Student Spotlight: Planet Blue Student Leaders

Updated: Nov 29, 2018

Live Green UMich sat in on a Planet Blue Student Leaders (PBSLs) meeting a few weeks ago. The twelve student leaders present were clustered around an ovular table in a small room situated within the West Quad administrative offices. There was snow in the West Quad courtyard beyond the room’s windows to match the overcast sky, while the room was warm and bright.

The meeting began with a typical discussion of logistics and a short introduction and icebreaker and flowed into a discussion of the two articles previously assigned for reading. The discussion was led by Lauren, a PBSL, and the articles were titled “The environment movement (still) has a major diversity problem” and “The Green Insiders’ Club”.

Lauren opened the discussion by highlighting the articles’ collective topic: Underrepresented communities don’t have access to sustainable options to the extent that privileged communities do. Put frankly, environmentalism is not accessible to everybody, based on financial barriers. Lauren then posed a question to the group: Why aren’t we including more voices in the environmentalism movement?

Klara (another PBSL) suggested that underrepresented communities are more affected by climate change and the environmental-downturn; these communities fully understand and feel the effects of these issues.

Lauren added onto Klara’s point, arguing that there are awesome groups who enter these communities from the outside and attempt to solve problems within the community without first asking the residents what they need or could use. She noted, in conclusion, that the “model environmentalist” looks different for everybody.

Lauren’s next question was, “Which organizations are modeling positive and inclusive practices (in some way)?” Creed (another PBSL) answered that General Motors has diversified its workforce and its leadership. He noted that you should analyze these occurrences of diversification relative to the industry in which they are occurring to best understand what measures individual companies are taking and to what extent. Creed concluded by stating that diversity in teams leads to higher productivity.

When Lauren asked the group how one might improve the inclusive atmosphere on campus or contribute to making environmentalism more accessible, Klara jumped in: “It’s valuable to reach out to groups of interest who may not be properly represented. Lauren added that it is also valuable to collaborate–you can create a diverse group simply through action. We, at Live Green UMich, could not agree more.

Brianna (another PBSL) shared her perspective on this topic, arguing for the value of remaining understanding of people who don’t contribute hugely to improving the environment through sustainable living. The reason for this may be because they can’t afford the tools to do so or can’t sacrifice the time to think about these issues–they have larger issues to deal with.

Lauren summarized Brianna’s point: “It’s valuable to meet people in the mind space that they are in; we must speak their language.”

The discussion was vibrant and inspiring. It is questions like those above that we should be asking each other as students with access to campus resources and as individuals who have time to ponder these issues and potential solutions for them.

After the discussion, the PBSLs conferred with one other in regard to a few ongoing projects. They discussed the potential for an energy orb installation on campus, the status of the forthcoming Weiser garden (which will probably house Michigan native plants), and the need to update the Planet Blue website.

The education team has been working on their own project, and they presented its status to the other PBSLs: They are developing stickers or triangle plaques to be placed in all MDining cafés by the registers. These platforms will list the compostable materials (e.g. packaging, food waste, etcetera) at each café–they will be specific to each location. The idea is to nudge people with this information while they swipe their cards at checkout.

The off-campus team has also been working on their own project. They’ve been organizing a collaboration with Good Will to pick up donations at homes across various off-campus neighborhoods. They plan to host a pilot with smaller donation items (such as clothing, shoes, and household items), but they would ultimately like to pick up larger items, such as furniture. This will require Planet Blue’s partnering with an organization like John’s Pack and Ship for the purpose of moving these items and organizing students effectively.

The PBSLs comprising the off-campus team hope to learn from the successes and failures of past initiatives that have performed pickups such as those intended.

Creed effectively summarized this project’s goal: “It’s all about making things as easy as possible–making it easy to do the right thing.”

Through this collaboration, Planet Blue is hoping to divert the “stuff” that we all have to people who could use it, rather than having students throw it in the dumpster. Since dumpster trash is simply shipped to a landfill, PBSLs hope to avoid waste through reuse.

Brianna connected the earlier discussion of the two articles and this discussion of the off-campus team’s project nicely: “Efforts on campus just can’t be inclusive to everyone across it…I challenge you all to think of one other [pickup] location that’s not directly near campus so that we don’t leave out people who can’t afford to live in Ann Arbor.”

This seemed like a good moment for us Live Green UMich representatives to run out of the meeting and get to our respective classes. The meeting went on for additional hour, most likely packed with insights, information, and inspiration.

We so appreciated the perceptivity of this incredibly collaborative, kind, and all-around high-functioning team of students. It is voices like theirs that ought to be heard and appreciated. We hope that they inspire you to take even just one additional sustainability-drive action in your everyday life, just as they have inspired us!

Interested in learning more about the Planet Blue Student Leaders? Check out their website.