MSU Today is marking Earth Day 2020 with a round table conversation among MSU environmental leaders, who have devoted much of their lives to the environmental, social, and economic sustainability of the university and our planet.
It was 50 years ago we celebrated the inaugural Earth Day on April 22nd, 1970. Created by Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, an estimated 20 million people participated nationwide. The observance has since become a global phenomenon. MSU Today is marking Earth Day 2020 with a round table conversation among MSU environmental leaders, who have devoted much of their lives to the environmental, social, and economic sustainability of the university and our planet.
Vennie Gore is Vice President for Auxiliary Enterprises, Dan Bollman is Vice President for Strategic Infrastructure Planning and Facilities, and Amy Bulter is Director of Sustainability at Michigan State University.
“Sustainability has been one of our key values as an organization dating back to 2007,” says Gore. “And it started as a response to students. Not only is it about recycling and reusing, but it is also how we procure various different products in fair trade. There are both the physical things that we do around the residence halls and in hospitality areas, but it's also a way of how we look at the social ramifications of the things we do.”
As Bollman reflects on Earth Day, “it seems like we often get so caught up in the day-to-day we don't take time to step back and really pause and think about how our actions really can affect the larger ecosystem and can have a great impact on this Earth. When I think about Earth Day, I think about how our sustainable actions today can have a real big impact tomorrow. Often for us, it's around energy savings, but it's also really about protecting the natural environment and the human health of all of our occupants on campus.”
And for Butler “Earth Day is a time where people become aware and awaken their passion for protecting the environment They make a commitment to take action. Every single person has a role to play. Here at MSU, we look at sustainability as the 4C's: campus, community, curriculum, and culture. It's really the intersection of all the things that Vennie said, all the things that Dan said, weaved together with our academic and our innovation side as well. And that's what we look at to move the university forward. It's certainly something that our students demand. It's something that our alumni demand. And it is embedded in the roots of who we are in the mission of the university as a premier land grant institution.”
The group discusses the impact of the university’s energy transition plan that began in 2012 and how MSU has met some of those goals two years early. And they talk about sustainability being in MSU’s DNA.
“Sustainability and being socially aware isn't something that we do as an add-on, it's just who we are,” says Gore.
“One of the things we're really focusing on is continuing to expand the reach of sustainability throughout the campus by engaging our faculty, our staff, students and alumni,“ Butler says. “Another important role that we play is convening thought leaders to start having some of the tough conversations around subjects like climate change, and resiliency, and mobility, and economic prosperity, and even environmental justice.”
“And we're beginning to take a look at how we reduce our carbon footprint across the campus,” says Gore. “We have a supply chain that goes back and forth and we feed 50,000 people a day when we're fully in campus. As semi-autonomous vehicles come in, what are the things that we can begin to look at in terms of reducing our energy footprint with electric vehicles in the future or even autonomous vehicles?”
The group talks about how Covid-19 is impacting sustainability at MSU.
“It's causing us to really look at how we do things. It has brought more awareness to the surface of the importance of sustainability in having tools in place to help us to deal with things like this,” Butler continues. “And it’s given our university an opportunity to really show how we can be leaders in demonstrating technology and innovation quickly when the community needs it.”
“MSU is here for the long haul,” says Bollman. “As a university, it's important for us to think holistically about the future and what we can do to ensure that our way of life is protected. Our day-to-day actions have a definite impact on our future and it's important that we keep that in front of us. We try to think sustainably in really everything that we do.”
“We're the institution of a thousand years,” says Gore. “We need to really be mindful of how we leave the campus and the campus environment for the succeeding generations of people who will follow us. One of the great things about Michigan State is that we have a low barrier for collaboration across units, and that's what you see.”