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Sustainability at U-M Highlights of Planet Blue Efforts across Campus

Land Acknowledgement

The University of Michigan is located on the traditional territory of the Anishinaabe people. In 1817, the Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi Nations made the largest single gift to the early university, when they ceded land through the Treaty at the Foot of the Rapids so that their children could be educated. Through these words of acknowledgment, their contributions to the university are renewed and reaffirmed.

2025 Campus Sustainability Goals

Back in 2011, emerita U-M President Mary Sue Coleman established our 2025 Campus Sustainability Goals. This visual tour highlights the sustainability initiatives on campus enabling us to make progress towards these goals. More recently in winter term 2021, U-M President Mark Schlissel furthered these commitments by setting a goal of making all three university campuses—Ann Arbor, Dearborn, and Flint—carbon neutral by 2040. It's a tall order and an exciting time to be on campus!

Sustainable Food

Growing Food on Campus

The U-M Campus Farm at Matthaei Botanical Gardens took root back in 2012. Students in the School for Environment and Sustainability and the U-M Sustainable Food Program worked with staff and faculty members to make the farm a reality. The student-run Farm provides leadership development, education, volunteer, and research opportunities and produces about $100,000 in food annually for campus dining halls. Visit during the annual Harvest Festival celebration to get a better sense of what the Farm is all about!

Featuring Plant-Based Diets

One of the most impactful ways individuals can reduce their carbon footprint is by eating a plant-based diet. Research shows that meat, particularly beef, has an outsized impact on greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental metrics.

Michigan Dining helps make it easy to transform that knowledge into action! Almost every dining hall has a station called 24 Carrots which focuses on serving a delicious variety of vegan and vegetarian options. Additionally, on Sustainable Mondays students can learn about Michigan Dining's sustainability initiatives and try new plant-based food options.

Addressing Basic Needs

The Maize and Blue Cupboard is the food pantry on campus that provides students with resources, educational opportunities, leadership development, and compassionate support. Research shows that over 30% of U-M students struggle with food insecurity in some way, so their work is incredibly important in keeping students healthy and educating our entire campus about the inequities inherent in our complex food system.

Protecting the Huron River

Slowing Stormwater Runoff

Green roofs are beneficial to the environment because they insulate buildings, filter rainfall, slow stormwater runoff, and improve air quality by trapping impurities. Several green roofs exist across campus including at the Ross School of Business, at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, and at the Biological Sciences Building. Watch the short video below to learn a little more about stormwater.

Reducing Chemical Use

Over 80% of campus is maintained using organic fertilizer – the single biggest contributor to our chemical reduction success. The lawns across campus are treated with organic fertilizer and low-impact weed control, making them a great place to take a picnic lunch.

Sometimes managing land sustainably requires creative solutions...like four-legged lawnmowers! Radrick Farms Golf Course periodically brings in goats to control vegetation naturally. Goats are especially practical for steep hillsides and will eat almost anything, including thorns and poison ivy, so they're perfect for the job.

Establishing Native Landscapes

Another way we reduce pesticide and fertilizer use is by expanding natural areas and landscaping with native plants. This practice also reduces the need for mowing, requires less irrigation, and provides habitat for wildlife.

Bees, butterflies, and other pollinators are essential to our food system, but they are experiencing a worrisome population decline, due in part to habitat loss. To help out, we plant native wildflowers and pollinator gardens to provide them with abundant food and a place to rest.

Waste Reduction

Reducing, Reusing, and Recycling

Did you know that about 40% of the items in a typical landfill bin are compostable? The University of Michigan has a standard style of waste bins and signage across campus to enable our entire campus community to confidently dispose of waste properly. Watch this short video so you know which items should be placed in our Landfill, Recycling, and Compost bins.

Hosting Zero Waste Events

The U-M Office of Campus Sustainability provides support for composting at events and meetings across campus. Each year there are hundreds of zero waste events large and small, including the New Student Picnic for incoming students, the annual Michigan Medicine Ice Cream Social, and all home football games at Michigan Stadium.

Sustainable Transportation

Biking on Campus

A two-wheeled, sustainable alternative for transportation is available through the university’s bicycle rental program. Operated by Adventure Leadership within U-M Recreational Sports, bikes are available for students to rent as well as U-M departments. This is one of many initiatives that supports U-M's designation as a Bike Friendly University by the League of American Bicyclists.

Providing Public Transportation

The Central Campus Transit Center is the hub for U-M campus buses. If you are looking for a specific bus route, you can see live tracking for all U-M buses on the Magic Bus App. Since 2011, U-M has purchased nearly 30 biodiesel hybrid buses to improve the efficiency of our fleet. In addition to U-M buses, students, faculty, and staff have unlimited access to TheRide’s fixed route bus service.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Using Renewable Energy

Renewable energy demonstration projects like these solar picnic tables have been funded through the Planet Blue Student Innovation Fund (PBSIF). These solar tables enable students and staff to charge their phones and laptops using solar power while eating lunch! Each year the PBSIF grant program provides $50,000 for student-led sustainability projects on campus and has funded efforts including campus community gardens, the U-M Campus Farm, recycling and composting initiatives, the Food Recovery Network, the Maize and Blue Cupboard, and more!

Building Sustainably

At U-M, all new construction and major renovation projects costing more than $10 million must be designed to achieve LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver standards. There are 17 LEED certified buildings on campus, and one of the most recent is the Biological Sciences Building, which received Gold certification. The first building to receive certification was the Dana Building, which houses the U-M School for Environment and Sustainability. More recently, students helped build the first off-the-grid building on campus. Watch the video below to learn more about its construction.

Conserving Energy

Thanks to energy conservation efforts, since 2006, energy use in general fund buildings has decreased by 17% even as building space increased by 2 million square feet! Many U-M buildings have features like motion sensor lights, low-flow water fixtures, are on a regular schedule to test HVAC efficiency. If you are interested in learning more, you can visit the Building Energy Use Dashboard.

Community Engagement

Engaging the Community

Every fall since 1995, U-M has held an event to celebrate environmental and energy initiatives. At Earthfest, student organizations, U-M departments, and community non-profits focused on sustainability promote their work on campus and in the greater university community to introduce this important work to a wide audience.

U-M has a long legacy of environmental activism. In March of 1970, U-M held the nation’s first “Environmental Teach-In”, which drew more than 15,000 participants. It served as a model for what would become the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970.

Fostering a Campus Culture of Sustainability

If this visual tour through some of the highlights of our sustainability efforts at U-M has piqued your interest, complete a short online training to join more than 7,000+ Planet Blue Ambassadors, who are students, staff, and faculty leading by example and helping others adopt more sustainable behaviors.

Thanks for Reading and Go (Planet) Blue!

Credits:

Created with an image by Mathew Schwartz - "University of Michigan Law Quad"