Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Innovative sustainability efforts explored at forum

If you want to get people thinking about recycling and sustainability, try dumping truckloads of garbage on a central campus commons, then sorting it for all to see.

Or, if you want people to think about energy consumption, display on a building façade the amount of energy being used, and the cost.

Ryan Smith (with microphone) asks a question during a morning session of the Campus Sustainability forum. Smith is a board member of U-M's Student Sustainability Initiative and on the Culture Team for the Campus Sustainability Integrated Assessment project. (Photo by Lisa Pappas, Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute)

Current innovative practices at universities and companies to boost institutional sustainability — such as U-M’s exploration of trayless dining in East Quad to reduce food waste and water usage — drew attention Monday at a Campus Sustainability Integrated Assessment Public Forum at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business.

The forum was part of an ongoing effort by the Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute and Office of Campus Sustainability to lead an Integrated Assessment of options for a more sustainable U-M.

As those efforts move forward, the forum offered an opportunity to hear from representatives of other institutions about how they’ve addressed comparable challenges.

Neil Hawkins (left), vice president of Sustainability and Environment, Health & Safety at Dow Chemical Co., and Andrew Berki, manager, Office of Campus Sustainability at U-M, discuss sustainability goals during a public forum. (Photo by Lisa Pappas, Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute)

Amy Short, director of sustainability at the University of Minnesota, said the garbage dump and sorting event presented at her campus drew notice to sustainability issues. “When you’re at a big university, you have to do things really big to get attention,” she said.

Short said the public garbage dump event demonstrated that many recyclables still get thrown in with regular trash — and that even bins of material expressly collected as recyclables had been dumped with regular trash. “We made some changes,” she said.

Cindy Shea, Sustainability Office director, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said efforts to meet campus energy reduction goals at UNC include new green roofs and cistern installation to reduce water usage and runoff. To get the campus community to understand the benefit of sustainability efforts, Shea said the energy usage of particular campus buildings was measured. “We translated it into dollars and put it on a screen so people could see what the monthly use of the energy is,” she said.

Shea praised U-M’s Integrated Assessment of Campus Sustainability efforts, particularly the involvement of President Mary Sue Coleman, faculty and student committees.

Lisa Drake, natural resource director, Stonyfield Farm dairy of New Hampshire, said her appearance at the forum via video feed was one way to reduce energy consumption. She said keys to pursuing a successful effort to promote sustainability included ownership of those efforts by staff and communication within an organization.

“You need to set goals or you will never get there,” Drake said, adding innovative thinking was also crucial. She said to promote sustainability, it can be useful to move beyond the notion of “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.”

“Maybe we can break it and make it better,” she said.

Neil Hawkins, vice president of Sustainability and Environment, Health & Safety at Dow Chemical Co., said Dow had achieved significant energy savings through the setting of 10-year goals. He said Dow in 2005 reported savings of more than $5 billion through a $1 billion investment and reduced solid waste by 1.6 billion pounds. Both Hawkins and and UNC’s Shea said boosting insulation in existing buildings achieved significant savings.

Andrew Berki, manager, Office of Campus Sustainability, said the purpose of U-M’s Integrated Assessment was to establish a set of four-to-five stretch goals for campus operational sustainability, partner with U-M community, change culture as appropriate and to identify opportunities to use the U-M campus as a living learning laboratory. “The goals need to be robust enough to create change in how the campus operates,” Berki said.

The Integrated Assessment in June completed Phase I of its work, during which faculty-led groups, called analysis teams, focused on seven topics: Buildings, Energy, Water & Land, Food, Transportation, Purchasing & Recycling, and Culture. The teams researched current operational practices, benchmarked against peers and recommended ideas for the future. Each team prepared a comprehensive report for its area with preliminary ideas for measurable sustainability goals and actions.

Through Phase I, five themes emerged that provide a more cohesive framework for the next phase of the assessment: climate, human health, ecosystems health, materials and community.

After further organizational planning this summer, teams will carry out detailed analyses of sustainability ideas during the fall semester with the focus on how and when specific actions can be implemented. A final report, expected in February, will lay out the long-term goals for campus sustainability that are measurable and actionable.