University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman announced on October 5, 2009 that she will lead a multi-faceted initiative to elevate the university’s commitment to sustainability in teaching, research and operations. Under the plan, U-M will strengthen its efforts to reduce the institution’s carbon footprint, set specific targets for reducing environmental impact, create and expand academic courses and research opportunities, and connect academic and operational activities to make the campus a living laboratory for sustainability.
“The pressing challenge of environmental sustainability is a huge global concern,” Coleman said. “From teaching and research, to hands-on engagement, we are going to leverage our many strengths to make significant contributions to an urgent and extraordinarily complex problem. We aim to inspire students, faculty and staff to become involved in these issues that affect our lives and our future.”
A broad leadership framework with three new components will carry out the effort.
Coleman will chair a new Sustainability Executive Council, comprising university leadership, to set direction and goals, review proposals and funding requests, and ensure sustainability decisions and priorities receive oversight at the highest level.
Coleman also announced that Don Scavia has been appointed to the newly created position of special counsel to the president for sustainability. In this role, Scavia will serve as the point person for sustainability at Michigan. He will advise the executive officers and the president on sustainability, serve as the primary contact for students working on sustainability-related issues, and guide the discussion, planning and coordination of the full range of sustainability activities across campus. Scavia will also continue as director of the Graham Sustainability Institute.
A new Office of Campus Sustainabiliy will serve as the focal point for sustainable operations at the university. The OCS, formed through a restructuring of the Department of Occupational Safety & Environmental Health (OSEH), will be led by Terry Alexander, former director of Occupational Safety and Environmental Health, reporting directly to Hank Baier, associate vice president for Facilities and Operation. The OCS will work with existing programs such as Planet Blue, Climate Savers and other activities in University Housing and the Health System as well as new programs to promote and coordinate sustainability throughout campus operations.
As one of its first tasks, OCS will work collaboratively with offices across campus to identify sustainability standards and goals for operations, and recommend them for endorsement by the Executive Council. OCS will also partner with the Graham Institute on bottom-up proposals, and lead efforts to reach operational goals endorsed by the Executive Council.
"I especially want to thank our students, particularly from the Student Sustainability Initiative who have pushed us to do more throughout the University,” Coleman said. “We welcome your energy and your ideas. You are going to play an invaluable role in Michigan’s leadership in sustainability both locally and throughout the world.”
Coleman said she intends the initiative to capitalize on an unprecedented student passion and urgency about sustainability. She said the university will examine and expand course offerings and research opportunities, and invest in hands-on projects where students learn by involvement in the university’s efforts to create a greener campus.
"We aim to educate students who will take their place in society as leaders and citizens who are informed, responsible advocates for a sustainable world,” Coleman said.
Coleman said the initiative will draw on the strengths of U-M’s many efforts in environmental sustainability, including research centers such as the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise, the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute and the Center for Sustainable Systems, as well as dozens of academic programs that include the Program in the Environment in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, and the Engineering Sustainable Systems dual degree offered by the School of Natural Resources and Environment and the College of Engineering.
Scavia said the educational component of the initiative will include doubling capacity in “Sustainability and the Campus” – an interdisciplinary course that offers students the opportunity to participate in substantive, hands-on group projects. Past projects have evaluated whether a cafeteria can reduce food waste by removing trays and whether it may be feasible to place solar panels on a U-M athletic facility.
A new course, international in scope, will be based at the Mpala Research Center in Kenya to study the relationship between rural Kenyan populations and the surrounding ecosystems. The course will be offered for the first time in summer 2010.
And plans are underway for more courses such as “Sustainable and Fossil Energy,” which was offered for the first time summer 2009 at Camp Davis in Wyoming where the facility served as a small experimental city for students who studied its energy and resources in a carefully monitored and controlled environment.
"We want every U-M student to gain an understanding of the complexities of sustainability," Scavia said, "and to offer them the most enriching learning opportunities through hands-on coursework and programs that leverage the intellectual strengths from every corner of our university."