U-M wins competitions for waste and energy reduction


The University of Michigan has been recognized for its sustainability impact in two separate contests: the Campus Race to Zero Waste and the Michigan Battle of the Buildings.

U-M’s Ann Arbor and Dearborn campuses received top honors in the Campus Race to Zero Waste, wherein 150 colleges and universities across the United States and Canada seek to curtail waste production.

The Ann Arbor campus won first place in the Zero Waste category among large campuses. To participate, schools implement various tactics to reduce waste during eight weeks in February and March.

With strong recycling and composting programs as a baseline, the Office of Campus Sustainability emphasized reuse efforts this year, including:

  • Holding Lab Swap Days that found new homes for nearly 900 pounds of lab equipment, chemicals and materials, and saved researchers more than $50,000.
  • Encouraging staff kitchens to switch to reusable dishware through the “Ditch the Disposables” campaign.
  • Supporting more than 200 zero-waste events, reaching more than 25,000 attendees, during the winter semester by helping organizers compost, use reusable dishes and decorations, minimize packaging and more.

UM-Dearborn earned first place in one of the Green Events categories. The “Words, Water, and Justice: Exploring the Flint Water Crisis Through Story-telling” event, a collaboration with UM-Flint, achieved a 100% waste-diversion rate.

Noteworthy sustainable practices included:

  • Coordinating with the caterer, Picasso Restaurant Services, to avoid single-use plastics.
  • Donating suitable leftover food.
  • Creating waste stations with recycling, composting and landfill bins and signage for where to place items.
  • Promoting zero-waste features of the event in advance — by encouraging attendees to bring reusable water bottles — and during the event to increase awareness.
A photo of two women weighing a bag
Grace Maves (left), UM-Dearborn sustainability coordinator, and Bridget Lawson, sustainable operations intern, weigh compost at a zero-waste event that diverted 100% of waste from landfill. (Photo by Natalie Albrecht)

“The competition pushed us to minimize waste as much as possible,” said Grace Maves, sustainability programs coordinator at UM-Dearborn. “We honed our techniques and, better yet, gave attendees a better understanding of how and why to reduce an event’s environmental impact.”

Alongside the national Campus Race to Zero Waste competition, U-M’s Office of Campus Sustainability runs a challenge among participating facilities on the Ann Arbor campus. This year’s iteration saw each facility compete against its 2023 composting and recycling performance across three categories: greatest waste-reduction rate, greatest waste diversion from landfills through recycling and composting, and most improved diversion rate.

This year’s winners were:

  • Greatest waste reduction — Chemistry Building (34.6% reduction).
  • Highest diversion rate — Henderson House (80.9% diverted from landfill).
  • Most improved diversion rate — Radrick Farms (136.4% improvement).

Energy conservation competition

In the statewide Battle of the Buildings energy reduction challenge, U-M won the University category by reducing energy use at Burton Memorial Tower by 36.9% compared to the previous year.

The tower houses the Baird Carillon, classrooms and faculty offices that are all heated by steam. OCS manages the annual testing of steam traps — valves that regulate steam and condensed steam — as part of U-M’s broader energy conservation initiatives. Fixing failed steam traps results in considerable energy and cost savings.

“We repair and replace steam traps in dozens of buildings every year to save energy,” said Connor Flynn, an OCS regional energy manager. “We are constantly performing energy reduction projects across campus, from lighting upgrades to updated controls, to support our carbon neutrality goals.”


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