Sustainability efforts by the University of Michigan in 2017 have resulted in significant progress toward the university’s 2025 campus sustainability goals, including achieving its goal to reduce chemical applications, which protects the Huron River, while moving the university closer in areas slower to make progress.
“The success of Planet Blue would not be possible without a universitywide commitment to ensuring that future generations will inherit a sustainable and verdant planet,” says President Mark Schlissel.
The U-M Sustainability Progress Report released Tuesday provides an update on progress toward the university’s six goals in the areas of climate action, waste prevention, healthy environments and community engagement.U-M surpassed its goal to reduce chemical applications to campus landscapes by 40 percent — reducing applications in 2017 by 43 percent — largely by switching to the use of organic fertilizer rather than synthetic fertilizers by Grounds Services. There also are campuswide efforts to expand naturalized areas, such as prairie and woodlots, which require fewer land management chemicals and are better suited to handle stormwater.
Organic fertilizers comprise an estimated 75 percent of the fertilizer used by Grounds Services, and 20 percent of the fertilizer used by Radrick Farms and the U-M Golf Courses. Grounds Services also is piloting low-impact broadleaf weed control on approximately 25 percent of campus.
Other areas seeing significant progress include increasing sustainable food purchases and reducing vehicle carbon output per passenger trips by 30 percent below 2006 levels.
Operations data in the report show the following movement toward the 2025 sustainability goals:
Goal: Cut U-M greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent.
Status: Reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 5 percent.
Goal: Decrease vehicle carbon output on passenger trips by 30 percent.
Status: Reduced vehicle carbon output by 15 percent.
Goal: Shrink the amount of waste sent to landfills by 40 percent.
Status: Reduced waste levels by 3 percent.
Goal: Protect the Huron River through stormwater-control strategies and apply 40 percent less chemicals to campus landscapes.
Status: Achieved. Reduced chemical application by 40 percent.
Goal: Purchase 20 percent of U-M food from local and sustainable sources.
Status: Currently purchasing 14 percent of U-M food from local and sustainable sources.
Highlights of goal progress in 2017 include:
• Approval of the addition of a new combustion turbine at U-M’s Central Power Plant, which is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 100,000 tons per year; halfway toward the university’s goal.
• Launch of a pilot kitchen composting program in the Fleming Administration Building, which collects an average 91 pounds of compost per week.
• Diversion of 2,000 pounds of waste from the landfill during the zero-waste MStaff200 celebration attended by more than 10,000 guests.
• Reaching a 34 percent waste-diversion rate, recycling more than 5,200 tons and composting nearly 1,400 tons, through composting, recycling and waste-reduction efforts across campus.
• Achieving the industry standard of a 90-percent diversion rate during Michigan Athletics’ first season of zero-waste game days at Michigan Stadium during the Rutgers game.
• Launch of Blue Wrap Recycling Program, a pilot program in the Children’s and Women’s Hospitals with a goal of reducing hospital landfill waste by recycling unique medical plastics.
“I appreciate our many partners who support our sustainability efforts and applaud our Planet Blue Ambassadors, and all those who lead and participate in Planet Blue initiatives across our university,” Schlissel says.
U-M continues to make strides in sustainability education and research both on campus and beyond.
The new School for Environment and Sustainability provides leadership and works collaboratively with other U-M schools, institutes and programs to develop solutions to society’s most challenging global sustainability issues. Jonathan Overpeck, one of the nation’s leading experts on climate change, was appointed the inaugural dean.
Twenty-two U-M undergraduates used ancient building techniques to create the first off-the-grid straw-bale structure, located on a hilltop overlooking Douglas Lake at the U-M Biological Station in northern Michigan.
Across the globe, the U-M Solar Car Team took a historic second place in an innovative, bullet-shaped car that raced the 1,800 mile course in the Australian Outback, marking their most successful finish in team history at the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge.
A variety of grants allow U-M researchers to conduct studies in areas including the Great Lakes, Mcity and driverless cars, parasite species, aging stormwater systems, renewable energy sources and more.
And extension of the Dow Sustainability Fellows program through 2020 will continue to enable fellows to develop sustainable solutions for food systems, cities, infrastructure, mobility, consumption and energy systems from Michigan to Sub-Saharan Africa.
To date, the program has supported 271 fellows from 17 of U-M’s 19 schools and colleges, and fostered interdisciplinary collaboration among students on sustainability projects through the Dow Distinguished Awards for Interdisciplinary Sustainability.
On campus, the U-M Campus Farm began providing food to be served to the campus community at the Michigan Dining halls and residential cafes. Established in 2012, this student-led project serves as the central hub of hands-on activity related to the production of sustainable food. Food is grown by, harvested by, prepared for and consumed by students.
New hires at the university to support sustainable food and engage the community include a new Campus Farm manager and a U-M Sustainable Food Systems program specialist.
The initiative to foster a healthier planet supports the university’s broader commitment to sustainability, known as Planet Blue.