Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Monday, November 1, 2010

U-M sustainability program moves to office environment

As the university’s sustainability initiative continues momentum across campus, the latest focus is the office environment, where a newly launched program is aimed at “greening” the workplace.


The Office of Campus Sustainability last week unveiled the Sustainable Office Program, which will be piloted through Business & Finance. A voluntary program, B&F department managers are asked to encourage sustainable behavior with a focus on such areas as energy, water use, a review of printer and copier usage, office and cleaning supplies, waste reduction, and other areas such as holding “green” meetings and including sustainable information in orientation materials for new employees.

“This program is a great opportunity for all campus employees, starting in Business and Finance, to make an impact on the sustainability practices here at U of M,” says Terry Alexander, executive director for the Office of Campus Sustainability. “Each action that someone takes, no matter how small, has a positive impact on our environment.”

During the course of developing the Sustainable Office Program, stories began to surface of employees already taking action in their departments to make the workplace more sustainable. From turning off lights to eliminating the purchase of bottled water, Alexander says he was pleased that positive things already were happening with sustainable workplace practices.

Gina Flowers, a senior secretary in the Facilities & Maintenance work control group, has earned the nickname “The Light Hawk” from her supervisor for her diligence in turning off lights in work spaces — offices, conference rooms and other areas — when the areas are not occupied. Flowers says it might seem like a small thing, but she sees her actions as having an important and lasting impact.

“I turn the lights off, because I feel like it is a waste of electricity,” Flowers says. “I grew up poor and my mother was always looking for ways to cut costs. I now try to get my kids to remember to turn the lights off at home.”

Considering the university spent $111 million on utilities this past year, acts like those taken by Flowers can add up quickly, Alexander says.

“We’ve seen how the Planet Blue Operations program has resulted in utility and energy costs avoidance,” Alexander says, citing the $3.1 million in cost avoidance to date through the program. “If every employee makes a conscious effort to turn off their lights, power down their computers and just pay attention to things like this, the impact will be significant.”

Alexander also notes that several units and departments other than B&F have expressed a strong interest in this program. To learn more about the Sustainable Office Program and ideas for participation, go to