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E-M:/ FW: USA Today Article on Michigan's Earth-friendly Campus
- Subject: E-M:/ FW: USA Today Article on Michigan's Earth-friendly Campus
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- Date: Mon, 29 Apr 2002 11:40:26 -0400
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- List-Name: Enviro-Mich
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Enviro-Mich message from firstname.lastname@example.org
Congratulations to the University of Michigan- where "every day is Earth
The old Earth-friendly try More colleges should follow Mich.'s lead,
By Mary Beth Marklein
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Earth Day 2002 may have come and gone, but every day
is Earth Day at the University of Michigan, it seems.
One of the first campuses to embrace then-Sen. Gaylord Nelson's call in
1970 for an environmental revolution, Michigan by many measures has
maintained its leadership role as a steward of Earth. The campus -- which
operates not unlike a small city -- boasts some 185 initiatives, from a
student-led paper-recycling program to the ''Greening of Dana,'' a
building renovation that takes advantage of renewable energy and recycled
A ''significant minority'' of institutions -- Oberlin College, Clemson
University and the University of Colorado come quickly to mind -- is
similarly invested, says a report on a recent survey of 891 campuses by
the National Wildlife Federation, a Washington-area non-profit.
But many environmentalists also say higher education's commitment -- in
the classroom, in research and through community outreach -- has been
uneven in the decades since that first Earth Day.
Back then, an estimated 2,000 campuses nationwide took part in teach-ins
and demonstrations. Today, most initiatives typically move forward not as
a result of grass-roots pressure or coordinated planning from the top
down, but through the efforts of a few champions, says Wynn Calder,
associate director of University Leaders for a Sustainable Future, a
Washington group that supports green initiatives.
The NWF survey found ''almost a complete disconnect'' among various
departments on any given campus, says Julian Keniry, NWF's manager of
campus ecology programs. Schools with environmental research departments,
for ex- ample, tended not to have Earth-friendly daily operations, and
That's in part a function of higher education's decentralized structure of
governance. But the survey also pointed to other missed opportunities.
Recycling is one of the most pervasive campus programs, but colleges have
been far less successful in diverting waste from landfills and
incinerators. And while 64% of presidents said environmental concerns are
integral to the campus culture and values, ''a solid majority'' didn't
intend to strengthen significantly or expand green initiatives.
That troubles environmentalists, who say colleges and universities are
uniquely positioned -- and obligated -- to study and teach sound
Even institutions recognized as being ahead of the curve aren't immune to
criticism. Last year, a group of Michigan alumni concerned about global
warming urged then-president Lee Bollinger to reduce greenhouse gas
emissions. The request to meet went nowhere, though organizers say they
haven't given up.
''Being a leader is not saying, 'Well, we're above the median.' Being a
leader is going out and showing what can and should be done,'' says 1976
alumnus Howard Learner, who heads an environmental law and policy center
in Chicago. ''University of Michigan researchers literally wrote the book
in terms of climate change challenges. What better way to educate students
about environmental issues than to put it all in practice?''
Some higher education experts acknowledge a sort of benign neglect of
green issues. But with so many issues competing for attention,
''environmental (concerns) don't always rise to the level of attention
that they should,'' concedes Sheldon Steinbach, general counsel for the
American Council on Education, which represents higher education on
Student environmentalists see a similar pattern among their classmates.
''The majority are pretty apathetic about everything, including the
environment,'' says University of Michigan senior Sara Kennedy, 22, a
member of EnAct, one of two campus environmental groups. And, she says,
''there are a lot of different activist organizations on this campus, not
just environmental ones, but social, political, religious. So a lot of
people tend to tune out any messages that we're trying to send.''
Environmentalists hope that change is in the wind. In response to dire
warnings from world scientists and agreements among nations to work toward
managing the world's resources, a number of organizations have sprouted up
in the past decade to support and push colleges and universities to act
The threat of penalty also has proved to be a strong motivator. Since
1995, the Environmental Protection Agency has slapped dozens of
universities, including Yale, Boston and Brown, with citations for
improperly storing hazardous chemicals and polluting the air, ground and
water. Last April, the University of Rhode Island agreed to an $800,000
settlement for such violations. A few months earlier, the University of
Hawaii was fined $1.7 million, the largest EPA fine ever for a university.
After ''the initial shock, (universities) have been incredibly cooperative
and even aggressive in figuring out ways to address the problem,'' says
the EPA's Joshua Secunda, who works with Northeast colleges and
universities. Nearly half of about 300 schools are taking part in a new
EPA program in which they can avoid fines if they find and fix regulatory
There are other payoffs as well. University of Michigan officials have
calculated the annual cost to dispose of bulbs and ballasts at about
$160,000. But by recycling the metal and glass parts, the tab drops to
Cutting its use of fertilizer, herbicides and insecticides last year saved
But setting such policies is ''the easy part,'' says Terry Alexander,
director of the university's occupational safety and environmental health
department. Imagine, he says, if the campus were to cut its utility bills
by just 1%. That could save $400,000 to $600,000 a year.
Keniry, too, sees behavioral change as key and urges schools to consider
orienting new students and faculty to environmental policies and goals.
Michigan officials, meanwhile, have launched contests and awareness
campaigns. And students found that simply painting recycling bins drew
more attention -- and more waste.
But they also acknowledge a never-ending hunger for more.
''It's almost hard to measure environmental awareness in terms of success
because there's no endpoint,'' Kennedy says. ''Whenever you get one goal
met, you raise the bar.''
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