Michigan State University 2013 Sustainability Report

Michigan State University Sustainability Report 2013
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Intro from President Simon

In 2005, I challenged the MSU community to display Boldness by Design. In response, Spartans everywhere found ways to transform teaching and research, community engagement, and stewardship of economic and environmental resources. In 2013, I challenged the community to be even bolder, and the response has been enormous. This is especially evident in the resolve of Spartans to find opportunities to address issues of global sustainability.

The 2013 Sustainability Report shows how Spartans are making an impact in Michigan and around the globe. The projects and initiatives in this report are examples of creative entrepreneurship, innovative research, community partnerships, and campus initiatives that address global sustainability issues while creating opportunities for economic prosperity.

Spartans Will.

President Lou Anna K. Simon

President Simon
17% total reduction in greenhouse gas emissions since 2010 (Goal of 30% by 2015)
8% campus renewable energy portfolio (goal of 15% by 2015)
Fuel distribution: Coal = 32%, Natural Gas = 67%, Biofuel = 1%
Since 2008, MSU has increased recycling on campus by 60%
16 new faculty members for the Global Water Initiative at MSU
425 Sustainability-focused or related courses offered
Of 1066 vehicles in fleet, 80 are hybrids, 258 are FlexFuel vehicles and 26 low-speed electric vehicles
Since 2008, MSU has decreased materials to landfills by 43%
$70,000 was spent on student research to find solutions to our sustainability challenges
$1,268,000 returned to departments from the MSU Surplus Store


Read Academics Section


Fostering Student Entrepreneurship

The HATCH provides student entrepreneurs access to resources to develop their business ideas.

Tomorrow’s leaders are entering the workforce with an understanding of the importance of sustainability, as leadership and global perspective are valued at both MSU and in the business world. Great ideas can come from anywhere, and MSU aims to foster those that have the potential to affect the future.

One such leader is Bernie Eisbrenner, junior in environmental economics and inventor of the Carbon Cash program. By combining common energy-conscious behaviors with the fun, competitive spirit of gamification, Carbon Cash’s online software allows students to earn points for simple tasks. They can then compare and compete with fellow Spartans, earning rewards from participating local businesses along the way.

Eisbrenner points out that the competitive aspect can spark collaboration, or at least communication:

“If you know that your neighbor is using 10 percent less energy than you are, but you’re doing everything you can to be energy efficient, you’re going to start thinking, ‘Maybe I’m not doing enough. What else should I do?’”

Carbon Cash received support from MSU through a Be Spartan Green Student Project Fund grant. Eisbrenner has also utilized resources from Spartan Innovations, which helps MSU students bring their ideas to life and extends the potential for learning from the classroom into the business sector.

Paul Jaques, director of student and community engagement at Spartan Innovations, helps connect entrepreneurial students with his organization’s 16 fellows:

“They do anything from market analysis, financial analysis, law, CAD design [for our] 3-D printer—pretty much everything they need to get their business idea going.”

Jaques is helping Eisbrenner launch a pilot version of the program in the Brody Neighborhood residence halls.

Student Bernie Eisbrenner talks about his Carbon Cash program.
A student waits for a 3D printout at Spartan Innovations.
A student waits for a 3D printout at Spartan Innovations.
A student entrepreneur works on a business idea.
A student entrepreneur works on a business idea.
$70,000 was spent on student research to find solutions to our sustainability challenges



Teaching Sustainability across Disciplines

Salad greens are harvested by a Student Organic Farm member.

Sustainability is a broad concept that includes considerations for multiple impacts around the world. MSU combines cross-discipline instruction with hands-on learning to help students push the boundary of what it means to be green.

MSU currently has 425 sustainability-focused or related courses in fields such as environmental engineering, forestry and supply chain management. The most commonly taught components of sustainability are ecological impact, economic impact, and social justice, but MSU adds aesthetics as an additional core concept. The other areas of focus—civic engagement, systems thinking, critical thinking, and personal awareness and development—are more theoretical or idea-based. 
 Dr. Geoff Habron, associate professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife and the Department of Sociology, explains that no single topic or consideration is inherently more important than any other:

“Sustainability is something that’s so complex, and people want to have the right answer, but we know that things aren’t that simple. One thing connects to another, and getting people involved in sustainability is really important in [their] learning sustainability.”

One place this is being put into practice on campus is the Residential Initiative on the Study of the Environment (RISE) program. Students from multiple colleges and majors live together in Bailey Hall to study sustainability and environmentalism.

Dr. Laurie Thorp, director of the RISE program, is enthusiastic about the potential:

“RISE is really special because it’s interdisciplinary. It’s bringing together students from seven colleges who all share a common interest in environmental studies and sustainability, but from very different lenses and very different world views. We start to give them the tools and skills to solve these problems in a multidisciplinary way.”

Professor Geoff Habron explains Sustainability Competencies.
Rooftop gardening could provide urban areas with fresh food.
Rooftop gardening could provide urban areas with fresh food.
425 Sustainability-focused or related courses offered



Building Future Leaders

Hands-on training is an important part of the learning experience.

As demand for professionals with expertise in sustainability continues to grow, MSU is already at the forefront of integrating sustainability education into its academic programming. Departments are building entire curricula around skills in sustainable development and leadership, and graduates of these programs are able to approach problems with creative solutions that consider the environment, economy and community along with several other concepts of sustainability.

Earlier this year, the Department of Community, Agriculture, Recreation, and Resource Studies program changed its name to the Department of Community Sustainability. As the program has evolved during its 10-year history, the new name better reflects the current state and plans for the future.

The department’s goal is to bridge the gap between the natural and social sciences for the studying and building of sustainable communities, focusing on engagement that embraces how human decisions affect the future. The department incorporates a systems-thinking view of sustainability into higher education curricula while conducting sustainability scholarship that both maintains an international scope and attends to regional and local contexts.

Also newly renamed, the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering saw its first class of environmental engineering students graduate last year, and the program continues to grow. Environmental engineering uses the principles of biology and chemistry to approach issues involving water and air pollution, recycling, waste disposal and public health, focusing on both local and worldwide environmental concerns.

Students remove recyclables from trash for class.
Students remove recyclables from trash for class.
Flowers are cut and sorted for bouquets by members of the Student Organic Farm.
Flowers are cut and sorted for bouquets by members of the Student Organic Farm.



Read Research Section


Expanding the Search for Solutions

Water is one of our most valuable natural resources.

Access to clean, affordable water is a necessity of life, as well as a growing problem in many areas of the world. To face this issue head-on, MSU is assembling a broad team of scientists and researchers from the engineering, economic and public policy fields to search for potential solutions.

MSU is looking to add a total of 16 new faculty members to support the Global Water Initiative team, which began the process by defining three main priorities—water and health, water and food, and water and the environment—and coordinating current research.

Current projects in water quality and quantity include using nanotechnology to detect infectious diseases, monitoring the effects of landfills on groundwater, and analyzing water systems’ effects on human health. Current projects in water treatment include designing porous materials that can trap contaminants, developing new filters for wastewater treatment, and engineering plant-based ecosystems for filtration. Current projects in water policy and management include studying nonnative species, supporting watershed management, and studying community-based conservation.

Water Research at Michigan State University
Porous Pavement is one way to absorb rainwater runoff.
Porous Pavement is one way to absorb rainwater runoff.
16 new faculty members for the Global Water Initiative at MSU



Learning from Laboratories around the World

Food waste is prepared for the anaerobic digester in Costa Rica.

There are virtually no boundaries to MSU’s footprint, and it allows faculty to conduct any scope of research in the field, wherever that may be. Before building the South Campus Anaerobic Digester at the Dairy Teaching and Research Center, MSU studied generating energy from food waste by building a similar facility at the University of Costa Rica (UCR).

Dr. Dana Kirk, assistant professor in the Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, has been involved with the design and operation of digesters in East Lansing, as well as the program at UCR:

“We are producing electricity, and it’s powering their recycling center, the digester and part of the experiment station. The solids become fertilizer and compost, and then we’re taking the liquids through a series of sand filters and man-made wetlands to remove impurities and pollutants that may still be in the water.”

MSU is training UCR students and faculty to operate the digester, using it to show farmers and developers in the region that the technology can reduce the environmental impact while providing other benefits to facilities such as livestock farms, food processors and wastewater treatment plants.

Dr. Kirk is taking research from MSU around the globe:

“Our biosystems programs in Costa Rica, Africa, China and India are helping to address real-life, real-world issues in a way where they can generate energy, reduce landfilling, and reuse products that were traditionally disposed of. We’re demonstrating it ourselves but also helping others see the opportunities that are there.”

Professor Wei Liao checks gauges on the digester.
Professor Wei Liao checks gauges on the digester.
The digester in Costa Rica served as the model for MSU’s digester.
The digester in Costa Rica served as the model for MSU’s digester.
Professors Wei Liao and Dana Kirk prepare the digester.
Professors Wei Liao and Dana Kirk prepare the digester.



Utilizing Technology to Help Farms and Forests

Students in David MacFarlane’s forestry class learn various methods of measuring trees.

As discussions and policies regarding climate change continue to evolve, global technology has become an important tool in monitoring forests as carbon resources around the world.

Dr. David Skole, professor in the Department of Forestry and director of the Global Observatory for Ecosystem Services, helped create a carbon tracking program that combines satellite images with ground-level measurements:

“Policy [can] reduce future emissions, but reforestation offers an opportunity to actually reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today. NASA satellites take pictures that show where the deforestation is, so we can monitor and quantify what’s going on globally.”

The basic goal of the research is to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere in an effort to mitigate climate change. However, reforestation requires a significant amount of space, and farmers in developing countries are hesitant to commit to agroforestry.

Trees can produce higher-value products, are better for the soil, and can store more carbon (i.e., greenhouse gases) from the atmosphere, but they can take up to five years to mature before they’re productive for farming. Most of those farmers can’t afford to wait five years without income from their land, and that’s where emerging carbon markets become a potential solution.

Companies, organizations—even countries—can be required to reduce their carbon emissions by target amounts, and markets exists for the purchasing of carbon credits if their efforts to reduce emissions are not enough.

Dr. Skole’s program is connecting the two issues, hoping to help both at once:

“If you can front-end that [agroforestry] system with payments for carbon sequestration, maybe those rural farmers can have a value chain immediately. The problem is that the farmers have to be able to tally their carbon in order to sell it. We’re working with communities in Africa and Asia, giving them the web-based tools to do the emissions and carbon calculations. The goal is to twin a solution to poverty with a solution to climate change through a single intervention.”

David Skole discusses how satellite imagery helps measure global deforestation.
Students working at the Global Observatory for Ecosystem Services.
Students working at the Global Observatory for Ecosystem Services.
Satellite imagery like this is used to measure global deforestation.
Satellite imagery like this is used to measure global deforestation.



Read Campus Section


Moving to Renewable Energy

MSU is transitioning its independent power grid to renewable energy. This long-term goal is gradually becoming a reality thanks to the commitment from the campus community, as well as the ingenuity of researchers and leaders in a variety of fields.

Lynda Boomer, energy and environmental engineer in Infrastructure Planning and Facilities, is always mindful of how energy is used on campus:

“Our facilities use a lot of energy. Laboratories use about four times the amount of energy as a classroom or office building. We also have one of the largest [university] residence hall systems and dining facilities [in the nation]. Campus continues to grow each year, and there’s a footprint to that—not just a physical footprint but an energy footprint as well.”

Drawing on input from staff, faculty and students, the Energy Transition Plan was approved as a set of long-term objectives regarding energy use at MSU. The overarching goals are for the university to reduce the energy footprint on campus, to develop and research renewable energy alternatives, and to become a worldwide leader in energy efficiency and technology.

As ideas and goals were being refined, planning-model software allowed the team to create scenarios for potential solutions. Boomer and the team asked themselves important questions:

“’What if we invested in solar? What would be the cost of utilities? What would the backup power need to be? What do we use at night?’ All of those are things we looked at in different scenarios, [with consideration for] how that changes campus and tuition costs.”

MSU currently has solar installations on the Livestock Pavilion and Surplus Store & Recycling Center, a geothermal system at the Life Science building, an anaerobic digester at the Dairy Research and Teaching Center, and is using some biomass to produce steam and electricity at the Simon Power Plant. Wind power, geothermal energy, ground- and rooftop-mounted solar panels, and different types of biomass are currently being studied for their potential output, environmental impact, economic feasibility and overall practicality, as MSU continues to assess their energy use through research, auditing and collaborations.

A meteorological tower collects wind information on South Campus.
A meteorological tower collects wind information on South Campus.
M S U has over 1,000 alternative fuel vehicles.
MSU has over 350 alternative fuel vehicles.
17% total reduction in greenhouse gas emissions since 2010 (Goal of 30% by 2020)
The better buildings challenge showcase project in anthony hall is expected to decrease energy usage by 34% and save the university over $500,000



Putting “Be Spartan Green” into Action

Sparty visits the Materials Recovery Facility at the Recycling Center.

Operations within the unique Department of Campus Sustainability include recycled material processing; surplus property reuse and resale; and waste, energy and greenhouse gas reduction through education, research and alternative transportation—all under one roof.

Be Spartan Green focuses on education and outreach, primarily supporting the university’s energy, water and resource conservation initiatives. Recent examples include the Energy Transition Plan, a long-range energy plan for campus, and the Be Spartan Green Student Project Fund, which grants funds to students pursuing research and pilot projects.

Recycling helps MSU reduce waste by securely and responsibly collecting and recycling more than a dozen commodities from across campus. This includes bins in every building, drop-offs from the local community, a presence at on-campus events, and coordination with building contractors and construction projects. Additional waste-reduction education and outreach is done through facility tours, workshops and volunteer opportunities.

The Surplus Store collects used or unwanted items and materials from campus and looks for ways to put them to use, usually by selling them to other MSU departments. Buying used items saves departments money, and diverting the used item from the landfill reduces the university’s overall environmental impact.

The Bikes Service Center promotes bicycling as a fun, safe, environmentally friendly and healthy transportation alternative for the MSU campus community. Services include bike sales, bike rentals, a repair shop with parts and accessories, as well as classes and workshops for the thousands of bicyclists on campus each year.

MSU Surplus Store sells to the public as well as the MSU community.
MSU Surplus Store sells to the public as well as the MSU community.
MSU Bikes employee Tim Potter repairs a bike.
MSU Bikes employee Tim Potter repairs a bike.
Since 2008, MSU has decreased materials to landfills by 43%


Green Project Fund

Supporting Student Research on Campus

The Erickson Hall rain garden is a stop on the Sustainable Stormwater Management Walking Tour.

Students at MSU are constantly researching and piloting ideas that could potentially revolutionize their fields. The Department of Campus Sustainability funds dozens of projects every year through the Be Spartan Green Student Project Fund to support interest in studies for a sustainable future.

The Sustainable Stormwater Education Pathway project by James Coletta, graduate student in horticulture, showcases how MSU is managing, capturing and cleaning stormwater:

“We selected seven different sites that showcase best what’s happening on campus as far as managing, capturing and cleaning stormwater. There are so many people working on these things, and so many people have information and are willing to educate others. We’ve worked with [multiple departments] to come up with a brochure about these informational sites, and we’ve made signs that we’re going to install.”

The Worms Eat My Garbage project by Liz Brajevich, junior in fisheries and wildlife, uses vermicomposting to recycle food scraps from Brody Square:

“It’s located right next to Brody cafeteria, so we get food scraps from Brody, bring them down to the hoophouse, and compost them with the worms. We’re using [the worms] to show where our food waste goes, and that it is then producing food right next to the bins.”

The Campus Commuting project by Lin Liu, graduate student in community sustainability, analyzes the ways members of the MSU community get to and from campus and makes suggestions for reducing greenhouse gas emissions:

“A financial policy (e.g., parking fee incentives) would actually not be that effective in reducing greenhouse gas. People value their time, so if we change their walking time, there would be more change in the commuting modes.”

Be Spartan Green funded a student vermicomposting initiative.
Be Spartan Green funded a student vermicomposting initiative.
Map of MSU’s Sustainable Stormwater Management Walking Tour.
Map of MSU’s Sustainable Stormwater Management Walking Tour.



Read Community Section


Helping Organizations across the State

Being in the business of sustainability can be a challenge, but many organizations across the state are leading by example. MSU is helping connect those businesses with one another, as well as with their communities, to help define and strive for success for everyone involved.

Monique Field, assistant vice president for strategic initiatives in the Office of Governmental Affairs, was tasked with launching a website to connect faculty, staff and alumni across the state:

“MI Spartan Impact is a website designed to showcase what MSU is doing. We use it as a tool to not only tell the story about the work, research and funding that MSU is getting but also to educate those on the outside.”

MI Spartan Impact gives the MSU community an opportunity to let others on campus know what work is going on, creating an atmosphere for collaboration and multidisciplinary research. The sharing of knowledge is crucial in launching research, as well.

As a member of the Office of Governmental Affairs, Field knows that resources like MI Spartan Impact are important for MSU:

“All of the projects we do [are supported by] outside funding,whether it’s federal grants or state funds from legislature. A lot of that is based on what those legislators understand about what the university is doing.”

Liesl Clark, principal at 5 Lakes Energy, also helps connect policy makers with MSU:

“We work with the legislature, administration and public service commission to move forward the policies necessary to build the clean energy industry in the state. We talk to Jennifer [Battle] and Lynda Boomer regularly, and try to talk about ‘What are the needs of the university going to be? Who is already producing energy efficiency or renewable-energy materials that can be directly implemented right away?’ Our goal would be to take a look at what’s happening elsewhere, come up with some creative mechanisms, and help them get implemented here in the state.”

MI Spartan Impact is a website showcasing MSU’s statewide contributions.
MI Spartan Impact is a website showcasing MSU’s statewide contributions.
5 Lakes Energy works with state legislators to promote clean energy.
5 Lakes Energy works with state legislators to promote clean energy.



Collaborating with Businesses and Institutions

Sitting at the corner of Erskine and Woodward, MSU’s Detroit Center is a resource for the greater Detroit area.

The setting of an urban evolution, Detroit plays a key role in the future of sustainable business, government, environment and culture. The MSU Detroit Center is a hub for faculty, staff and students to engage the surrounding community.

Chuck Rivers, director of community relations for Southeast Michigan in the Office of Governmental Affairs, brings together individuals and organizations who have expressed an interest in sustainability in a broad definition:

“Most people tend to think of sustainability as just being agricultural or environmental, but the environment entails more than just the air, water, and food. Safety, education, [and community] are all part of that environment. It all ties together.”

The presence of the Office of Governmental Affairs in Detroit offers programs and assistance the city might otherwise not have. The MSU Detroit Center hosts a monthly movie night, where farming groups take turns screening films and documentaries related to sustainability. After the showing, open discussions allow individuals from similar organizations to meet face-to-face, which often leads to partnerships with MSU and each other.

Rivers is impressed with the overall levels of engagement, enthusiasm and collaboration:

“The desires and the concepts are there, but the knowledge isn’t there, so we tie the knowledge of the university with the desire of the people. It’s a matter of [MSU] not only being in Detroit but being involved with Detroit.”

MSU Government Affairs presence in Detroit offers programs and assistance the city might otherwise not have.
MSU Detroit Center helps bring businesses and organizations together
MSU Detroit Center helps bring businesses and organizations together.


Future Focus

Read Future Focus


Each year, MSU reflects on its progress toward its sustainable vision. This report allows the community to see examples of the development and understand what work has yet to be done. Energy, waste reduction, sustainable water systems and supply chain will continue to be priorities for the university. Additional future focus areas include:

  • Addressing critical issues of water science and policy by establishing a bold, systems-oriented, transdiscliplinary approach
  • Integrating sustainability into innovative learning opportunities for students, such as experiential learning and entrepreneurship
  • Creating a pipeline of recommendations to meet the goals of the Energy Transition Plan
  • Partnering with alumni and the community for economic development in energy and sustainability related areas

Spartans have demonstrated a passion for sustainability on campus and around the world. This passion has led to engagement, innovation, leadership and progress. But Spartans won’t stop at simply showing passion. Spartans will continue to strive to find solutions, develop leaders and address issues of global sustainability.

Spartans Will.

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