The University Record, February 12, 2001

U-M programs pursue goal of environmental sustainability

By Nancy L. Kuharevicz

Recycling, purchase of ‘green’ products and efforts such as ‘Green Lights’ are among the University’s initiatives to promote sustainability, according to Terry Alexander. Photo by Bill Wood, U-M Photo Services
The University is working on several fronts to improve its stewardship of the environment and would like to get the campus community more involved in its efforts, according to Terry Alexander, director of Occupational Safety and Environmental Health (OSEH) and interim director, Facilities Planning & Development (FP&D).

While true sustainability—defined by Alexander as zero burden on the environment—would be tough for a sprawling entity such as the University to achieve, there are ways to minimize U-M operations’ impact on the Earth and its resources. “Our ultimate goal is to make the University as environmentally neutral as possible while meeting academic, research and operational needs, to the point where we minimize our impact on the environment and natural resources,” Alexander says.

University sustainability programs include energy conservation measures and use of renewable resources; initiatives to reduce waste, prevent pollution and recycle; the purchase of “green” products; and the design and construction of buildings with an eye toward energy conservation, recycling and pollution prevention.

Efforts to save energy are concentrated mainly in Plant Operations but rely heavily on University faculty, staff and students for success, Alexander said. One program, Green Lights, is replacing old lights in campus buildings with more energy-efficient ones and recycling 90,000 pounds of lighting equipment every year. Among the reclaimed materials, Alexander says, are 11 pounds of mercury from 140,000 light tubes and 140,000 light bulbs.

The campus Energy Star program involves conserving energy in building systems other than lighting. Buildings are being retrofitted with such energy-saving features as added insulation, occupancy sensors that reduce energy use when structures are empty and lab fume hoods with more efficient motors, Alexander says.

The University has completed Green Lights and Energy Star upgrades in 32 percent of campus facilities, Alexander notes. Under the programs, the University is saving 25 million kilowatt-hours (kwh) of electricity annually, enough to power about 1,600 average-size homes. U-M uses about 333 million kwh per year.

The campus transportation system reflects the University’s commitment to renewable energy sources. The U-M currently has 129 vehicles that use cleaner-burning, corn-derived ethanol—the largest fleet of its type in the state—and plans to have 240 by the end of the year. There also are six electric Ford Rangers, and the bus fleet uses soy-based biodiesel fuel.

In addition, the University’s contract for purchasing energy requires buying more than 5 percent from renewable sources, exceeding the 3 percent requirement in the city of Ann Arbor’s franchise agreement.

“We’re constantly looking for new ideas in this area and incorporate them as they become technically feasible,” Alexander says.

About 30 percent of the University’s waste stream is recycled, according to Alexander. Recycling donation stations are set up in the residence halls during student move-out in the spring. Last year, 12,000 pounds of clothing, dry goods and household items were collected and sent to local service organizations. In Michigan Stadium, 12 tons of containers and 10 tons of paper were collected.

The University also collaborates with and is a substantial contributor to Ann Arbor’s Materials Recovery Facility, Alexander says.

One pollution-prevention initiative involves working with University researchers to cut the amount of chemicals used in campus labs. The U-M also has established a program to redistribute chemicals used in research. A list of available chemicals can be accessed by following links from the green “Environmental Stewardship” button at the OSEH Web site,

Since 1995, the U-M has substantially reduced the amount of salt it uses to clear sidewalks of snow and ice. This has been accomplished by increasing use of a salt substitute that is a byproduct of corn processing; converting applicators to dispense a brine solution, which works faster than crystals; calibrating equipment to get the most optimal spread; and monitoring the weather to try to get salt on the pavement just before storms hit, when it works more effectively.

“We’re trying to find a balance between the snow and ice removal that is necessary for risk management—getting it removed as soon as possible—and cutting down on corrosion to buildings,” Alexander explains.

In purchasing, the University seeks out environmentally friendly products such as recycled and chlorine-free paper and recycled toner cartridges.

The U-M’s sustainability efforts also extend to campus building design and construction projects, Alexander says. The Dana Building renovation project, for example, used an architect who specializes in environmentally friendly design and certified wood products from producers who replant trees. Crews also collected old materials from the building for reuse.

Several campus sites include storm water retention basins or ponds, among them the parking structure at the Palmer Drive project, the Tennis Center and Matthaei Botanical Gardens, Alexander says. These reduce flooding and run-off into the watershed of the Huron River, which is Ann Arbor’s water supply.

Challenges for the future, he said, include building on initiatives already in place, continuing to use pilot programs to test new programs, increasing the University community’s participation and integrating sustainability into the U-M decision-making process. “Collaboration and participation are the key,” Alexander says.

For more information on the University’s environmental sustainability initiatives, visit the Web at and click on the green “Environmental Stewardship” button.