Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Friday, January 29, 2010

University community learns about assessment to set sustainability goals

Faculty, students and staff at a town hall meeting Thursday gave the Campus Sustainability Integrated Assessment (IA) a thumbs-up as they learned about the comprehensive analysis that will lay the groundwork for specific sustainability goals.

The turnout, which filled the Michigan League Ballroom, thrilled organizers, who hope the process will serve as a model to others.

Faculty, staff and students filled the Michigan League Ballroom on Thursday for a town hall meeting about the Campus Sustainability Integrated Assessment. (Photo by Lisa Pappas, Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute)

“The most significant thing about today is over 300 people showed up, and the fact that Phil (Hanlon, vice provost for academic and budgetary affairs,) and Tim (Slottow, chief financial officer,) are here shows the university is really serious about this,” said Don Scavia, special counsel to the president on sustainability and director of the Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute.

“I find it not just positive; I find it invigorating,” said Terry Alexander, executive director of the Office of Campus Sustainability.

“It’s important that our own campus operations have as little impact on the environment as possible,” Hanlon said, adding that this effort to review that impact is particularly significant, because all components related to sustainability will be considered at once — an approach that takes into account the complexity of the issue..

“We start the IA at a position of great strength,” Slottow said, citing the university’s longstanding efforts for sustainability. He noted that the project is occurring at a unique time, during a deep recession. “We think there will be a significant benefit in the long term.”

Julia Koslow, a graduate student in the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise, asks a question at Thursday's town hall meeting. (Photo by Lisa Pappas, Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute)

Attendees also heard explanations from faculty heading analysis teams that will address specific topics such as energy, land use and human behavior. They also took comments from students and the public.

“Will there be a process to assess off-campus housing sustainability issues?” asked Scott Landers, a Miami, Fla., sophomore. Organizers said this would be part of the IA.

Jennifer Green, senior associate librarian, suggested it would be useful for collected data to be publicly available. Scavia said it would be.

All stakeholders — students, faculty, staff and alumni — are encouraged to contribute ideas at www.graham.umich.edu/forms/CSIAIdea.php. The recently formed Sustainability Executive Council, chaired by President Mary Sue Coleman, approved the IA as one of its first major initiatives to give the university the knowledge needed as a basis for decision-making.

Slottow noted that the yearlong, comprehensive study is intended to produce four or five goals that are easy to measure and easy to communicate. Scavia noted the magnitude of the exercise is similar to that of a small city — covering more than 80,000 faculty, students and staff, 580 buildings and 3,000 acres of land.

Alexander said the analysis teams are beginning to meet and in coming weeks will start determining what information to gather and setting benchmarks, among other activities. The teams will collect and evaluate data and produce comprehensive reports for seven selected areas, including energy, building construction, transportation alternatives, land and water, food, purchased goods and the culture of sustainability. Faculty members with relevant expertise lead the analysis teams, which will be staffed by four to six students per team — more than 115 students applied to participate, organizers said.

An Integration Team will manage the process and a Steering Committee drawn from large campus units will serve as advisers. Preliminary reports due at the end of the Winter Semester will set the stage for additional analysis and more specific recommendations in early 2011.