The University of Michigan’s efforts to foster a healthier planet under the Planet Blue initiative are highlighted in the 2015 Sustainability Progress Report released Wednesday.
The report features campuswide sustainability achievements in the areas of education, research and campus engagement and operations. It also reports progress toward the university’s campus sustainability goals in the areas of climate, waste prevention, healthy environments, and community awareness and engagement.
“Like the very best qualities of the University of Michigan, our work in sustainability is more than the sum of our many excellent parts,” says President Mark Schlissel.
“It involves impartial and impactful cross-disciplinary research, educational programs in all 19 of our schools and colleges and campus initiatives that leverage the power and commitment of our 80,000-member community.”
On North Campus, two new research facilities opened their doors to U-M researchers and external partners in 2015: MCity, the world’s first controlled environment specifically designed to test connected and automated vehicle technologies, and the Battery Fabrication and Characterization User Facility designed for developing cheaper and longer lasting energy-storage devices.
The university also awarded $2 million under its Third Century Initiative to support two multiyear projects designed to enrich the U-M student educational experience related to sustainability: Michigan Sustainability Cases and the Biological Station Initiative.
Those projects are in addition to the 640 courses and nearly 60 degrees and programs U-M offers that relate to sustainability.
Using environmental metrics, the university tracks the impact of its operations and measures progress toward long-range goals focused on climate, waste prevention, healthy environments and community awareness.
Last year, Schlissel charged committees of students, faculty and staff to review progress toward sustainability goals, and to recommend new ideas to accelerate progress in the areas that were slow to make progress: waste reduction, greenhouse gas reduction and campus sustainability culture. The recent investment of $100 million is being applied to implement some of the committee recommendations.
Among the efforts being funded are expansion of the food waste composting program; extension of the university’s energy conservation program to include the U-M Health System, athletics and student housing facilities; and enhancement of sustainability behavior change and engagement programs.
The project with the greatest anticipated impact on the reduction of greenhouse gases is the proposed installation of additional gas turbine capabilities at the Central Power Plant.
First constructed in 1915, the Central Power Plant was converted to operate more efficiently by shifting from burning coal to natural gas in the 1960s. The change to a cogeneration plant increased the Central Power Plant’s efficiency to 70-80 percent.
The project will require Board of Regents approval to increase the capacity of the plant to generate electricity and heat at a more efficient rate, and reduce the university’s greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent.
Other 2015 sustainability highlights include:
• A Gold STARS rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, an improvement from the previous rating of Silver.
• $60 million in funding for sustainability-related research in the areas of water, climate and communities.
• More than 800 sustainability-related faculty conducting research in U-M’s 19 schools and colleges.
• More than 20,000 sustainability pledges made by more than 2,400 Planet Blue Ambassadors comprising of students, faculty and staff.