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U-M sustainability report highlights progress in education, research, campus operations

  • Contact Dana Elger, 734-936-5190, dbudzaj@umich.edu

Researchers in a wetland. Image credit: Mandy TreviñoImage credit: Mandy TreviñoANN ARBOR—The University of Michigan is showing a positive impact on sustainability both locally and globally as highlighted in the university's online sustainability report released this week.

In Detroit, students from the U-M School of Natural Resources and Environment produced the city's first-ever, comprehensive greenhouse gas inventory, providing city officials with valuable information for climate action planning.

Faculty continued work under a $3 million Third Century Initiative Global Challenges grant from the university, exploring solutions to problems involving access to clean water, reliable energy and fresh food in both developing and developed countries.

Back on campus, Grounds Services crews were able to reduce use of land management chemicals by 54 percent, the lowest since 2006, while continued conservation efforts by Energy Management resulted in an 8 percent overall reduction in energy consumption in 137 buildings. In addition, U-M President Mark Schlissel joined the ever-growing community of Planet Blue Ambassadors—more than 1,700 strong—in their commitment to living more sustainably.

The 2014 Sustainability Progress Report is packed with additional stories, images and videos that further highlight the university's sustainability accomplishments in the areas of education, research and campus engagement and operations.

"This work is vital to leaving future generations an environment that has the same potential to support life and economic activity as the one we inherited," Schlissel said.

Other sustainability highlights include:

  • Introduction of a new minor on sustainable food systems through the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.
  • Launch of a $1.6 million federally funded, nationwide study by researchers at the National Center for Geospatial Medicine, based at the School of Natural Resources and Environment, exploring potential social and environmental links to autism.
  • Faculty work under MCubed to understand the emergence of locally owned food businesses in Detroit, as well as their connection to urban farming activities, city revitalization and community wellness.
  • Creation of "Mcity," a 32-acre, mini-city located on North Campus designed for testing connected and automated vehicle systems and other emerging 21st-century smart city technologies.
  • Avoidance of an estimated $1.5 million in energy costs as a result of sustainable practices in 800 laboratories, equivalent to the amount of energy needed to power 800 U.S. homes for a year.

Using environmental metrics, the university tracks the impact of its operations and measures progress toward long-range goals focused on climate, waste prevention, healthy environments and community awareness.

Although the university has experienced success toward meeting its goals, it also has seen challenges, said Andy Berki, manager of the Office of Campus Sustainability.

"The university is taking a closer look at its current efforts in areas that have been slow to see progress, including greenhouse gas reduction, waste reduction and campus culture," he said. "Working groups of faculty, staff and students are meeting monthly to evaluate existing efforts, with recommendations for new actions and approaches expected by the end of this academic year."

Operations data in the report shows the following movement toward the 2025 sustainability goals:

Goal: Cut U-M greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent.
Status: Emission levels have increased; 28 percent decrease needed.

Goal: Decrease vehicle carbon output on passenger trips by 30 percent.
Status: On track. Reduced vehicle carbon output by 13.5 percent.

Goal: Shrink the amount of waste sent to landfills by 40 percent.
Status: Waste levels decreased; 35 percent decrease currently needed.

Goal: Protect the Huron River through stormwater-control strategies and apply 40 percent less chemicals to campus landscapes.
Status: Completed. Reduced chemical application by 54 percent.

Goal: Purchase 20 percent of U-M food from local and sustainable sources.
Status: On track. Currently purchasing 12.2 percent of U-M food from local and sustainable sources.

In 2014, the university eliminated the inclusion of soda beverages and bottled water from its Sustainable Food Purchasing Guidelines, resulting in a drop in progress toward the sustainable food purchase goal. The new guidelines align more closely with those established by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education's Sustainability Tracking Assessment and Rating System and used by peer institutions.

 

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