Task force report recommends eight key areas for U-M to monitor for environmental sustainability

April 21, 2004
  • umichnews@umich.edu

ANN ARBOR—A University of Michigan task force has recommendedto President Mary Sue Coleman that the University monitor eight key areas toimprove its environmental performance. The task force report was released todayThe Environmental Task Force, formed in 2003 by Coleman to develop a plan forthe U-M to create a more sustainable future, worked for a year on the report.It identifies key environmental performance areas to monitor and improve, andrecommends reporting the University’s progress on an annual basis.

Dean Rosina Bierbaum, School of Natural Resources and Environment, and Dean DouglasKelbaugh, Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, served as taskforce chairs. Task force members came from a wide range of disciplines and schools,including Plant Operations, Purchasing, Occupational Safety and EnvironmentalHealth, Engineering, Parking and Transportation, and U-M Flint. The Center forSustainable Systems provided extensive analytic support in the development ofthe indicators matrix. The group built upon earlier work done by a group of master’sdegree students in the School of Natural Resources and Environment.

“This is truly a grass roots effort emanating from a School of Natural Resourcesand Environment student master’s project on U-M sustainability in 2001,” Bierbaumsaid. “The students presented their work to the then new U-M president, MarySue Coleman, who, in turn, challenged our task force to develop the prototypereleased today. While many other universities have begun reporting on issueslike greenhouse gases and energy use, the comprehensiveness of the metrics proposedhere, along with the annual initiatives to improve problem areas, if adopted,could catapult the University of Michigan to the forefront of accountabilityand sustainability.”

“Tracking these measures will reveal our habits of water use, transportation,recycling, and energy consumption, and its impact on air quality,” Kelbaugh said. “Ifwe continue to improve our habits and stay faithful to the plan, we will keepU-M in the ecological forefront.”

The Environmental Task Force first selected a set of general categories to bestcapture the environmental footprint of the U-M campus. The categories were chosenfor their significance of impact, campus-wide applicability and availabilityof data. They include energy use in buildings and transportation, water use,land use, emissions (air and water), material use and solid waste, and cross-cuttingand emerging issues.

Next, they identified specific indicators to best measure the progress of U-Mwith respect to its environmental performance in those six categories. Indicatorsare: primary energy consumption, meaning the energy used to power the campus;renewable energy contribution, such as using wind, biofuels, solar thermal andphotovoltaic technologies; water use; impervious surface area, and any increasesin comparison to total surface area; greenhouse gas emissions; solid waste generatedby the University such as paper and food scraps; percent of solid waste recycled;and building utilization. (A less area-intensive building footprint per capitagenerally reflects greater efficiency in construction and operation.)

The task force stressed that the U-M should use the report not to only to measureits performance, but also to improve environmental stewardship, refining indicatorsif necessary. It also noted that environmental stewardship assessment can contributeto the identification of cost savings as well as to the reduction of environmentalrisks.

In the long term, the report suggested that U-M should establish a multidisciplinaryassessment and reporting advisory committee, and eventually incorporate social,economic, cultural and aesthetic indicators that are just as important but harderto quantify. It also suggested that the U-M highlight the business case for environmentalstewardship, and utilize the Global Reporting Initiative framework, which isbecoming the standard for sustainability and reporting guidelines.

Finally, the report said, environmental stewardship goals could ultimately beintegrated with academic courses and faculty and student research projects.

“I am extremely grateful to deans Bierbaum and Kelbaugh, as well as to the entiretask force and the many technical consultants who contributed their expertiseto the task force’s work,” said President Mary Sue Coleman. “It is especiallyappropriate that this model for measuring and improving the University’s stewardshipof the environment be presented in connection with the celebration of Earth Day,given the University’s longstanding commitment to environmentally friendly practices.I look forward to studying the report and considering ways to implement its recommendations.”

The University has a long history of leadership and innovation on environmentalissues within its facilities and operations. Recently, U-M has received severalprestigious awards, including the 2004 Environmental Protection Agency and Departmentof Energy Award for “Best Workplace for Commuters” and the 2003 EPA Energy StarCombined Heat and Power Award. In 2001, U-M was recognized as the National RecyclingCoalition’s Outstanding School Program. 

A complete copy of the report can be found on the web at http://www.umich.edu/pres/committees/etfreport.pdf

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