Sustainability Spotlight: Sustainable Operations Network

Two Mondays ago, Live Green UMich made their way to an early morning “Sustainable Operations Network” meeting at a conference room near the Crisler Center. Approximately thirty University of Michigan employees attended, ranging from groundskeepers to energy management representatives to individuals associated with Planet Blue; all attendees were somehow situated within the sustainability arena on campus.

After respective greetings and the pouring of much coffee, we sat at the multiple round tables positioned throughout the room. Kevin gave the first presentation during which he discussed energy dashboards and campus-based utility data with the group. These dashboards are building-specific and highlight electricity and water usage, as well as greenhouse gas emissions (among other things) for each building on the University of Michigan Ann Arbor campus.

The data presented through these dashboards demonstrates how each building stacks up to 2025 sustainability goals (specifically greenhouse gas emission reduction). Their overall purpose is to allow for the more effective evaluation of buildings, the recognition of anomalies, and the understanding of how to increase building-specific energy efficiency. You can find these dashboards here; their interactive nature allows users to gain a deeper understanding of the data points that compose these visualizations.

Following the conclusion of Kevin’s presentation, Ken took center stage. He explored environmental reporting at the University of Michigan (with specific regard to university-wide utility purchasing). This energy-use data allows for the calculation of campus-wide air emissions, water use, waste production, procurement, and land use. Waste production data also covers the amount of waste diverted from landfills. Land use data covers total campus acreage as well as the percentage of acreage that is “green space”. Procurement data covers information like the percentage of recycled content in copy-paper bought by the university and the number of disposable plastic water bottles bought per year. This data coalesces to allow for the tracking of our progress towards campus sustainability goals; it can be found here and here.

Nicole concluded the first round of presentations by summarizing additional University of Michigan sustainability data that is available to the general public: (including but not limited to) building recycling rates, tree inventory, bike parking, building-specific sustainability features, Graham databases (which track student involvement in and relationship to sustainability on campus), irrigation, and storm water controls.

Nicole then led us into a roundtable discussion addressing topics such as how we might take advantage of this enormous amount of data, how we might share it more widely, and what sustainability data we ought to start tracking or communicate about more effectively.

One attendee suggested linking buildings on the sustainability map to their respective energy dashboards. Another attendee suggested that we might ultimately merge all the afore-mentioned data into one location that can be easily accessed. Others suggested the tracking of pesticides in fertilizers used on campus, of hospital waste, of emissions that relate specifically to the consumption of meat, and of the relationship between composting and methane release, respectively.

I posed an additional question to the group: “How can students and administrative groups at the University of Michigan connect more effectively within the arena of sustainability?” Responses highlighted the Planet Blue Ambassadors Program as a doorway to administrative work designed for students, as well as the EVIRON 391 course offering. Students enrolled in this course are pitched projects by the operations group on campus for which they are expected to provide input; students often create a product that the operations group implements (e.g. Campus Farm).

Although the meeting continued for another forty-five minutes, Live Green UMich representatives had to leave for classes. We’re so grateful to have had the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the administrative side of sustainability on campus!