Munger Case Competition: Campus Sustainability Made Easy

Susan Thwing
Release Date: 


How do you help the environment? Why you recycle and compost … right? Easy-sounding solutions, but does everyone know what that means?

Participants in the winning team of this spring’s Munger Case Competition found that for some, recycling and composting were easier said than done. The winning team of Li Wang, Sheela Lal, Muriel Bassil, Rong Cheng, found that most students on the University of Michigan campus were willing to recycle and compost, with a strong interest in sustainability, however less than 50 percent were doing so. Why? A lack of understanding as to what to recycle and how was a key challenge. As a solution, the students proposed an eight-month pilot program at the Munger residence hall to understand how students interact with diversion methods of sustainability education. With success, the team hope to spread the methodology to all on-campus residencies.

Using a fictional $100,000 of seed money, the teams’ action plan worked to effectively address issues of campus sustainability. Teams are free to address the specific issues listed or choose a topic/issue of their choosing.This competition’s team project included education, promotions, incentives, equipment and enforcements that would incorporate recycling and composting into the daily lives of students.

Michael Rupert, Program Manager, Graduate Academic Initiatives, says “The Munger Case Competition is a semesterly event that challenges transdisciplinary teams to address various important topics. This semester, Munger Graduate Residences partnered with MDining and Michigan's School for Environment and Sustainability to ask teams of students to address one of five issues of sustainability.”

Rupert says the ingenuity and creativeness of the entries was impressive. “The students developed very rich solutions to the challenges presented. They were dedicated to the project and spent extensive time outside of their classes and personal lives to address the issues comprehensively.”

Keith Soster, Director of Student Engagement and Sustainability at MDining, was one of the competition judges.

“The work all of the students accomplished was in-depth and well thought out,” he says.”The Munger Competition is an excellent initiative to bring awareness to campus and further our sustainability efforts.”

The five topics to choose from were:

  • U-M has a goal of diverting 40% of landfill waste generated on our campus to recycling or composting. How do we achieve this goal?
  • U-M is currently buying local, sustainable food at 17%. The goal is to have 20% local, sustainable food procurement. What opportunities exist to move the needle on this goal?
  • Food insecurity is a real issue on college campuses, including ours. What are the best ways to address the issues and offer solutions? Equity as it pertains to our food system is a challenge.
  • How do we address equity issues as it relates to the food systems? Examples include food access, farming, & environmental justice.
  • Students new to U-M should understand the sustainability culture we are trying to create. How do we effectively educate and ensure adoption of our campus-wide goal?

Throughout the semester, student teams were given the opportunity to attend educational sessions sponsored by a diverse set of campus partners (MDining, the School for Environment and Sustainability, the UM Law School, the School of Public Health, and the Planet Blue Ambassadors). These programs were intentionally created to help teams develop new perspectives of how multiple disciplines intersect in sustainability work, Rupert says.

He adds that the Case Competition is uniquely positioned to help students value and develop skills in two main areas.

“Each scholar comes from a discipline that views problems from certain lenses. By bringing scholars from various disciplines together to work as a team, they have multiple models of problem solving to utilize. Being in transdisciplinary teams gives them a more complex set of skills and perspectives to utilize in addressing the issue,” Rupert explains. “Also, students practice how to communicate across different disciplines. Whether it is an MBA student, a dental student, engineering, or social work… each discipline communicates using different jargon. Working together to problem solve with students from differing schools gives the participants the opportunity to learn how to communicate with those outside of their program.”

Rupert adds that these are skills that will be essential to success in their professional lives post-graduation as they work with members of different disciplines to solve the many variety of complex issues that they may face.

The Munger Case Competition entries were presented in March 28. Awardees received $1000, and the members of the runner up team received $250.

The next step will be possible implementation, working with MDining on the feasibility, to pilot the program.

“We’ve worked very closely with the students on this project and hope to continue this partnership to make their plan a reality,” Soster says.