Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Coleman discusses the university's global role in sustainability

"Meaningful and measurable" is how President Mary Sue Coleman described U-M's commitments and approach to sustainability.

The comments Tuesday were part of "Exploring Sustainability on Planet Blue," a monthly discussion with thought leaders sponsored by the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise and the Graham Sustainability Institute.


Don Scavia, director of the Graham Sustainability Institute and special counsel to the president on sustainability, interviews President Mary Sue Coleman. (Photo by Austin Thomason, Michigan Photography)


Other upcoming speakers this year as part of "Exploring Sustainability on Planet Blue":

Oct. 29
Steve Skerlos, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Mechanical Engineering with an additional appointment in civil and environmental engineering — A conversation exploring how we can improve the welfare of society and the planet through appropriate design and implementation of technology.

Nov. 19
Jane Dutton, Robert L. Kahn Distinguished University Professor of Business Administration and Psychology — A conversation exploring how positive organizational scholarship can energize and transform organizations to help foster sustainability.

Coleman noted the establishment of stretch goals — borne out of the institution's integrated assessment — as one example of the university's focus on meaningful commitments.

She also remarked on the breadth of faculty expertise — and the "low barrier" to collaboration — as essential strengths of the institution.

Don Scavia, director of the Graham Institute and special counsel to the president on sustainability, conducted the wide-ranging interview as Coleman reflected on her recent trip to Brazil, her evolving views after 10 years as a university president, and the role that universities can and should play in sustainability.

While Coleman has traveled globally during her tenure, it was in Brazil where she found the most significant interest in sustainability.

"The Brazilian government has done some things from a policy perspective that I find unique," she noted. "(Sustainability) is much more on the agenda. When I looked at countries that are doing exciting things, Brazil really stood out."

U-M scientists and scholars led by Coleman visited Brazil in September to strengthen research and academic collaboration with several leading universities and foundations.

Coleman said U-M and Brazilian colleagues are interested in a bilateral partnership, and she is hopeful of future collaborations.

"When we talked with scholars there they were massively interested in what we did in our integrated assessment," Coleman said. "And I think they saw in us an expertise that the university has that's deep and rich."

During the discussion with Scavia, Coleman discussed the broad research and patient-care mission of the university, noting the critical balancing act that is required when considering the need to meet those ever-expanding goals while working to model sustainable behavior as a campus. Building the new children's and women's hospital as a LEED-certified facility is one example of success in achieving that balance, she said.

Coleman credited students with an important role in challenging behaviors on campus and encouraging the university to expand academic programs, while donors continue to help the institution realize its goals. The university's new Dow Fellowship program was cited and will fund interdisciplinary sustainability research for 300 student scholars.

Reflecting on the last 10 years as president, Coleman acknowledged that having grandchildren certainly made her think about the future and the kind of world she wants for them.

When describing Planet Blue, the university's sustainability initiative, Coleman said, "We've all been better educated about what's possible." She said the university has a responsibility to show that it can lead the way even when it's growing. "We'll do a better job, because we must."