to-open Weisfeld Family Golf Center will be heated and cooled with geothermal technology — a first for the university.
LSA, the university’s largest school, will offer an academic minor in sustainability. Offered through LSA’s Program in the Environment, the minor will be open to all 27,000 undergraduates, regardless of their academic home.
The university is more than doubling its commitment to its Planet Blue energy-conservation measures that already save $4 million annually and cut energy use by an average of 8.3 percent per building. It has launched the Planet Blue Ambassadors program, which trains students and staff to teach the 80,000 members of the Michigan community to save energy, reuse and recycle, and reduce waste.
And any dining halls that are built or renovated are expected to go trayless. Using a tray often means taking more food — and some of that food goes directly into the garbage.
The university also will join STARS, developed specifically to measure sustainability on college campuses worldwide. And, in a further effort at transparency and to track effectiveness, the university will turn to its Institute for Social Research. ISR, the world’s largest survey research organization, to measure the sustainability attitudes and behaviors of students, faculty and staff, as well as identify where improvement can occur.
More than 500 U-M students, faculty and staff contributed to the two-year study, known as the Campus Sustainability Integrated Assessment (CSIA), which led to the operational goals announced Sept. 27.
The study was launched after Coleman stated in October 2009 that she would lead a multifaceted initiative to elevate the university’s commitment to sustainability in teaching, research and operations.
Under the plan, Coleman established a Sustainability Executive Council, a special counsel on sustainability, and an Office of Campus Sustainability. The overarching goals of the initiative include reducing the environmental impact of campus operations, creating and expanding academic courses and research opportunities, and connecting academic and operational activities to make the campus a living laboratory for sustainability.
The CSIA marks the first academic-operations collaboration under the new framework, with the Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute and the Office of Campus Sustainability partnering to identify sustainability standards and goals for operations. The end result of that process is the CSIA Final Report, including the recommendations for 2025 goals that have been adopted by the Sustainability Executive Council.
“The goal commitments are certainly important, but more impressive to me is the emerging culture shift on campus,” said Donald Scavia, director of the Graham Institute and special counsel to the president on sustainability.
“I believe the high levels of focus, energy, and collaboration now in place throughout the university are the most significant steps in driving progress toward all of our sustainability goals — in education, research, and operations,” Scavia said.
Coleman stressed that U-M students played an essential role in moving the university further down the sustainability path. She cited the Student Sustainability Initiative, in particular, for pulling together dozens of student groups working to make U-M a more sustainable place.
Across campus, there are 640 courses that feature content about sustainability. Some 670 faculty members have expertise in sustainability, and many of them collaborate on cross-disciplinary research projects. Of 100 new positions funded recently to expand interdisciplinary teaching, more than one-quarter are grounded in climate change, energy, building design and other fields of sustainability.
On the operations side, the new goals build on a long history of notable achievements, which include:
• Recycling — The university’s recycling program is in its third decade. Thirty tons of recyclable waste are collected each season at Michigan Stadium, and nearly five times that amount is gathered when students move out of the residence halls.
• Construction — The university has pledged to meet LEED Silver standards for major new construction projects of $10 million or more. U-M already has achieved LEED Gold for the Dana Building and LEED Silver for the Ross School.
• Planet Blue operations — The university’s energy-conservation program has completed improvements and upgrades on 70 campus buildings so far, saving $4 million annually. Up to 120 buildings will be completed by fiscal year 2012.
“The goals and commitments are significant in helping the university move toward a sustainable future — they provide the motivation to emphasize environmental considerations in our campus operations as we strive for world- class research and academics,” said Terry Alexander, executive director of the Office of Campus Sustainability.
“But of equal importance is the collaborative manner in which our students, faculty and staff came together to work on this difficult challenge,” Alexander said. “That is something you just do not see in other large, diverse institutions like the U-M, and it is what sets us apart as a world-class leader.”
Katherine Weider, creative arts producer, School of Art & Design, on offering advice for students: “You can’t always imagine your future. I think you have to trust that your loves and your interests will eventually lead you to the right place.”
“Photographer as Witness: Proof Enough?” with Jill Vexler, 7-8:30 p.m. Oct. 11, Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library Gallery in Room 100