Graham Sustainability Institute

U-M President Mary Sue Coleman Comments on Sustainability Issues and Topics

Friday, April 15, 2011

There are few greater challenges facing our world today than developing new sources of energy that are sustainable and clean. In the United States right now, we are seeing the devastating effects of an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. This catastrophe is wreaking havoc on livelihoods and the environment, and genuinely threatens a way of life for thousands.

Presidents' Dialogue at Shanghai Jiao Tong University (June 29, 2010)

There are few greater challenges facing our world today than developing new sources of energy that are sustainable and clean. In the United States right now, we are seeing the devastating effects of an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. This catastrophe is wreaking havoc on livelihoods and the environment, and genuinely threatens a way of life for thousands.

We do not yet know what changes await this region of the world – what the next generation will reap from the calamity we have sown. But we can see how vital it is to develop new sources of energy today for a safer world tomorrow.

That is why I am so pleased we will work together to find positive, sustainable approaches to energy development. And it is why our universities have come together on a joint research proposal to the Chinese and American governments to create a Clean Energy Research Center for Clean Vehicles.

Our two nations are the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases, as well as the largest markets for cars and trucks. We now will work together, as two of the world’s great universities, to develop technologies for the most effective clean vehicles.

State of the University 2010 (October 27, 2010)

I've been particularly intrigued by the number of proposals to expand teaching and research in the areas of climate change, sustainability and energy. We know our students are hungry for this knowledge, with huge enrollment jumps in undergraduate and graduate programs that address environmental issues.

One of those challenges is how climate change affects polar ice sheets. We've all seen dramatic footage of disappearing glaciers and massive chunks of ice crashing into the ocean. The story doesn't end there, because that melting ice raises sea levels and threatens the lives and livelihoods of millions who live in coastline communities.

One of our new faculty teams is dedicated to explaining how and why great sheets of ice move and sea levels rise. We need to know more about the earth, the atmosphere, and the ocean, and how they all interact. Most important, such knowledge can help mitigate this threat.

And so we have recruited exceptional faculty to elevate our leadership in this field. Brian Arbic is a physical oceanographer and world expert on tidal calculations. Sarah Aciego is an isotope geochemist pioneering new techniques for dating glacial ice. Modeling how ice sheets flow is the work of Jeremy Bassis, a geophysicist. And Mark Flanner is an earth systems scientist who investigates how black carbonaceous particles emitted by humans affect climate and snowpack.

Their training and skills are distinct, and their new academic homes are in different departments and colleges. But they are singularly focused on bringing their knowledge to bear on a monumental challenge.

To quote Professor Bassis, "Coming at the problem from very different perspectives makes this such a powerful initiative and the University of Michigan an appealing place to be."

Professor Bassis is here today, and I want him to know we look forward to his work and that of his collaborators.

Winter Commencement 2010 (December 19, 2010)

Globally, you will live in communities confronting climate change, and how best to develop, use and save energy. Your generation is deeply committed to the wellbeing of our planet, and I am confident you will make the world a more sustainable place.

President Coleman Launches MultiFaceted Sustainability Initiative (October 9, 2009)

University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman announced today (Oct. 5) that she will lead a multifaceted 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 Sustainability 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, 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 for 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 in 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."