Student groups spur progress toward U‑M sustainability


As the University of Michigan continues to work toward carbon neutrality across all campuses and units, three student-led organizations have released annual reports that collectively detail a broad effort toward a universitywide culture of sustainability.

The reports from the Sustainable Food Program, Student Sustainability Coalition and Planet Blue Student Leaders showcase initiatives from the past year that have helped the campus community engage in more sustainable behaviors and learn more about relevant efforts on and off campus.

“We couldn’t be more pleased with the role that U-M students have taken in advancing sustainability, carbon neutrality and social justice,” said Alex Bryan, sustainability programs manager for Student Life.

“As these are urgent and important issues — at U-M and around the world — our community has shown great interest in taking meaningful and just climate action. And in no surprise, our students are helping to lead the effort. Over the last year, these groups have facilitated programs that led to more than 3,200 peer-to-peer interactive engagements.”

U-M Sustainable Food Program

The U-M Sustainable Food Program is a student-led initiative that aims to build just and resilient campus food systems. This includes helping scale the Campus Farm and expanding the Maize and Blue Cupboard.

The UMSFP 2021-22 academic year report notes a number of successful programs, events, collaborations and working groups, including:

  • Selling 2,600 pounds of produce during the academic year to 784 unique customers (84% of whom were students) at the Farm Stand.
  • Convening events, through its “Mini-Grants for Food Justice,” where participants explored food sovereignty as it relates to labor organizing in communities of color, and government-run food assistance programs from a feminist perspective.
  • Reaching 1,300 subscribers for the UMSFP newsletter.
Photo of three students in front of the Farm Stand.
From left, Morgan Anderson, Emma McKillip and Emily Freeland set up the Farm Stand, which sold 2,600 pounds of produce during the 2021-22 academic year. (Photo by Clara Gamalski)

Student Sustainability Coalition

The Student Sustainability Coalition report for the 2021-22 academic year details the organization’s work fostering collaborations and empowering student-led environmental work at U-M.

The SSC, which the Graham Sustainability Institute and Student Life co-facilitate, seeks to connect students and student groups to catalyze university sustainability efforts. The organization communicates with the campus community via a weekly newsletter, dedicated social media accounts, summits and informal coffee chats.

The SSC report puts forward several ideas for fostering a culture of sustainability throughout U-M. In the year ahead, SSC aims to address a “knowledge gap between students and U-M administration” around relevant campus efforts, expand offerings like Earthfest that are programmed towards students, and work to center diversity, equity, inclusion and justice within sustainability initiatives.

The report also highlights the Planet Blue Student Innovation Fund, which funds student-led and initiated work that both reduces the university’s carbon footprint and helps foster sustainable values on campus.

SSC funded four PBSIF projects over the last year, including an energy-efficient cold-storage system that uses winter air for cooling, a bicycle repair station, canopy covers and light switch stickers that encourage energy conservation.

Planet Blue Student Leaders

The Planet Blue Student Leaders program focuses on peer-to-peer engagement and culture change, with focus on early undergraduates as well as those who are less familiar with U-M carbon neutrality work or sustainability generally.

During the 2021-22 academic year:

  • Student Life employed 16 undergraduate students as PBSLs, who serve as peer educators who implement yearlong behavior change campaigns.
  • PBSLs partnered with 11 U-M units to reach more than 600 students in dedicated, hands-on sustainability education.
  • PBSLs covered a range of topics through their outreach, including laundry conservation behaviors, efficient food storage, sustainable recreation in Ann Arbor and local perspectives on environmental justice.
  • The program published 10 podcasts related to campus sustainability topics.

Additional efforts

During the last year, U-M student programs granted $56,000 to 12 student-led projects that prioritized equity and sustainability. Also, 281 graduating seniors earned Excellence in Sustainability Honors Cords, in recognition of their involvement in climate action and dedication to the environment. Cords were produced locally by U-M students and with sustainable wool and dye from plants from Matthaei Botanical Gardens.

U-M continues to make strides toward net-zero emissions. Recent actions include joining the U.S. Department of Energy Better Climate Challenge, planning geothermal exchange heating and cooling systems, announcing $300 million in “green bonds” for capital projects aligned with U-M sustainability goals, launching a public dashboard tracking U-M emissions reduction efforts, and financing LED and energy conservation projects.


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