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University commits to 20 percent threshold for sustainable food purchases

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — In 2011, President Emerita Mary Sue Coleman introduced a new set of sustainability goals to be completed by 2025 and University President Mark Schlissel aims to keep it moving.

According to the University’s Office of Campus Sustainability, the goals include reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent, transportation emissions per rider by 30 percent and waste tonnage by 40 percent, all measured against a baseline from 2006.

Additionally, according to the initiative, the University is committed to ensuring 20 percent of dining hall food is “sustainable” — purchased from local producers within a 250-mile radius of Ann Arbor or certified by third parties, among other criteria.

Last semester, University President Mark Schlissel announced the University would review the sustainability goals in 2015 — a year earlier than initially scheduled.

In an interview with The Michigan Daily earlier this month, Schlissel said he wanted to address campus sustainability as early as possible.

“I figured if I was going to take a serious look and try to either re-energize or alter some of what we’re doing, it would make sense to do that serious review before I made changes in our program,” Schlissel said.

Three committees of faculty, staff and students are conducting the review. One team is reviewing greenhouse gas emissions, another waste reduction and the final group is focusing on the culture of sustainability on campus.

Nicole Berg, coordinator for the Planet Blue Ambassador program at the University’s Graham Sustainability Institute, said the review is expected to generate discussions on existing initiatives and the challenges they have faced.

“We’re doing a good job, but I think these committees are opening up that conversation between faculty, staff and students on the academic side and on the operation side and really help shape where those barriers are and how we can overcome them,” Berg said.

Andy Berki, manager of the Office of Campus Sustainability, said he appreciated Schlissel’s interest in sustainability and looks forward to the recommendations yielded by the review.

“President Schlissel showed up on campus and when he arrived he very quickly demonstrated his commitment to sustainability and our efforts on campus,” Berki said. “I would expect to see some exciting recommendations come out of the teams in June and I would think we should hear something on campus about the direction and recommendations of these teams by fall.”

Existing goals have achieved varying degrees of success. Berki said one of the more challenging initiatives has been reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2006, the University emitted approximately 700,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, Berki said. According to a report published by the OCS, the University emitted roughly the same amount in 2013.

Berki said the University plans to invest in a high efficiency natural gas turbine project over the next several years. The initiative is in the “design phase,” and he said it could significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions when implemented.

“A large project we’ve been working on for the last three or four years is to increase the amount of turbines at our power plant,” Berki said. “By doing this project with the turbines … we should reduce our overall carbon emissions by at least 100,000 to 120,000 metric tons. So that will have a significant effect on moving our way toward our climate action goal of 510,000.”

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