Sustainability efforts progressing across the university


From education and research to campus operations, the University of Michigan is taking great strides to create new opportunities to engage the community in sustainability.  

Beginning in fall 2017, game days at Michigan Stadium will be zero-waste events. Also in the works is the creation of a new type of school that will address global sustainability challenges at the intersection of environment and society through research, teaching and civic engagement.

President Mark Schlissel shared a brief update on U-M sustainability at his annual Leadership Breakfast on Wednesday.

“U-M has an array of programs and a large number of talented faculty in many different units across the institution that engage in research and education around the areas of environment and sustainability. Stronger integration amongst them would facilitate more collaborations and greatly increase our impact,” Schlissel said.

“A new structure for our efforts will magnify the impact of our breadth and quality in this area — and make U-M a ‘go-to’ university for research and education in the environment and sustainability.”

The recommendation for a new school followed external and internal faculty assessments of the university’s academic programs in environment and sustainability, including the School of Natural Resources and Environment, the Graham Sustainability Institute and the Program in the Environment within LSA.

The new school will replace SNRE by building on its strengths while expanding its mission and the quality of its partnerships with other schools and programs at U-M.

It will be formally named later this fall, and a search for its dean has begun.

New this fall, faculty can apply for two funding opportunities through the Graham Sustainability Institute’s new Emerging Opportunities Program. The program includes competitive funding opportunities for interdisciplinary faculty teams to launch new efforts through small grants, as well as up to $150,000 per year to support complex and collaborative sustainability research and assessment activities that span multiple disciplines and sectors.

Also new this year, approximately 70 students are experiencing a new living-learning community focused on various aspects of sustainability, climate justice and environmental justice. The Sustainable Living Experience, located in Oxford’s West Seeley Hall, was created to enhance the culture of sustainability on campus through hands-on learning opportunities. It is administered through the Program in the Environment in LSA.

Last fall, a number of campus projects garnered new support — following recommendations by committees of faculty, staff and students — to advance progress toward the university’s 2025 sustainability goals in the areas of waste reduction, greenhouse gas reduction and campus sustainability culture.

“As our campus continues to grow in size and community, we consistently look for ways to reduce our impact on the environment in support of our long term sustainability goals,” said Andy Berki, director of the Office of Campus Sustainability.

“We’re taking a strategic approach by using faculty expertise in the areas of energy, behavior change, waste reduction, engineering and other disciplines working along side operations staff to assist in shaping campus sustainability efforts on campus.”

The projects include standardizing recycling bin signage across campus, renewable energy demonstration projects, expansion of zero-waste events, and enhancing the university’s sustainability behavior programs.

They support the university’s broader commitment to sustainability in research, education and campus operations, known as Planet Blue.

Zero waste Michigan Stadium

The athletic department is making significant changes to convert Michigan Stadium to a zero-waste facility by the 2017 season. Zero waste is an aspirational goal of diverting at least 90 percent of waste from the landfill by recycling and composting.

The effort builds on the more than 20-year history of recycling game day waste at Michigan Stadium and aims to reduce waste sent to the landfill while increasing awareness of U-M’s sustainability culture.

As part of a phased approach, Michigan Stadium and its partners, Sodexo and Green Safe Products, are sourcing and using compostable products and packaging for food service items during the 2016 football season.

Stadium operations staff also is developing strategies to improve the waste separation process during post-game cleanup efforts and will conduct a waste sort this season.

Updated bin signage will be added prior to the 2017 season when composting is fully implemented.

Consistent bins and signage

The Office of Campus Sustainability is working across campus to standardize recycling and waste bins to ease the practice of recycling and composting.

The effort is focused on creating behavior change to support an overall culture of sustainability and is spearheaded by a committee co-chaired by Stephanie Preston, associate professor of psychology in LSA.

The team is targeting high-traffic, heavily populated buildings to roll out new bins and signs this fall, with more to come later this academic year.  The goal is to complete the first phase of the project in approximately 60 buildings and place 20 outdoor bins by July 2017.

Renewable Energy Demonstration Project

The Planet Blue Renewable Energy Demonstration Project is a campuswide, competition-based program that provides interactive learning and research opportunities for the community.

Students, faculty, and staff can apply for up to $250,000 to design and implement renewable energy demonstration projects on campus focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The deadline for proposals is Dec. 13. Learn more about the demonstration project.

Zero-waste event expansion

According to on-campus studies, approximately 35 percent of campus waste being sent to landfills is compostable material, much of which originates from university meetings and events.

The Office of Campus Sustainability’s Zero Waste Program provides community members the opportunity to make their events zero waste by diverting as much waste as possible from the landfill. The program includes composting service and assistance in event planning, and supports the university’s goal of reducing waste being sent to the landfill by 40 percent. 

For more information on U-M sustainability, visit the Planet Blue website at:



  1. Tom Wagner
    on October 7, 2016 at 8:52 pm

    It’s too bad the Administration has to destroy a perfectly good little school (SNR&E) to achieve its grandiose dreams of an umbrella for all sustainability activities on this campus.

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