PBA Spotlight

October 2017: Ben Iuliano and Sustainable Food Systems 

This month, the Planet Blue Newsletter is focusing on food as the start of Autumn offers a variety of newly in-season produce. To celebrate the season, we interviewed the Co-president of The University of Michigan Sustainable Food Program (UMSFP) and a planning team member of MC2, Ben Iuliano.

Ben is a senior Graham Sustainability Scholar pursuing a degree in Ecology, Evolution,and Biodiversity as well as a Food & the Environment minor and has been involved in sustainable food at U of M from very early on. As a freshman, Ben took Tom Princen’s ENVIRON 290 class, Food: The Ecology, Economics, and Ethics of Growing and Eating, because of his interest in food. The class ended up combining all of Ben’s interests in one place and things just clicked. After graduation, he plans on attending graduate school to study sustainable agriculture, and working in government at the USDA or an NGO to pursue his interest in international and domestic food systems.

However, Ben’s food-based sustainability work isn’t limited to what he will do in his future career. Ben already initiates a variety of sustainable efforts currently on campus through his time with the Permaculture Design Team, Real Food Initiative as well as his role as co-president of UMSFP. UMSFP works to coordinate sustainable-food oriented student orgs under a unified umbrella. This year, the board is trying to open up UMSFP interaction to more students with different events, such as brown bag lunch discussions at Ginsberg Center and a future plant sale in partnership with Matthaei Botanical Gardens. The group wants to unite sustainability & sustainable food efforts to foster connections & coordination.

Outside of his academics and student organizations, Ben tries to eat sustainably by maintaining a diet low in animal products, but emphasizes not to beat yourself up if you occasionally eat meat. “People should do what they can and don’t think of it as an all or nothing endeavor. We don’t make choices in a vacuum. There are many cultural and other factors which make it so you can’t make perfect choices all the time,” he says. Ben also suggests learning how to cook, so that you are in control of your food! He specifically enjoys making homemade pasta, finding it fun & therapeutic, and great to share with friends.

As for U of M’s food purchasing habits, Ben feels that great efforts have been made to improve food-based sustainability on campus, however there is always room to improve. “They (Michigan Dining) seemed committed to push to do more. They have made decent strides. We can keep pushing! Sustainability is not an end point,” he says. “M Dining has nearly met the 20% goal, and it shows that there is possibility for change. Student voices and pressure have had a large role in making that change happen and we can continue to be influential. It is an exciting time; for example, the Campus Farm just started selling to the dining halls.”

Ben believes that for U of M to improve sustainably, it is imperative to change the culture of sustainability in the university. Ben states that you can do all the outreach in the world, but it can be hard to bring people in. We have been doing more with integration of sustainability across U-M, but it is still difficult, and sustainability needs to be part of the curriculum.



September 2017: Paul Dunlop and Zero Waste at the Big HouseZero Waste Stadium with Paul Dunlop

It’s time for football and the U-M team kicked off its season with many new starting players, new maize uniforms, and renewed optimism that we will beat our arch rivals. One big change fans may notice is the Michigan Stadium Zero Waste Initiative.  Paul Dunlop, the Senior Facilities Manager for Michigan Stadium, leads the Zero Waste Stadium efforts. The Zero Waste stadium is one of the Major Statements for U of M’s commitment to sustainability.

The most prominent change fans will see at The Big House from the Zero Waste initiative is the new recycling and compost bins at over 500 locations within the stadium gates. These bins replace the trash cans of old and make it easy for the Wolverine faithful become familiar with sustainability on campus and the 2025 waste reduction goals. “Even though Michigan Stadium only produces .003% of the overall waste on campus, the big goal of the Zero Waste Initiative is to introduce people to the U of M  sustainability efforts,” said Dunlop.

So where do people put their trash? All of the concession stand items are recyclable or compostable, and there are easy-to-follow instruction signs at nearly every bin station to ensure fans know which bin to place their recyclable and compostable waste. The signage looks the same as signage on campus, but with specialized items from the Big House. “People will become familiar with the signs at the games and then throw their items in the correct bin on campus,” state Dunlop.

While everyone should do their best to put their waste in the stadium bins, less than 50% of the waste makes it into a bin. Most is left around the bleachers and picked up by volunteers on Sunday mornings. Every Sunday morning, hundreds of volunteer will walk around the stands with three bags: a compost bag, a recycling bag, and a trash bag. Afterwards, the bags will be taken to different facilities for sorting and disposal.

Paul is “Excited that the Michigan Stadium Zero Waste Initiative is coming to fruition, after a few years of planning and trials.”  He explained that it took time to help all vendors understand the new Zero Waste rules and switch to compostable and recyclable containers. Switching to all compostable utensils was a cost that many vendors were not accustomed to. Another big hurdle: hot dog wrappers. “We received complaints that the compostable hot dog wrappers we tested past year did not keep the hot dogs warm enough.” New hot dog wrappers are being tested this season. The program will continue to adjust and improve as feedback is given.  

Although Jim Harbaugh is great, Paul may be the most important person at the Big House on Saturdays. It is exciting that over one hundred thousand fans will learn about the university’s sustainability efforts at the Big House, waste will be diverted from a landfill, and a young fan can can enjoy a warm hot dog nestled in a compostable wrapper while cheering on our Wolverines!

Thanks to Paul, his team, and the vendors at the Big House for all their ongoing efforts.  


July 2017: Rob Doletzky & Bill Kronberg

U-M Grounds staff, Rob D. and Bill K.

We are 90% towards reaching our fertilizer and pesticide use reduction goal. This is due in no small part to the leadership from Rob Doletzky, Bill Kronberg, and the rest of the U-M Grounds Services. This team is responsible for the management of grounds across in Ann Arbor, excluding the Athletic fields and the Botanical Gardens & Arboretum, which have their own management teams.

In reflecting on his nearly twenty-five years with Grounds, Rob states, “We have evolved as a department very positively.” The department has adopted safer, and more environmentally friendly options. You may notice patchy grass areas, around campus as experiments with new plants and non-toxic methods of controlling weeds are conducted! “Research is key,” said Rob. “We are always looking for alternatives [to toxic chemicals],” shares Rob as he shuffles through a pile of new publications on emerging organic fertilizers and bee-safe pesticides. Across the department, staff are passionate about making the right choices, including becoming certified arborists. 


Photo of a honeybee on a Purple Aster Flower

In addition to nearly meeting our 2025 campus sustainability goal, the hard work of Rob, Bill, and the rest of Grounds crew are visible in other ways. Recently, the whole campus received the state’s environmentally-friendly turf management certification, MSTESP.  Across from Pierpont Commons on North Campus, an area of land is being transitioned from turf to a beautiful, life-supporting prairie with native plants. Even more exciting, the establishment of the prairie is part of a larger effort to become a certified Bee Campus. Working with the Michigan Pollinator Initiative, to staff are planning to create “pollinator corridors” across campus that will benefit birds, butterflies and bees.

How can you support sustainable grounds management? Consider the visual aesthetic of a prairies and native plants as part of a sustainably managed campus that looks different than turf grass but has many added benefits, including less lawn to mow. Sign up to volunteer with U-M Grounds, Matthaei Botanical Gardens, or Nichols Arboretum.


Examples of different types of lawns resulting from different management practices

Photo: Examples of lawns resulting from different management practices used in campus visual preference survey


February 2017: Chris Victory, U-M Hospital

Just earlier this month, Michigan Medicine underwent a large waste sort as a first step towards new waste reduction efforts.  Chris Victory of the U-M Hospital, with a contracted company experienced with waste sorts, coordinated a sort of general waste from five health system buildings over four days – East Ann Arbor Health & Geriatric Center, C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital & Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital, University Hospital, Taubman Health Center, and the Cardiovascular Center. The goal was to sort through a 24 hour snapshot of general waste in these buildings in order to understand opportunities we have to reduce waste. That means sorting nearly 21 tons of waste into approximately 15 different categories.

So what were the results? We’ll have to wait to find out. “The final report from the consultant is due  back in June,” stated Victory. This will give the company adequate time to analyze all the data. After that, Michigan Medicine will use the data to implement the most effective ways of reducing waste, such as developing recycling programs for new materials or improving education & processes to reduce waste.

In the meantime, Chris is looking forward to continuing working on sustainability issues. With direction from Michigan Medicine leadership, Chris is now spending half his time developing and coordinating strategies for the health system to do its part to meet our 2025 University of Michigan sustainability goals. Current projects include applying for the health system’s thirteenth annual Practice Greenhealth Award, developing new frameworks and goals for the Environmental Stewardship Committee, and serving as a liaison with the Healthy Hospital Initiative and Michigan Green Healthcare Committee.

January 2017: The 2017 Planet Blue Student Leaders

The Planet Blue Student Leaders (PBSLs) are an all-star team of students hired through Student Life dedicated to promoting sustainable projects and systems throughout the University of Michigan. Planet Blue Student Leaders work with Keith Soster of Michigan Dining who serves as staff sustainability liaison across Student Life. The team helps run and participate in a number of events throughout the year ranging from M Farmers’ Markets to Earthfest. However, the most impactful effects that the group has on the University’s drive to become a more sustainable institution are the year-long projects that they undertake. One such project is a pilot for composting in residence halls ongoing in Bursley Hall, where nearly 100 formal participants have signed up for compost buckets in their rooms and have composted nearly 300 pounds of waste.

The Bursley Composting project was launched last winter and has continued through-out this academic year. Composting is a great way to reduce waste while simultaneously contributing to new food production. It is a system that involves the breakdown of organic materials such as food and plant waste, and utilizing the resulting material in order to provide a nutrient-rich fertilizer for growing plants. Within each hallway of Bursley, closets containing trash and recycling bins were met with a third receptacle used for composting food waste, napkins, and other eligible waste by the student residents. The PBSLs promoted informational advertising campaigns explaining the importance of composting to Bursley students through posters, weekly emails, and contests rewarding participation in the program.

The project received nearly 100 formal participants who ordered personal composting buckets and a much larger amount of informal participants who without a personal bucket composted using the hall bins. Through this participation, the team collected 298.2 pounds of compost that would have otherwise been disposed of in a landfill. This coming year, the PBSLs are continuing their work in Bursley while also expanding a composting pilot in Munger and sharing lessons learned to support implementation of compost in M Dining retail locations.

Individual projects that the PBSLs are undertaking include expanding Planet Blue Ambassador certification among students and faculty, a “take the stairs” initiative in order to conserve energy used on the university’s elevators, promoting this year's Recyclemania event, establishing a zero waste dinner event, distributing Planet Blue reusable water bottles at the convocation picnic, and helping to implement the 6000 person convocation picnic as a zero waste event. Through projects such as these, the Planet Blue Students Leaders are changing the sustainable culture of our campus one step at a time.

If you think you have a good idea as to how the PBSLs can make Michigan more sustainable or, if you want to see how you can get involved in sustainability, email: planetblueleader@umich.edu.

October 2016: Anthropology Professor Lisa Young & The Hopi Seed Collection

Much of Lisa Young’s research is based in Northern Arizona on ancestral Hopi sites. U-M has a long history with Hopi Tribes in Northern Arizona dating back to the early 20th century.  In the 1930s, several U-M researchers collected plants from Hopi farms for the the U-M Museum of Anthropological Archaeology because they observed the huge diversity of corn growing in the desert and were “amazed farmers were growing this diversity in a place that only gets 8-10 inches of water per year”, Lisa Young says.  80 years later and with that same plant collection, Lisa Young is continuing this legacy and adding her own spin by actively reframing how museums work with communities and how communities perceive university research. Museums, and community-based scholarship, are moving away from the informant, colonial, collection approach, to a best practice of working alongside communities where materials are collected. This process represents true sustainability because it respects mutually beneficial practices in communities. You’ll often hear Young check whether partnerships are mutually beneficial by explicitly asking about “what’s the give-back” to the community? Through her work, Young has a deep appreciation for beauty, uniqueness, and the magic inherent in community work.

Although Young claims to be new to the sustainability movement, it is easy for her to see sustainability woven through her work on plants and heritage. To the native communities she works with, food and farming is part of their identity and origin story. Ancestry, heritage groups, and a need to think about future generations is core to the beliefs of the Hopi people with whom she partners.

In addition to research, Young teaches several classes at U-M. After working with the Hopi Seed Project class, she realized the opportunity to start a class here in Ann Arbor that connected her work in Arizona to the vibrant local food scene here in southeast Michigan. This semester Young is premiering “Local Food Producers” and she has plans to continue this class in future semesters. She applies a critical anthropologist lens in her teaching about local food which brings a unique and holistic cultural perspective to students interested in the local food scene.

   What can PBAs do? Lisa Young suggests:

  • Participate in the local food system.
  • Start to ask questions about what is happening at U-M with local food (Pro Tip: Lisa Young tries to have her meetings at the Fields Cafe on campus because of their support for local food).
  • Explore the amazing history and diversity of local food in Southeast Michigan.
  • When you can afford to, make decisions about where you shop.


April 2016: The Ginsberg Center | Best Practices for Community Engagement and Volunteering

Whether you’re looking for meaningful volunteer opportunities or for reflection on how best to ethically engage in partnership with community members and organizations, The Ginsberg Center for Community Service and Learning is the place to go. Here’s a few reasons to get excited about their work on campus:

The Ginsberg Center is a long-standing advocate for sustainability. They host the oldest campus garden in coordination with the student group Cultivating Community and are a Platinum Certified sustainable office. They are deeply engaged with the mechanics of justice and cultivating citizens who - through their volunteering and engagement - have a positive impact and mutually beneficial partnership with the communities in which they work.

The Center supports critical thinking. Having recently released Check Yourself: A Community Engagement Checklist as a resource, the Center encourages students, faculty, and staff to think deeply and thoughtfully about their community engagement experiences. Danyelle Reynolds, Alternative Breaks Coordinator emphasized that the Ginsberg Center “helps people think about ways of engaging that is humanizing and culturally relevant; and, in a way that is going to be sustainable.” The Center also engages in conversation about identity and diversity by hosting workshops and trainings on entering and exiting communities, cultural humility and relevance, and storytelling that does not perpetuate stereotypes.

The Center embeds balance into the approach between learning and community impact. “Community is our learning space so it’s critical for us to consider community when thinking about how we volunteer,” continues Danyelle Reynolds. The Ginsberg Center is dedicated to advancing social change through mutually beneficial partnerships between the community and university.

The Ginsberg Center works with students, faculty, and staff and welcomes all campus and community stakeholders to visit their website and get in touch to explore opportunities to collaborate. View past newsletters and subscribe here to learn about ongoing volunteer opportunities, workshops, and resources to support and elevate community engagement work on campus.

March 2016: Kelly Bates, Canton Health Center, Call Center Supervisor

Kelly Bates is a long-time sustainability advocate, bringing her passion with her to the Canton Health Center as a Call Center Supervisor. Upon meeting her, Kelly reminisced about her childhood in Detroit where she would walk with her grandmother salvaging items to give them new life. It should be no surprise then that her entre into sustainability activism was recycling.

Around the office she is known for her personal recycling efforts. The Canton Health Center has limited recycling capacity so Kelly collects her call center office recyclables and takes them home. Kelly said, “I really enjoy being a self-motivated Planet Blue Ambassador! Being at an offsite we have to work harder to create the environment of sustainability here.” She promotes the center’s Recycle Write and battery recycling. Kelly has also advocated for energy conserving signage and collaborated with M Heathy to secure bicycles as an initiative promoting accessible wellness.

For the third year Kelly is planning an Earth Day activity for her office. The first year she gave out seeded cups and said, “The staff had so much fun waiting and watching them grow! We placed used baggies from lunches over the cups to create a greenhouse for them.” Last year she organized a scavenger hunt to promote awareness of waste prevention, healthy environments, education, and community awareness. It was such a hit that she is expanding it for this year!

Kelly is passionate about sustainability in every aspect of her life, from declining disposable to-go containers to touring a recycling facility - for her anniversary. She said she thinks about the ripple effect and how the decisions she makes affect the world and the environment. She tries to be sustainable in her individual actions by turning lights off, carpooling, recycling, purchasing items with reduced packaging and thinking about how far the item had to travel to get here. She also collaborates with others at the Canton Health Center to promote sustainability and has been active in the community volunteering. In the past, Kelly has helped out with the City of Plymouth’s Green Street Fair and chairing Westland’s Mission Green Committee.

Kelly said, “It really takes mindful thinking to be an ambassador.” Kelly’s tip for other ambassadors is to “think with every action that you take. Ambassadors need to ask the questions and if you want more information you have to seek it out.”

January 2016: Net Impact Undergraduate Energy Audit Team Seeks to Save Energy through Settings

Net Impact is an international community with over 80,000 student and professional leaders who are on a collective mission to create positive social and environmental change in the workplace. University of Michigan’s Net Impact Undergraduate Chapter is hard at work tackling some tough problems. The Undergraduate Chapter is focused on the intersection of business, sustainability, and social impact.

The Planet Blue Ambassador Program had a chance to engage with Net Impact Undergrad’s Energy Audit Team who is exploring energy efficiency in campus computing labs.

The team explains: “We noticed that when you log off of a computer the login screen stays illuminated for extended periods, wasting energy while no one was using the computer. We’re interested in finding inefficiencies like these that could improve operations and reduce energy usage.” The Energy Audit Team is in the midst of collecting data about the electrical draw of various computer models on campus depending on use. They want to use this data to calculate potential savings that are possible from different operating procedures and power settings. In Fall 2015 they tested computers in North Quad and confirmed that sleep mode is much more efficient than log-in screens. Their initial recommendations include switching computers to sleep mode in 5 minutes - starting at North Quad.

Despite some difficulties navigating the university’s system and tracking down the appropriate people to contact with questions the Energy Audit Team said, “It has been great to see the many collaboration opportunities available between other organizations, faculty members, and students who share the common interest in developing sustainability initiatives across campus. We believe that these collaborations and sharing of resources can be very effective in implementing change across the entire campus.”

The Energy Audit Team continues to collect data and hopes not only to propose recommendations from their findings to U-M operations but also raise awareness about the ways individuals can reduce their personal energy usage. Team member Christina Ridella said: “I care about the concept of finding ways to not only preserve current resources but continue to develop ways to improve future conditions. I am interested in how sustainability involves linking environmental, social, and economic factors to promote current and future well-being for everyone.”

October 2015: Habitat Protection & Food Production in Our Community

Food is a common denominator across cultures and species. Finding the sweet spot between human food production systems and habitat preservation is the working passions of many members of our community; and, according to our resident experts, of growing importance in our changing society

In many instances agriculture seems at odds with surrounding wildlife and habitat. Nathan Ayers, Permaculture Design Consultant and Director of Chiwara Permaculture Research & Education, works with K-12, colleges, and universities to integrate permaculture. He defines Permaculture as “an ecological design science that combines engineering and whole systems thinking to create solutions to produce more than they consume.” Nathan described that “in traditional agriculture we have a system of slash and burn where we go in and cut down woodlands and we replace it with monoculture agriculture. No regard is given toward habitat. Permaculture is about integrated solutions that embrace the strengths and skills that native pollinators and beneficial insects bring to a system.” He continues: “Ultimately, permaculture is seeking to create some kind of balance between human needs and the existing natural landscape.” Nathan has partnered with the University of Michigan since 2011 working with students from projects such as a hoop house at the Ginsberg Center to advising the Permaculture Design Team’s Permaculture Food Forest. “I think permaculture is here to stay at the University of Michigan, at least for the foreseeable future,” he remarked. “It seems like there are more and more students interested in it.” Nathan is also the Director at Amrita Farms at the Amma Center, a 55 acre organic farm, where he has been able to implement large scale Permaculture through Earthwork installations. Nathan explains that Earthwork designs “minimize soil erosion, conserve water, and protect habitat. They ideally are used to catch and store energy and design the landscape in such a way that biodiversity and production are maximized.” Earthworks promote habitat conscientious agriculture where the focus is on native trees and plants. “It makes a difference,” Nathan said, “if you’re installing systems that the insects and pollinators are accustomed to, you’re going to have more success.”

Parker Anderson, founder of the UM Bees student organization and dual degree master’s student in Landscape Architecture and Sustainable Systems, would agree. Parker is passionate about pollinators and promoting mutually beneficial partnerships with honey bees. He said “industrial beekeeping is not mutually beneficial - there is a lot of taking from the human side. It’s important to provide a space where bees can thrive, with humans as caretakers.” We are affected everyday by pollinators. Parker quoted that “1 out of every 3 bites of food is thanks to a honey bee because of their pollination services.” He encourages environmental activism through consumerism and voting with your dollar by eating organic which supports chemical-free agricultural systems safe for pollinators and other beneficial insects. Parker also encouraged planting pollinator friendly plants. UM Bees has planted a Pollinator Friendly Sanctuary at the University of Michigan’s Campus Farm where native plants help provide forage throughout the year for honey bees and native pollinators like bumblebees and carpenter bees.

“It’s not just about the bees,” Germaine Smith, of New Bee Apiaries, one of 12 business incubators in residence at Tilian Farm Development Center, said. “It’s about everything. It’s about our ecosystems and keeping them in balance. It’s about all the pollinators.” Germaine is an active citizen promoting healthy ecosystems and native habitats not only through her beekeeping work but also through local campaigns such the Bee Safe Neighborhood, Bee City USA, and the Washtenaw County Food Policy Council. She is working on initiatives in Washtenaw County to engage residents to look at alternative landscape management practices that are healthier for the local ecosystems. Germaine remarked: “The one thing that I am finding out through the Bee Safe Neighborhood Campaign from residents and citizens is that they just don’t know how destructive conventional landscape practices and chemicals are.” Citizens are taking action - and so can you! - by pledging to stop using systemic pesticides and stop using any chemicals. “It’s really great having citizens recognize what needs to happen and really try to make it a better place to live. And that’s what all these initiatives are about. It’s about everyone working together for the good of the planet.”

Stefanie Stauffer, the Program Manager at Tilian Farm Development Center, is helping to create a  shared incubator space where Germaine’s vision of working for the good of the planet is being realized. Stefanie, also owner of Nightshade Industry which is a hot sauce and salsa business growing produce on site, manages the 44 acres of protected farmland. With 12 incubator businesses, the site hosts chickens, composting, fields, fruit trees, and hoop houses to name a few projects. “Tilian Farm Development Center is the only farm incubator in Michigan that is on public land, meaning, it is owned by the Ann Arbor Township.” This unique property is managed by Michigan Food and Farming Systems, a statewide nonprofit whose mission is to help beginning and historically underserved farmers get connected to resources and each other. The farm is definitely a prime example of a space negotiating the relationship between food systems and habitat. In addition to managing the growing number of incubator applications, Stefanie also works to preserve and promote native landscaping. While walking around the farm she pointed out the red-berried buckthorn, an aggressive invasive species threatening native oak trees. She is partnering with the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to remove the buckthorn. This is just one of many Tilian Farm Development Center activities encouraging diverse, native species and organic food production. Stefanie said, “We pretty much don’t spray anything and are low-impact.” Such low-impact practices are more inviting to wildlife - not just pollinators but also birds, rabbits, turkeys, and deer. While the farm does have a fence up this year to prevent the deer from devouring crops, they co-exist with wildlife as part of the natural ecosystem.

These resident experts are committed and active in our community, promoting balanced, healthy systems. All of these organizations offer educational and environmental opportunities - explore how you can get involved!

August 2015: Spencer Harbo, SSW & SEAS Graduate Student and President of A2 Share

It was an uncharacteristically chilly August morning as we walked toward an 8am meeting at a local coffee shop. It was well worth the exposure to meet with students and staff to talk about sharing opportunities on campus and in the community. Over comforting steamy mochas our collective excitement was palpable. Our gathering represented the larger community’s interest in engaging in resource sharing as an alternative to mainstream consumption; and, the energetic early morning conversation reflected the breadth of ideas craving expression.

Spencer Harbo, a dual master’s candidate in the School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS) and the School of Social Work (SSW), was present as an advocate for improving sharing in the University of Michigan and Ann Arbor communities. With a background in Philosophy and Psychology he actively pursues research and a lifestyle exploring the intersection of environmental sustainability and mental health and wellbeing. “We don’t realize being in such an affluent area that there are so many resources around us that we can use without having to go buy them from the big-box store,” he said as he went on to define what is commonly referred to as the ‘sharing economy’. “It is a way of getting out of mainstream consumption and acquiring things in a way that takes the shift off of buying new to using what is already available. It is a way of increasing access over ownership.”

Consumerism and its related resource-use and waste is a hot topic when addressing sustainability and sustainable lifestyles. Spencer defines sustainability through his personal and professional experience addressing consumerism and its negative impacts. “Sustainability means maintaining the level of wellbeing that we have now and into the future, cutting out the excess, and, eliminating things we have as a society that we’ve come to rely on, but, that we don’t necessarily need.” He promotes a conscious assessment of our lifestyles, not extreme material abstinence, but a meaningful relationship to the resources that exist around us.

Spencer’s energy was grounding as he went on to explain the voluntary simplicity movement. “The movement is about cutting out material excess and refilling that time with social engagement and doing things that are good for your mental health - like spending time in nature.” He encouraged some initial steps that anyone can do - starting from home. “It’s a relatively easy thing to walk through your house and see what you need and what makes you happy. Then, cut out the excess.” He encouraged donating to and buying from local reuse stores as a first step to reduce waste, consciously consume, and support sharing in one’s community. “Sharing puts you in touch with people and is good for community cohesion. It benefits the environment, society, and the local economy.”

Spencer’s involvement ranges from a personally committed lifestyle to community activism and academic research. With his team as a Dow Sustainability Fellow, he conducts research on Sharing Communities in Southeastern Michigan to understand existing and desired sharing practices and services. Spencer also leads A2Share, a group that serves as a platform to connect people to information about sharing opportunities and events in Ann Arbor.

A2Share provides information not only about sharing physical resources but also sharing time and services. Spencer reflected on skill sharing: “I think it is something that we take for granted. We don’t have to know how to do things as much as our great-grandparents did. Skill sharing is a fun and engaging way to be around people and learn how to do something that transforms your life on a day-to-day basis.”

His focus was clear - from his actions to his research - sharing is deeply beneficial at the individual and the community levels. “It’s an evolution of consciousness to realize that there are things that I have that I don’t really need, and, that I can give to someone else who needs them.”

June 2015: Regina Ferguson, UMTRI

The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) resides in an unassuming building on North Campus. Within its walls are over 150 staff and faculty and 50 years of work in transportation safety, planning, and sustainability. While conducting all this great work they also managed to win the 2015 annual RecycleMania Battle of the Buildings Waste Reduction Competition: reducing their waste over 42% since 2014.

How do they do all this? We sat down with UMTRI’s Regina Ferguson, facilities manager, and Francine Romine, director of marketing and communications, to find out.  

“It’s the dedicated staff,” states Ferguson. Staff from administrative support, to shop fabricators, to faculty researchers, everyone steps up to reduce waste and utilize recycling opportunities. “Tracy and Alison [UM Waste Reduction and Recycling Office] are my life support!” states Ferguson. Like other locations on campus, the Waste Reduction and Recycling Office provides much more than just single-stream recycling pick-up. The Office can be contacted to help arrange special collection and recycling of items such as packing Styrofoam, old electronic media, hardcover books, and more. Ferguson also credits UMTRI’s hard-working custodians for making their recycling and waste reduction efforts a success!

Francine Romine mentions that UMTRI has long been a “good” recycler, but having Ferguson on staff as a champion has really stepped up efforts through-out the institute. “We needed a champion to push recycling even though we already had the systems in place,” states Romine.  For example, during the RecycleMania competition Ferguson sent weekly emails to staff with current results and action steps the Institute could take to increase their recycling and reduce waste. Since 50 years of research means a whole lot of old paper documents,  there is a lot of “legacy recycling” occurring.  “We had to work with staff to remove old documents. Determine what was safe to get rid of, what should be kept, and what could be electronically stored,” explained Romine. It requires a shift in day-to-day operations of long-time researchers. Individuals may be interested in switching to electronic storage, but need guidance on how to do so.  Ferguson’s method? Sitting down one-on-one, thirty minutes at a time to go through old documents and media. It doesn’t need to happen all at once.  An added bonus to all this recycling and reduction is more space! With a growing breadth of research and staff, space is always at a premium.

UMTRI is also a great practitioner of reuse. They are supported by general funds so operational needs such as furniture need to be procured at low cost.  “Steve Sinelli, Property Disposition’s warehouse supervisor, contacts me when furniture is available,” says Ferguson, “both at the warehouse or other schools and colleges that are renovating space.”  UMTRI also utilizes WRRO’s annual Office Supply “Garage Sale”, donating both unneeded office supplies to clear up space, and “shopping” to pick-up up other items they need.

UMTRI contributes to sustainability at U-M through their research as well as their operations. “Our focus is to provide safe and sustainable transportation for a global society. UMTRI was the test conductor for Safety Pilot Model Deployment, the largest connected vehicle pilot in the world. The primary benefit of connected technology is first and foremost safety, however we believe we will see a significant reduction in congestion and fuel consumption when this technology is fully deployed,” said Romine. “This technology will play an important role in the transformation of our current transportation system.”

In July, the Michigan Mobility Transformation Center, a unit of the U-M Office of Research will open Mcity, a unique off-roadway test facility that will be dedicated for the testing of connected and automated vehicles.

UMTRI is also home to the SMART (Sustainable Mobility & Accessibility Research & Transformation) program, which works with cities around the world to develop reliable, sustainable, and accessible urban transportation systems.  On the social side of sustainability, their research influences policies and standards related to transportation safety, improving health and saving lives. 

UMTRI is currently sponsoring a seminar series on that is focusing on automation and human factors, and in October will host a day-long research symposium focusing on their research expertise.  Both events are open to the entire campus.  More information on these events can be found at: http://www.umtri.umich.edu/what-were-doing/events.

March 2015: Anya Dale, Office of Campus Sustainability

Anya Dale works for the Office of Campus Sustainability (OCS), which coordinates and promotes efforts to reach the University’s sustainable goals. She has been working for OCS for four years and is involved in projects in waste reduction, pesticide and fertilizer reduction, and engaging staff, faculty, and students in behaviors to cultivate a culture of sustainability on campus.

OCS helps promote and foster sustainability efforts across the University. In waste reduction, a lot of great programs are already happening on campus, from single stream recycling to the efforts of Michigan Dining to implement composting in all residential dining facilities. OCS has also collaborated with several campus departments to conduct holistic waste studies that evaluate existing recycling infrastructure and signage, and identify more opportunities to improve existing infrastructures, processes, and education efforts.

“Waste not only takes up landfill space, but is costly to us financially and affects our health and the health of the environment.  So much of our waste could be avoided at the onset or could be reused, repurposed or recycled into something else useful.” Anya believes there is huge potential to do more with our resources and simple changes in the way we think about purchases and how products are made can help cut down waste generation.

On top of making recycling easier for everyone to use, we need to start shifting our way of thinking from finding a solution to handling waste to halting our generation of it. We can start making that change by thinking about our purchases – do we need to buy it in the first place? Can we use something we already have? Borrow from a friend? One thing Anya would love to see is the elimination of disposable cups, plates, and silverware, which she feels can easily be replaced by alternatives to reduce lots of waste generation.

It can be challenging to make waste reduction a priority when so many other issues seem just as important but Anya believes its not as difficult as it seems. “There are things we can do such as acting as recycling ambassadors in our area - looking for clearly marked recycling stations, checking to see if there are blue liners in them, utilizing recycling posters.” She says that we all need to help create a culture of sustainability on campus. If you need bins, liners or posters feel free to email recycle@umich.edu.

If you are interested in getting more involved in waste reduction check out the great resources on the Waste Reduction and Recycling Office website www.recycle.umich.edu or, if you are interested in a specific effort, email ocs_contact@umich.edu or recycle@umich.edu. Staff and faculty are also encouraged to explore the Sustainable Workplace and Lab Certification programs which OCS has created to help specific workplaces tackle waste reduction problems.


You can learn more about our efforts in reducing fertilizers and pesticides use in this recent article: http://record.umich.edu/articles/u-m-reduces-use-traditional-chemicals-land-management

February 2015: Andrew Maynard, Risk Science Center

Have you ever tried to make a responsible, sustainable decision based on something you heard from a friend or read online? Then you just couldn’t find the information you needed to know what the right decision or action would be? Many people have concerns about issues such as fracking, BPA exposure, and GMOs but hear conflicting information from all directions. How concerned do we need to be? What actions should we take? Andrew Maynard and the Risk Science Center take a scientific look at these and other complicated issues, and then provide us an unbiased, scientific, easy-to-understand snapshot.

“Most people are smart and want to find scientific-based information to base action on, but there are not enough places for people to find credible, non-biased, and digestible information,” states Andrew Maynard, the Director of the School of Public Health’s Risk Science Center.  The Risk Science Center is an interdisciplinary research center examining existing and emerging human health risks. They not only draw in expertise across a breadth of disciplines, they excel at presenting science-based information in easily digestible formats such as the “Risk Bites” Youtube video series or the “2020 Science” Blog.

“Addressing risk means understanding what affects health and well-being from a scientific perspective, as well as sociologically,” introduces Maynard. “You can’t have a conversation about sustainability for instance without addressing wellness in a very interconnected way.” As we aim to come up with sustainable solutions to challenges we face, we must look at risk-benefit trade-offs and analysis from multiple perspectives. Technical innovations need to be responsible innovations. Regarding sustainability, we must take the triple-bottom line seriously: improving health, well-being, and the environment while having a positive impact on the economy. But how do we do this?

As a scientist, turned policy advisor, turned academic, Andrew Maynard understands better than most the complications of the science and solutions of “wicked problems” such as sustainability and risk. Even more difficult is translating complicated science to usable information for decision-makers and the public. While we can’t all be scientific experts, many of us look to science to help shape our decisions around sustainable actions. Unfortunately, understandable, applicable science can be hard to come by. “The issue today is not a lack of science; it is a lack of accessibility,” reflects Maynard. That is where the Risk Science Center comes in! The Risk Science Center works to provide easily digestible, science-based, un-biased information on complicated issues. Concerned about BPA? Using antibacterial soap? Dioxane in drinking water? The Risk Science Center provides you information on these issues.

As we work as a University and as individuals to be more sustainable, Maynard reminds us to make decisions based on evidence, not emotion. As a public university we are primed with interdisciplinary expertise to fill the accessibility gap between scientific information and those individuals and organizations who want to take responsible action.  Want to get more involved? Check out the Michigan Meeting from May 13-17 on “Academic Engagement in Public and Political Discourse.”


January 2015: Angela Yang, Pursuing Sustainability as a Passion

Angela_Yang_Jan-2015-SpotlightAngela Yang is a senior majoring in Neuroscience interested in women’s health. She’s also one of the most active sustainability student leaders on campus. You’ll see her at many events and behind the scenes working as a member of the Student Sustainability Initiative (SSI) Board and Central Student Government’s (CSG) Sustainability Commission. Sustainability is “living in a way where you are conscious of your actions and the consequences of those actions,” states Angela. “Trying to live in a way where you are aware of those around you and being an active member of furthering sustainable actions around the world.”

So, how do you become an active member of furthering sustainable actions around the world? “Try to talk to the people around you about sustainability and why it matters to you,” starts Angela. “It appeals to everyone. Make an easy suggestion! Don’t judge. A little bit goes a long way.” Angela’s own journey into sustainability came after she saw the strong connection to individual health and developing successful, healthy communities.

Angela’s work has actively helped to move the University of Michigan towards the sustainable campus we know it can be. In her vision of a sustainable U-M, “it’s a lifestyle that students live –recycling, eating locally, not wasting energy and water. Infrastructure would be in place so students don’t have to think about being sustainable. It just happens naturally.”

Angela’s actions are helping to shape a culture of sustainability here at U-M, as well as insuring we have the infrastructure to support it. When President Mark Schlissel came on board, Angela was part of a team of students lead by SSI and Students for Clean Energy who wrote a letter to our new President, welcoming him to the University and asking on behalf of U-M students for him to put sustainability on his agenda. This letter helped lead to the creation of the multi-stakeholder working groups examining our campus sustainability goals and developing strategies to meet them.  Angela also helped established SSI’s Zero Waste event support—providing support for hundreds of student events to successfully compost this year, including large events like Dance Marathon. As part of CSG’s sustainability commission, she is working with the Office of Waste Reduction and Recycling and the Office of Campus Sustainability to implement more streamlined and uniformed recycling infrastructure across campus. They are beginning with the libraries. CSG has also partnered in bringing water bottle refill stations to campus as well as establishing the MFarmer’s Markets.

Angela shows that any student, whether academically in a sustainability-focused major or not, can get involved in sustainability here on campus and beyond. For students looking for a way to get involved, “Seek out the SSI Roundtables. Especially if you aren’t sure what area of sustainability you want to go into.” SSI roundtables invite students and student groups to work together and support each other in pursuing sustainability. 

October 2014: Emily Canosa, Sustainable Food Program Manager

Emily_CanosaEmily Canosa is the Sustainable Food Program Manager here at the University of Michigan, a position created by student demand and support. Emily connects the Campus Farm and student groups in UMSFP (University of Michigan Sustainable Food Program) to on-campus and community partners, as well as provides support and coordination for all the different sustainable food initiatives. We caught up with Emily to find out how she got involved with sustainable food, and get the inside scoop of sustainable food activity on campus.

Emily’s connection to the University of Michigan began way before her current position – beginning in undergrad when she was part of the Residential College, majoring in Arts & Ideas and History of Art. Her first foray into sustainable food began her senior year. “I became a vegan. I became more conscious of my decisions about consumption and its effects.” Her sustainable food journey continued, including studying sustainable food programs around Tokyo for her master’s degree, working on a permaculture farm on Mt. Fuji in Japan, becoming a worker/owner of a cooperative farm in Detroit, working with the Southeast Michigan Permaculture Guild, and working with the non-profit Avalon Housing in developing youth leadership programs around food and gardening. It all ties back to Arts & Ideas: “Design and creativity are a big part food systems. Studying art and social movements developed my ability to notice patterns in nature and other systems,” stated Emily.

Our students have been using their passion and creativity to promote sustainable food on and off campus. Three years ago students used this passion to pull together the many student groups working on issues related to sustainable food to create UMSFP (University of Michigan Sustainable Food Program). Since then, the enthusiasm and breadth of interest in sustainable food has only grown. Emily sees her position as helping to figure out “how to sustain this growth and energy” for long-term program feasibility. 

Just in the past year students involved with UMSFP received funding from the DOW Distinguished Awards on how to find and meet the shared needs of all of its student groups with a vision of a student food hub to provide needed workshop space, kitchens, and food coolers. They have been working with the Washtenaw Food Hub to pilot their efforts and research functionality and feasibility. Also, the Permaculture Design Team is moving forward with their Planet Blue Student Innovation Fund grant award to create a permaculture food forest next to the Campus Farm. UMBees, another UMSFP member group, recently completed their fall planting for an educational honeybee sanctuary. The Campus Farm itself is growing, with weekly workdays of 30-40 student volunteers.  They are working on how to get food to students, such as selling produce at campus Farmers’ Markets and through Student Food Co (also a UMSFP member group), and partnering with local businesses such as The Brinery or Hut-K Chaats to use Campus Farm produce in the products they sell on and off campus.

If you are interested in staying up-to-date or volunteering with UMSFP, check out their website at www.umsfp.com and sign-up for their newsletter. If you want to partner with any of the student groups, reach out to Emily at emcanosa@umich.edu or the UMSFP communications team at umsfp.comm@umich.edu. One last tip: “If you want to make the world a sustainable place, focus on your own consumer choices and expand from there. You can make a very real impact starting with self-examination,” responded Emily when asked what one tip she would give to everyone interested in living sustainably.

September 2014: U-M Recycling Truck Drivers.

As a Planet Blue Ambassador you probably spend some thought and energy in reducing waste and making sure everything that can be is recycled. But what happens to it after you drop it in the bin? It is picked up by one of U-M’s six “heavy equipment operators” –our recycling truck drivers--employed by Waste Management Services. Dale, Louis, Richard, Dennis, Harold, and Rod pick-up everything--trash, recycling, compost, Styrofoam, wood, metal—except for regulated waste (such as batteries or electronics which are handled by OSEH). “25 years ago when I started we didn’t do any recycling. A lot is going on now, but a lot more can be done,” commented Dale.

U-M Recycling Trucks


With only six people handling over 10 thousand tons of waste, this team is busy. They pride themselves on their level of service. “We do everything.” Have a full recycling dumpster? They’re there. Have pallets that need to be picked up? On their way. Have a big pile of packing styrofoam new computers? These are your guys. Have a zero waste event where you composted? Yep, they’ve got that covered too. These guys have seen it all. And their tips go across the board:

“Put paper in the blue bags. Loose paper flies everywhere.” Not only does loose paper fly out of the trucks and dumpsters causing litter and not being recycled—it can get caught in the exhaust system in the trucks and catch on fire. Yikes! If you have an office clean out day, remember to put the paper in blue bags before placing it in the recycling dumpster to make sure it gets safely recycled.

“No black polystyrene.” Remember, only white packing “Styrofoam” and packing peanuts are recyclable. An easy identifier is the recyclable packing Styrofoam will break apart easily (creating a confetti of little balls of Styrofoam). Food take-out containers and the black Styrofoam do not. Styrofoam is recycled through its own program, so it should be bagged and placed on the dock (not the recycling dumpster). Make sure to bag packing peanuts and the packing Styrofoam blocks separately.

“If you compost at events, make sure you have volunteers helping people sort their waste.” Graduation and the Zero Waste athletic events do it well. Having people at each waste station ensures only compostable items get in those carts. It’s always disappointing when an event requests compost service, but when they go to pick up the carts they either weren’t used or the contents are too contaminated to be composted.

 “Break-down your boxes.” If boxes are not broken down, or flattened, they take up valuable space in the recycling dumpsters. Especially in large events, such as move-in, it is important to break-down boxes so other recyclables don’t end up in the trash because the dumpster is “full” before they can get to it.

U-M_Recycling_Dumpster“Knowledge is king.” They don’t usually see what is in the whole dumpster so they can’t pull recycling out of the trash. Help educate your building on the U-M recycling guidelines. Make sure new custodial staff are educated on the different programs. Read the signs.

Handling waste all day may not seem like the most glamorous job, so why does this team claim they’ve got the best gig on campus? “It’s rewarding. We’re doing our part.” Day to day these guys know they are making a difference to everyone on campus and helping us reach our sustainability goals. “We get it done.” They pride themselves on quality of service. There are other perks too – like job security. (As much as we would like to be a true “zero waste” campus; that is a long way off.)  Up around Northwood and Towsley they get to show off for the kids. “They love the trucks.”(And yes, they do pull the horn! Who can resist those smiles?) All that really does sounds great, but there must be a downside, right? “Worst would be the heavy stuff,” the drivers spilled after some prodding. But that is where the great team and the “heavy equipment operator” title come in handy! 




August 2014: Lisa Solomon, Parking and Transportation Services (PTS)

Lisa Solomon is the senior business analyst for Parking and Transportation Services (PTS). In her three years with the University she was been involved with a variety of initiatives focused on sustainable transportation such as alternative-fuel vehicles, buses, vanpools, and bikes. She has been working on a bike share program since Mary Sue Coleman brought the idea to the department in 2011. 

U-M works with the local community to provide faculty, staff, and students transportation options – such as free rides on AAATA routes through the M-Ride Program. “Parking and Transportation likes to encourage and support options,” stated Solomon. Her U-M master’s degree in urban planning an a background as a planner in the private sector help guide her in working with the community and U-M faculty, staff, and students.

As one of those options, Parking and Transportation Services worked with the City of Ann Arbor, The Ride and Downtown Development Authority to bring a $600,000 federal CMAQ grant to the Ann Arbor area to help establish a bike share program. Bike share programs have been successful in many cities around the country including locations such as Madison, Wisconsin and Denver, Colorado. ArborBike rolls out in September with 10 of 14 planned bike stations throughout downtown Ann Arbor and campus (including North Campus!). The final four stations will be installed in the spring. The program will be managed by local non-profit Clean Energy Coalition. As title sponsor and collaborator, University of Michigan will contribute $200,000 annually towards operating costs. Bike share programs are great for individuals looking for an alternative to the crowded bus ride from north to central campus, for staff members going from building to building for meetings, or for anyone looking to grab a quick lunch downtown from campus. They are designed for quick trips from location to location, with 30 minute check-out times on the bikes.


“Sustainability suggests consciousness regarding impacts on the environment and society. For me this means being mindful of resources and personal impacts in both the present and future on the environment and society. While it is about actions like reducing waste or using less energy, an important piece is developing processes or ideas that lead to longer-term positive impacts or gains,” says Solomon. Like many of Parking and Transportation’s sustainable travel options, ArborBike has a great opportunity to lead to long-term positive impact.  As more options are provided, more U-M faculty, staff, and students will have the opportunity to choose a sustainable commute that works for them.

Depending on her needs that day Lisa commutes to work by bike, bus, or car. These options help her be flexible for childcare needs and still make a sustainable commute whenever possible.


July 2014: J.W. Krantz, Central Power Plant

This year marks the hundredth anniversary of the Central Power Plant. Join us for a celebration and Sustainability Block Party on Tuesday, July 29 from 11am – 3pm. Get a behind-the-scene tour and learn how it operates! This University owned and operated plant provides 80% of central campus’ energy, including steam, electricity, compressed air, and hot water.

Central Power Plant 100 Yr Celebration

The Central Power Plant (CPP) is a combined cycle heating and co-generation plant that runs off of natural gas. Translation? It is an extremely efficient fossil-fuel power plant. The CPP prevents the equivalent of greenhouse gas emissions from 18,000 homes compared to the coal generating plants most of Ann Arbor gets their electricity from. In 2002 and in 2013 the plant won awards from the EPA for efficiency. Although U-M doesn’t operate any renewable energy sources directly yet, staff at Plant are constantly evaluating and assessing current technologies to see what would be most feasible to bring to campus as we work towards our 2025 greenhouse gas reduction goal.

Central Power Plant

We spoke to J.W. Krantz, Interim Associate Director of Utilities & Plant Engineering. He is leading the Central Power Plant’s 100 year celebration, and has been involved in energy efficiency measures at U-M for sixteen years. When speaking of why he is excited to invite campus to see the Central Power Plant for its 100th anniversary Krantz said, “The Power plant helps individuals see how their actions (energy use) affect our impact and our bottom line.”

“Plant engineers have always been involved with energy efficiency, formalizing their efforts in 1997 under the Energy Star Program,” stated Krantz. Most recently, many of you probably remember plant’s Planet Blue Operation Teams’ Open Houses. Plant broadened their sustainability efforts and invited other departments to join them under those open houses, and the joint effort evolved into the University-wide Planet Blue initiative you know today.

Energy efficiency is important to the University not only because of our sustainability goals, but it supports our mission. “With lower costs,” states Krantz, “more money can go to the students and our academic work.”

When asked what piece of advice he would give others looking to increase their energy efficiency Krantz replied, “Think about what you are doing. Have a line of sight. How are your actions impacting the University?” Come learn about how your energy use is having an impact by attending the Central Power Plant 100 Year Anniversary Celebration on July 29!


June 2014: Phil Reed, Upholstery Shop & Furniture Repair

Phil_Upholstery shop_chairs-before-afterPhil Reed has been one of the “leaders and best” in reducing University of Michigan’s waste for over 30 years. How you ask? He works in the U-M Upholstery Shop and Furniture Repair. The Upholstery Shop repairs and gives new life to everything from desk chairs and exercise equipment, to auditorium seating and antique wood furniture. At a rate of five chairs per day over the last thirty years, that is a lot of chairs saved from the landfill (over 50,000!). Phil’s work is also saving the University big bucks. Labor and materials for re-upholstering chairs is around one third of what an average chair costs new.


“90% of furniture at U-M is high quality,” states Phil. High quality furniture should be reupholstered and repaired instead of replaced. “I believe everything should be recycled at least once.” 

Upholstery shop works on president's house plans

Phil works with Renee Cruse, interior designer, on plans for the furniture in the President’s House. Phil’s work breathes new life into dated-looking furniture; creating an appealing new aesthetic.

Phil works with facilities managers and clinical managers from all across the University, including the health system. During the hour we talked, Phil was working on a set of chairs from a student computer lab in Weill Hall, creating a black-out curtain for a lab, receiving new fabric orders, and reviewing plans with a designer for the President’s House. He is a busy man. His response? “I am passionate about my work.”

Leather door from Hutchins Hall

Phil’s favorite project over the years, and one of the most unique, was updating these leather doors from Hutchins Hall, replicating the original design.

Next time you need a piece of furniture repaired or updated, reach out to the Upholstery Shop instead of throwing it out. Recycle, revive--reupholster! http://www.plantops.umich.edu/construction/shops/Upholstery/.

Upholstery shop working on chairs

May 2014: Laurie Carpenter, School of Public Health

Laurie Carpenter is the captain of the School of Public Health’s award-winning Commuter Challenge Team. This year, their team is killing it in the Team Spirit awards (they’ve won prizes in both photo challenges so far)! Check out their team spirit on Get Downtown’s Facebook page. “It’s a lot of fun getting folks from the many departments together for these challenges, and to encourage participation in the Commuter Challenge. We love to contribute positively to the community, and we also love to compete and win prizes, so it’s a win-win.”

Laurie is a dedicated sustainable commuter, rarely driving to work. “I am very committed to being conservative with our resources (energy), and my resources (money).” She enjoys biking and taking the bus. (She would really love to run to and from work, but it’s hard without having showers at the school.) She is proud of her co-workers taking sustainable commuting practices – including the ones who live farther away and take advantage of the expanded AAATA service and/or the Park and Ride lots.

Laurie’s official position at the School of Public Health is a senior research associate at the Center for Managing Chronic Disease (CMCD), evaluating multi-site health promotion programs and researching interventions which help people self-manage their own disease. Among her current work, she is part of a W.K. Kellogg Foundation funded “Food & Community” program which is increasing accessibility to locally grown food and options for physical activity in vulnerable communities.  This program helps develop sustainable communities by creating employment opportunities and increasing supply and demand for healthy foods. “Sustainability to me means living in a way that protects and supports the world we live in,” states Laurie.

As a tip for everyone, Laurie challenges us all to reflect on our consumption patterns. “Take a look at all the energy and resources that go into producing everything we use and consume in our lives…We really can do without much of what we think we need in this culture.” She also hopes to see U-M adopt sustainability policies across campus, and appreciates the recognition available (through Sustainable Workplace and Sustainable Lab programs) to workplaces that currently make the extra effort to be sustainable. 

April 2014: Keyana Thompson - ShawKeyana Thompson-Shaw Headshot

Keyana Thompson-Shaw is a member of the U-M Women’s Soccer Team and serves as the leader of M-SAS, Michigan Student Athletes for Sustainability, an Athletics’ career community. Keyana is a dual major in sports management and art & design. She got her first exposure to sustainability at U-M through Joe Trumpey’s Art Design Perspectives class. “I took A.P. Environmental Science in high school. It focused on just the scientific aspects of sustainability, and this class opened it up to a broader view.” Sustainability is about more than the environment; it is an all-encompassing view.  Sports management is all about the bottom line. “I go to the triple bottom line,” states Keyana. The triple bottom line is a sustainable business concept that looks at environmental impacts and human rights along with profits. “It is what is best for a business.”

After that first class, Keyana joined the Graham Sustainability Scholars program. “It connected me to a community I wouldn’t have otherwise been exposed to.” The Sustainability Scholars program accepts students from all majors in a unique sustainability leadership experience. “Sustainability is growing at U-M.” She mentions that she has seen the education component, which has a huge impact on students, grow little by little during her time here at U-M.

She’s also been involved sustainability initiatives around campus and beyond, from working to make the TEDx U-M event Zero Waste, to community engagement projects and more. As leader of the Michigan Student Athletes for Sustainability she sits on Athletics’ Sustainability Committee. M-SAS has participation from a broad spectrum of U-M athletic teams. They host Zero Waste athletic games, such as the upcoming NCAA Gymnastics Tournament (you can volunteer here!). Future projects include working with nutritionists to design vegetarian/vegan meals that meet the nutritional needs of student athletes, and working to bring sustainability awareness to new student athletes during orientation.

March 2014: Ryan Gourley

Ryan Gourley is a MS student at the School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS), where he is concentrating in Behavior, Education, and Communication. He is active in the local sustainable food movement and sharing economy. "I see sustainability as both a desired outcome and an ongoing process. As an end-state, it's the world we all want to live in, where both people and planet are healthy and thriving. As a process, it means working together to set up and safeguard the systems that will get us there."

Ryan is founder of A2Share, a community organization with a mission to support and strengthen the sharing economy of the Ann Arbor area. It provides resources for sharing in our community, both online at a2share.org and through regular meet-ups. Working with a group of sustainability-minded students, A2Share is hosting the second annual "Ann Arbor Sharing Summit" on Saturday, March 22nd, from 11am to 3pm. You can find more details on Facebook and get your tickets on EventbriteThere will be skillshares, a clothing and book swap, and representation from several organizations that work in this space.  And the whole thing is free!

A2Share's mission supports U-M's goal of reducing waste by 40%. "The University is currently competing against other colleges and universities in the nationwide RecycleMania challenge. Having participated in a waste sort as part of that, I saw firsthand that we're throwing away a lot of things that still have plenty of life left in them -- things like gently used clothes, books, electronics -- we even came across a brand new bag with the tags still on! If we adopted an ethos of sharing -- where rather than disposing of a perfectly usable object when we're done with it or letting it sit idle taking up space, we gave others access to it -- we would have a lot less waste overall," stated Ryan. The need to use less doesn't have to be a sacrifice. Ryan and others' work supports that there are ways to use less while getting more - such as by sharing our resources. What does Ryan like to share? "Oh that's a tough one. I would have to say, in general, books. Books are just better shared."


February 2014: MaryBeth Stuenkel








MaryBeth is a program manager at ITS. She first got involved in sustainability at the University of Michigan with the ClimateSavers Computing Project in 2007. The ClimateSavers team at U-M, including MaryBeth, worked on projects that aimed to incorporate sustainable computing as part of the culture at U-M. The project lasted two years, and MaryBeth continued its efforts as the sustainability liaison for IT.

Sustainability is something close to MaryBeth’s heart. “My mom was one of 13 children born to a coal miner in Pennsylvania. She didn’t throw anything away that you could use. She saved newspapers all year for boy scouts paper drive. She reused everything she could and I grew up viewing that as the standard. It doesn’t make any sense to me to waste stuff, and that was largely the way I was brought up.” As an institution U-M has a responsibility to be a good steward of the earth and should be using our resources wisely. “We also have a responsibility to give those resources and tools to the incoming generations as they become independent adults.”

When asked what she is most proud of in her work at U-M so far, MaryBeth highlighted the Green IT Achievement Program. Through this program, IT units could fill out a checklist of sustainable actions they were either already doing or would pledge to do soon. After completing the checklist, units would receive a certificate that ranked their efforts from bronze to gold. “Teams that achieved a gold level by the end of the project participated in an honorary tree planting ceremony to thank them for their efforts.” That tree is still on campus today.

Looking into the future, Marybeth is looking forward to working with the MiWorkspace team as they roll out across the University. “They are already doing a lot of things in a sustainable manner, but not many people know it.”

When asked what is one tip she would give us Wolverines, Marybeth stated, “The University has recently invested in collaborative tools, MBox & Google, that can be used to reduce the use of paper, reduce travel, and be more efficient.” Check out more sustainable computing tips at sustainablecomputing.umich.edu.

What does MaryBeth have to say about her own efforts at U-M? “My mom would be proud of me.”

January 2014: Bobby Levine

Digested Organics is a start-up with a new approach to onsite waste treatment. Bobby Levine, the CEO and founder of Digested Organics, works to covert high strength organic wastes (like food waste at a cafeteria) into clean, reusable water while generating renewable energy.

Levine is originally from a suburb north of Chicago. He studied microbiology and biochemistry as an undergraduate at Middlebury College. As an undergraduate student, Levine began studying wastewater treatment processes, and he completed a thesis process that focused on growing algae on wastewater from local dairy farms. He then went on to receive a PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Michigan.

“I’ve always been interested in helping [to] reduce the impact human activity has on our environment. Waste is really a relative term – what’s considered garbage and a nuisance to one might be considered a valuable resource to another. In following with this concept, I’ve tried to develop biological solutions to waste management that help create more sustainable systems,” Levine said.

After his graduation from U of M last May, Bobby decided to start Digested Organics to design, build, and market an onsite waste treatment process called the BioEliminator™. The BioEliminator ™ can convert kinds of organic wastes – from food scraps to greases and oils to manure – into clean, grey water. Throughout this conversion process, the BioEliminator ™ also generates high quality biogas (which is less than 70% methane) into energy that produces heat and power.

Levine argues that most people aren’t aware of where their waste actually goes, so they often don’t evaluate the environmental impacts of their waste. Digested Organics provides an efficient, cost-effective solution to its customers that significantly reduces the impact of the waste that they produce.

“By treating wastes onsite instead of hauling them away, Digested Organics can dramatically reduce the cost and environmental footprint of waste disposal for customers such as cafeterias, supermarkets, hospitals, and small farms. In addition, we can reduce freshwater consumption by facilitating the reuse of treated grey water,” Levine explained.

Levine is hoping to market the BioEliminator ™ to large cafeterias, supermarkets, hospitals, small farms, and any other industries that produce waste that needs to be treated. U of M is currently considering installing a pilot system from Digested Organics in East Quad sometime this year.

As far as future goals, Levine says, “Today we do too much taking without appreciating the repercussions of our actions. We need to understand how our activities can fit into natural cycles of resource use. I hope Digested Organics can help be a part of the solution that helps move us in [that] direction.”

Bob Marans, Lead Researcher behind SCIP (Sustainability Cultural Indicators Program)

The Sustainability Cultural Indicators Program (SCIP) – led by the Institute for Social Research (ISR) and Graham Sustainability Institute – recently released its first year data and report. Bob Marans is the lead researcher from ISR for this five-year long program.

Bob Marans

SCIP surveys a broad sample of U-M students, faculty, and staff on their sustainability-related knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors. With the results, Bob and other researchers have developed indices to measure and track our culture of sustainability. Over the next five years as part of Planet Blue, we hope to see these indicator measures improve over time and serve as a model for gathering this often-neglected data for campuses across the country and world.

In their summary of first year results, Bob and Graham’s John Callewaert report that “indicator scores were generally low, but this creates great opportunity for change and with SCIP we can track it.”  For example, approximately 75% of staff and faculty always or mostly drive a car to work from home, although only 10% of students do so.  90% of staff and faculty always recycle while 60% of students do so.  Bob reminds us, however, that this is a “long-term effort.” Next year’s report may not show much change, but as initiatives such as Planet Blue Ambassadors ramp up we may see greater changes in year three.

“I’m worried about depletion of resources and climate change. Things are going to be very different for future generations,” says Bob about the importance of encouraging a culture of sustainability here at U-M and beyond. As SCIP develops, this model may be replicated at other universities, across municipalities (such as the City of Ann Arbor), or even in large organizations and corporations. With SCIP, we can measure sustainability culture, learn what works, share our knowledge, and replicate our experience elsewhere.

So what does this mean for you as a Planet Blue Ambassador? If you are interested in reading the first year-report, you can do so online here. Learn about attitudes about climate change, specific behaviors as well as general thoughts of UM’s sustainability progress to date.  Over the next few months, we will begin focusing on specific knowledge and behaviors in SCIP to work on as Planet Blue Ambassadors through our monthly e-newsletters and events. As an Ambassador, we encourage you to use the information and resources personally, as well as share in your U-M community and beyond.

As our first step, please encourage anyone you know who is invited to be part of the Year 2 SCIP Survey to complete the survey. Individuals chosen to complete the survey as part of a random sample will receive an email email from President Coleman and a link to the survey shortly. 


October 2013 - East Quad Dining Hall, Chef BuzzEast Quad Dining

Chef Buzz is the head chef in the new, renovated East Quad Dining Hall.  He is proud of new features, including a “Farmers’ Table” station featuring local food and “24 Carrots”, an all-new creative vegetarian station. Students and others lucky enough to dine in this new hall have plenty of sustainable food choices from the plethora of food options available in this swanky new space.

In addition to local and sustainable food options, upgrades to the dining hall include many waste and energy-saving initiatives.  Most of the new equipment is energy-efficient and Energy-Star rated.  New lights are LED.

Food waste is also down in the halls.  The switch to trayless is a big contributor to the reduction of food waste.  “Many students believe the switch to trayless was to save the cost of washing trays,” Buzz relies, but the switch to trayless was primarily in partnership with students asking for the change and data from other universities showing that the switch reduces food waste up to 30%  -- a great step towards our campus goal of reducing waste by 40% across the whole University by 2025.  Smaller food portions also help reduce the amount of food thrown away at meals, allowing diners to try more than one of the twelve to thirteen entrees offered at meals without throwing away unfinished portions.

Water used for rinsing dishes in the hall is now filtered and re-used.  The daily amount of water used in rinsing dishes “can fit in a tank the size of a single-person Jacuzzi.”  This is a drastic reduction from the old process.

The increase in traffic at East Quad and additional interest in sustainable and locally-sourced food has enabled this dining hall to support more local farmers. “We are ordering two to three times the amount of food from local vendors than before the renovation.”  A tour of the kitchen behind the scenes revealed the huge variety of food that can be locally-sourced (within 250 miles of Ann Arbor)—everything from apples, squash, eggplant, tomatoes, eggs, beef, chicken, to sausage.  For example, apples are sourced from Lesser Farms right down the road in Dexter, and Mark’s Quality Meats based in Detroit provides Angus beef raised & processed in Michigan.

Regarding produce, “hopefully we can source local produce through November if the weather stays good.  Some local farms are adopting the use of hoop houses to extend their growing seasons, allowing us to source local produce even longer.”

Even when Chef Buzz doesn’t work with local farmers directly, Sysco, the University’s main food supplier, works to provide local and sustainable food.  Sysco provides local food such as cucumbers and even white perch caught in the Great Lakes.  This week Sysco is piloting a new supplier of local, cage-free eggs in East Quad.

In addition to Chef Buzz’s passion for providing great food, he enjoys working with students.  “In the past, we’ve worked with many student groups to improve local and sustainable food options available in East Quad.  We hope in the future to continue working with students and eventually source produce directly from the Campus Farm.”

To learn more about the University of Michigan’s sustainable food guidelines and initiatives, check out U-M Office of Campus Sustainability.


September 2013 - Blue BusBus

How much time have you logged on those iconic Blue Buses around campus?  Mark has been a Transit Coach Operator here at U-M for over fourteen years, beginning as a student.  His advice for staff and students hesitant to make the leap and ride the bus? Take a time to learn the routes online. It’s a little intimidating for everyone the first time, but it’s easy!  Or, if you have the time, just hop on for a ride and explore.  Parking & Transportation Services provides maps of all the routes on their website, as well as the useful live bus tracker, Magic Bus.

Between the U-M Blue Bus system and the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority, the bus can take you almost anywhere you want to go on campus or in Ann Arbor.  Students, staff, and faculty are all welcome to ride the bus and are able to do so for free (just remember to swipe your M-Card on the A3TA buses!).  Another perk? You don’t have to hassle with parking.  “Why hassle with parking? Some people claim they don’t take the bus because it takes longer, but by the time you walk to your car, (scrape it off in winter), drive, find a parking spot, and walk to your building, the bus will drop you off in about the same time.  Plus, we deal with traffic so you don’t have to!” states Mark.  You also make the campus area and commute better for the whole University community by lessoning congestion.


 Mark has spoken to a few people who don’t take the bus because they are concerned about their ability to get home in an emergency. “If someone becomes ill at work or class, or they need to take home a sick kid, the University offers a free ‘emergency ride home’ up to six times a year through the Department of Public Safety.” 

The bus system is also becoming more sustainable.  With the addition of three brand new hybrid buses, the fleet now has 10 hybrids.  “I love the hybrid buses.  They offer a smooth drive, are quieter, look sleek, and have nice, comfortable driver seats.” The hybrid buses also get good reviews with passengers, and are a great visible “green” initiative for the University. 


August 2013 - Stormwater


August 2013 - Stormwater

We asked U-M’s resident stormwater expert, John Kosco, “What is one thing everyone should know about stormwater?”  The most important thing to remember and share about stormwater, John says, is that it goes straight into surface waters such as the Huron River.  Anything that goes into storm drains with the run off from stormwater– spilled coffee, leaked oil, litter, dumped soapy water, extra fertilizer—ends up in our waterways.  “Do your part to help keep our Michigan waters blue by properly disposing of waste,” says John.


What is stormwater?  Stormwater runoff occurs during rain (and other precipitation events), when rain lands on hard (impervious) surfaces in developed areas, such as roads, sidewalks, parking lots, rooftops, etc..  In a natural area, rain would land on pervious surfaces, such as prairie, and soak slowly into the ground, or slowly move towards surface waters in natural channels, filtering out contaminants.  In developed areas, the stormwater runoff needs somewhere to go, so it flows to places such as storm sewers, detention/retention ponds, and managed wetlands.  Unfortunately, if the stormwater isn’t properly managed it can lead to erosion and degradation along waterways.  It can also lead to an increase in pollution because the stormwater picks up more contaminates and litter as it rushes along, and has less time to allow sediment to settle to the ground.


As U-M expands, staff has been working hard to prevent any increases to stormwater runoff.  On projects greater than one acre, developers work directly with OSEH to create a full stormwater mitigation plan.  The U-M Planner’s Office also works closely with the OSEH team to consider long-term plans for stormwater management, such as developing the detention basins and wetland system near the Art & Architecture Building with the capacity to handle the last ten years of growth.



While at the U-M there are several steps you can take to help prevent the negative effects of stormwater.  Most importantly, if you see a spill outdoors, report it to OSEH (Occupational Safety and Environmental Health) at 3-4568 or DPS (Department of Public Safety) at 3-1131.  If you see a storm drain clogged with debris, such as leaves and sticks – you can contact the Plant Operations Call Center (7-2059) to report it.  Finally, spread the word.  Let people know about stormwater pollution, and encourage them not to dump or litter around storm drains.

At home, be conscientious of stormwater before undertaking any development projects.  In just a 10 ft x 10 ft space, there will be over 60 gallons of run-off in a 1 in rain event.  How much larger is your roof?  Before installing a new walk-way or driveway, consider using porous pavers to allow water to seep through to the ground below in a more natural way.  You can also consider incorporating a rain barrel or rain garden in your yard to collect the rain.


June 2013 - University Libraries

Students from Central Student Government and Library staff worked together last year to install 7 water bottle refill stations in the University Libraries, saving an estimated 250,000 disposable bottles from being used and discarded.  Next time you are in Shapiro, Hatcher, or Duderstat –check out one of these refill stations in the high-traffic areas. (Side note: there are now over 100 bottle refill stations campus-wide!)

Water bottle refill stations are just one of many sustainability initiatives the University Libraries have engaged in.  About 25 staff members currently volunteer for the libraries’ two-year old, multi-departmental Green Team.   The Green Team meets about every two months to review and improve sustainability efforts.


For example, Library staff are strongly encouraged to utilize the Library’s internal re-use website instead of buying new office supplies or furniture when possible.  Staff members can even make pro-active wish-lists of items they are looking out for.  Almost all items are placed!  New staff and offices in transition are encouraged to use existing furniture and supplies when possible.  For example, when the Serials & Microforms department moved to a new building, they were able to find and re-use all the furniture they needed internally, instead of buying new.


Taking re-use even one step further, much of the furniture in the library is reupholstered and repaired instead of replaced when needed.  The U-M Upholstery Shop can provide many fabrics and services to make old furniture look new! Pro-tip: If you use bolt-end fabrics, the U-M Upholstery Shop can provide the fabric for free and just charge on labor.



Opportunities for sustainability are everywhere, and tend to make operations simpler and easier.  For example, the library switched to paper inserts for signage that can easily be updated and placed in plastic sleeves instead of using plastic signs that need to be completely changed with our frequent room changes.  The Green Team also performed a survey of Library buildings to track where recycling and trash receptacles should be located, were able to place recycling receptacles next to every trash can, and maintain a database of every location where a disposal set-up should be for easy monitoring and future upkeep.




March 2013 - Kill-a-Watt

killawatt_logoKill-a-Watt at the University of Michigan is a student organization that organizes and implements an energy saving competition each fall. Founded in November 2010, their mission is to involve students in energy, environmental, and sustainability issues, and start discussions on these topics while reducing energy usage on campus.  In 2012, students reduced energy consumption in University Housing by over 107,000 kilowatt hours, saving an estimated $9,000 in utility costs

The organization’s goal is to help spread awareness about sustainability, and convey the relevance to students from all backgrounds regardless of their interest in environmental issues. They also seek to make energy usage more visible on campus and provide educational and entertaining workshops during the competition, as well as hold speakers throughout the year to bring awareness to the cause.  “The average incandescent light bulb is 60 W, and a CFL equivalent is 14 W, which means that if everyone on campus ( about 43500) had one incandescent and switched it to a CFL, we would save approximately 2001 kW of energy,” report group organizers.

"You can incorporate sustainable energy saving behaviors into your day to day life and there doesn't need to be sacrifice," says Maura Fitzsimons, Kill-A-Watt's outreach chair.  Each year during the competition Kill-a-Watt organizers and partners aim to help students reduce their energy usage by 10% during a 4 week period compared to the same period during the previous year. They do so through engaging and educational programming like 'desserts in the dark' and 'light bulb terrarium' making.

killawatt montage

The group’s grand finale, “Kill-A-Watt Unplugged,” was a huge success.  The large event was zero waste and used zero energy!  Entertainment was provided by campus acapella groups, and food was served on compostable plates and silverware, showing students that you can have a good time and be environmentally friendly at the same time!

South Quad won for saving the most energy in this year's competition, reducing their usage by 13.8%!  (Northwood III and Helen Newberry also reduced their energy usage over the month by at least 10%.) West Quad and North Quad won the Enthusiasm Award for outstanding programming and resident attendance!

killawatt exchange

Kill-a-Watt currently operates in ten of the residence halls, but they are looking to expand even more next year and keep growing the program.  You can learn more about Kill-a-Watt’s efforts and stay up to date by visiting their website at www.killawattum.org.

February 2013 - School of Social WorkSSW_PBAs

The School of Social Work has a history of going above and beyond when taking on sustainability initiatives.  They were the first department to go entirely paperless.  They implemented all the recommendations from the Planet Blue Operations Teams such as using power strips, using low-flow aerators, and just exploring different options as a department.  Because of their efforts, they have reduced their energy and resource usage by 35%!

How did they achieve this amazing reduction? We asked School of Social Work staff members Kari Dumbeck and Jerome Rork, to fill us in on sustainability initatives in their building.


  • They elminated all personal refrigerators and microwaves (fun fact: a small fridge and a big fridge can use the same amount of energy!). By creating mini kitchenettes with one large fridge and one microwave for communal use, they eliminated 16 fridges and 11 microwaves.

SSW Kitchenette

  • They also eliminated paper waste in their kitchenettes and gave everyone official water bottles and mugs for reuse. 
  • They switched to no personal coffee makers in offices, and use large urns in the downstairs area instead.  The in-house coffee station provides coffee for meetings and gatherings
  • They switched to managed printing stations for whole floors, elminating desktop printers and cutting down significantly on their paper and ink usage per capita! They also provide in-house shredders so they don't need to contract out the service.

SSW Printing

  • They had the highest participation under the Planet Blue Operations Teams' "Planet Blue Citizen" program and are now encouraging everyone to become a Planet Blue Ambassador.
  • Their department is hosted on virtual servers, eliminating 3 of their 7 mainframe towers for a massive electricity savings.
  • Lights are set on agressive 90 minutes timers where if there is no movement in the classroom the lights and electronic system will shut off.
  • The building's fan schedules are optimized so they shut off at 9pm every night, reducing wasted energy.
  • All computers are turned off at night, not just power-saver mode.

As a department, the School of Social work has banded together, encouraged sustainable actions, created communal spaces, and optimized their building and operations systems to create a culture of sustainable behavior that is lasting and they look forward to new opportunities, such as Planet Blue Ambassadors, to continue to be the leaders and best in sustainability.

"As kids we were taught the 3 R's were reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic.  Today the 3 R's mean to me reduce, reuse, and recycle." - Kari Dumbeck, Business Operations Payroll Coordinator at the School of Social Work.