Student organizations advance university sustainability efforts


Four student organizations recently released annual reports celebrating efforts and cross-campus partnerships toward a more sustainable campus.

Collectively, the U-M Sustainable Food Program, Sustainability Cultural Organizers, Student Sustainability Coalition and Planet Blue Student Leaders aim to advance a universitywide culture of sustainability.

  • Earthfest — Sept. 21, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Central Campus Diag
  • HarvestFest — Sept. 24, 1-4 p.m., Matthaei Botanical Gardens/U-M Campus Farm

“We have dozens of students engaged in co-creating a better campus while building leadership, climate action and community organizing knowledge,” said Alex Bryan, director of Student Life Sustainability.

“Through these experiential learning programs, students are able to develop skills to make change in their community today and in their future communities.”

U-M Sustainable Food Program

UMSFP, which supports students pursuing a just and sustainable food system, works closely with the Campus Farm to provide fresh produce to the U-M community. The group also provides mini-grants to support student-led food justice projects.

Fourteen students from the organization are helping to increase access to local food at the university. UMSFP collaborated with Joseph Trumpey, associate professor of art, of natural resources, and of Program in the Environment, and a course on community-partnered design to design a mobile Farm Stand trailer that students will build this fall to expand access to locally sourced sustainable produce.

During the 2022-23 academic year:

  • UMSFP conducted its fourth annual “Rooting for Change: Student Food Summit,” engaging more than 250 attendees over three days. Performers, panelists and “learnshops” challenged attendees to view food through a social justice lens.
  • UMSFP and the Farm Stand distributed more than $6,000 from their sales to 10 student organizations working on food justice projects.
  • The Farm Stand donated more than 1,100 pounds of surplus produce to the Maize and Blue Cupboard, which ensures that the U-M community has equitable access to nutritious food and essential cooking utensils.

Sustainability Cultural Organizers

Through collaborative multimedia events, the Sustainability Cultural Organizing program uses the influence of art, music and storytelling to envision a more just and sustainable community.

Program organizers partnered with the Center for Campus Involvement to host a visual art exhibition in February titled “The Future is with Our People.” The event brought together art and performances from students that showcase how environmental solutions often lie within people, community and culture.

During the 2022-23 academic year:

  • Programs and events engaged 1,400 students.
  • Program organizers helped eight student organizations make their own sustainable merchandise by providing no-cost graphic design and screen-printing supplies.
  • In partnership with UMSFP, program organizers arranged live music, community art and screenprinting demonstrations on thrifted textiles at HarvestFest.

Student Sustainability Coalition

SSC aims to bring various student organizations together to bridge gaps between student organizations and the university to advance a campuswide culture of sustainability.

SSC collaborated with Michaela Zint, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, and professor of environment and sustainability, and of Program in the Environment, and her course on advancing climate education in higher ed, to support an annual Provost’s Seminar on Teaching focused on climate education.

During the 2022-23 academic year:

  • The Social and Environmental Sustainability Grant, managed by SSC, funded nine projects totaling $10,280, including a freezer for the Food Recovery Network to use in donating excess food from South Quad.
  • SSC managed the Planet Blue Student Innovation Fund, which awarded $98,000 in grants to five on-campus projects designed to reduce U-M’s environmental impact.
  • SSC sent 26 newsletters, covering sustainability events on campus and volunteer opportunities, to more than 2,200 subscribers.

Planet Blue Student Leaders

PBSLs work part-time as peer educators to encourage sustainable behaviors through workshops and discussions for U-M students.

Collaborating with the Center for Campus Involvement, PBSLs initiated a resource library aiming to decrease the amount of materials, like HDMI cords and speakers, purchased by student organizations each year. This method of borrowing and reusing materials contributes to a decrease in landfill waste.

During the 2022-23 academic year:

  • PBSLs engaged students on accessible upcycling techniques to prolong the life of clothes and reduce overconsumption.
  • PBSLs hosted pickling workshops and provided more than 70 free pickling kits, recipes and instructions to help students learn sustainable food preservation habits.
  • WCBN, U-M’s student-run radio station, hosted the PBSL Podcast for an episode about eco-feminism.

“All of these initiatives are the result of the interests, perspectives and creativity of the students who participate in them,” said Student Life Sustainability Program Manager Clara Gamalski.

“When students have time and resources to connect with their peers to solve big problems, they are able to respond directly to the needs of their community to do incredible and sustainable things.”


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