By Michael Shriberg
The University of Michigan Housing Division has shown an interest
in environmental issues since the mid-1970's. Housing was on the
cutting edge of recycling, Green Lights and other environmental
initiatives. Unfortunately, many efforts ended with initial, piecemeal
solutions to environmental problems, rarely blossoming into broad
or comprehensive institutional change. However, University Housing,
which oversees a vast budget and physical area, is poised to move
to the next level of environmental stewardship. In fact, as an
integral operational unit of a powerful learning organization,
Housing has both the obligation and ability to pursue the goal
of environmental (and social) sustainability.
As the sixth largest campus housing system in the United States,
Housing manages 4.2 million square feet of floor space, a $66
million budget, 760 full-time employees, approximately 3,000 part-time
employees, and a resident population of approximately 14,000 (including
Family Housing apartments). The needs of the 15 residence halls,
1,520 Family Housing units and multiple office spaces are varied.
To this end, University Housing operates, in a fiscal and managerial
sense, largely as an autonomous entity despite its location in
the Division of Student Affairs. Student fees are the largest
direct component of the budget and dictate funds for expenditures.
Therefore, Housing considers residents (and the payers of resident
fees) the customer and the party to which the organization is
University Housing's Mission Statement reflects the fact that
the residential services provided by University Housing are an
integral part of the University of Michigan (see below). The residential
services extend beyond providing a place of inhabitancy to supporting
a community replete with "services, programs and facilities."
Moreover, the goals of providing this community experience are
accomplished through partnering in a "caring, responsible
and cost effective manner."
The Mission Statement reflects the major functions of University
Housing and provides a base upon which all actions within the
organization are conducted. While in practice, this Mission Statement
may not always be closely followed (as in almost every organization),
it is important to keep these general goals in mind when framing
a sustainability program since the mission statement provides
the concrete and tangible framework for the organization.
University Housing Mission and Values Statement:
The mission of University Housing is to create and sustain diverse
learning-centered residential communities that further the goals
of the University. Through partnership with others we provide
quality programs, services, and facilities for those we serve
in a caring, responsible, and cost effective manner.
Housing Values Statement
We are a community which respects and celebrates the contribution,
dignity and intrinsic value of each member. We serve one another
and society by striving to live by and uphold the following values.
- Stewardship. Responsibly and creatively using social resources.
Pursuing continuous improvement. Striving for excellence. Practicing
- Ethics. Balancing the legitimate needs of those affected by
our actions. Abiding the highest professional standards of honesty
and integrity. Working in good faith.
- Teamwork. Using participatory approaches in our community.
Involving those who have to do something in order for us to
achieve a goal, along with those who will be affected. Creating
common understanding and commitment when problem-solving.
- Communication. Being open, honest and authentic. Promoting
mutual understanding. Seeking and utilizing constructive feedback.
- Service. Cultivating the spirit of service among all community
members. Being unselfish. Demonstrating a genuine concern for
the welfare of others.
- Human development. Providing personal and professional growth
opportunities for all community members. Creating and sustaining
a learning organization and community. Promoting intellectual
growth and academic achievement.
A direct commitment to sustainability is spelled out under "Stewardship"
in the Housing Values Statement. The values of "practicing
intergenerational equity" and "responsibly and creatively
using social resources" are comparable with the end goal
of sustainability. Moreover, "balancing the legitimate needs
of those affected by our actions," "working in good
faith" and "being unselfish," under "Ethics"
and "Service," provide an important philosophical link
with Housing's current interest in more comprehensive sustainability
AN ESTABLISHED COMMITMENT TO ENVIRONMENTAL INCENTIVES
University Housing has attempted to play a leadership role in
terms of environmental issues across all functional units. For
example, Dining Services, in conjunction with University of Michigan
Grounds and Waste Management Services and the City of Ann Arbor,
conducted a pilot program on "food waste collection and composting"
during the 1997-98 school year in three residence halls (Recycling
Matters, Fall 1998). The pilot program tested methods of diverting
food waste from landfills to composting heaps. In total, 31 tons
of food waste was diverted. The program is continuing with funding
from University of Michigan Grounds and Waste Management Services
and expansion is "being considered." In residence education,
Housing Information produced a newsletter about environmental
issues to coincide with the University-wide Environmental Theme
Semester in winter 1998. Other non-facilities based environmental
efforts have occurred sporadically throughout the Housing organization,
but there has never been an effort to consolidate environmental
activities under one philosophical framework.
The largest current environmental initiative in terms of funding
in Housing Facilities is the EPA Green Lights Program. Housing
Facilities, in partnership with the EPA, is in the process of
retrofitting lighting to more energy efficient units assuming
the payback period is fewer than five years. The program is now
completing the third (out of four) phase. Additional energy and
utility efficiency efforts to date have included: (1) implementing
a better energy tracking system; (2) adding higher efficiency
roof insulation and window systems; (3) installing higher efficiency
steam traps, boilers, furnaces and heating controls; and (4) installing
low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators. Facilities estimates
that it saved $1,062,000 during 1997-98 through the reductions
in energy consumption from these initiatives (including Green
Lights) (The University of Michigan Housing Facilities Department,
In 1989-90, recycling of corrugated cardboard and newsprint began
in the residence halls. Since then, the standard recyclable materials
have been added to collection capabilities. During 1997-98, 12,120
bulk cubic yards of recycled material was collected in the residence
halls (The University of Michigan Housing Facilities Department
1998). However, according to data from a spring 1998 Waste Sort,
the current waste stream from residence halls still contains 39.6%
(by volume) of recyclable material. The major impediment to recycling,
according to Facilities, is education of the relatively transient
population of residents. Facilities conducts a fall move-in and
spring move-out program to capture and divert (i.e., donate or
recycle) extra cardboard, clothing, household items, food goods
and loft wood. Over 63 tons of material was collected during 1997-98.
Recent efforts have aimed at standardizing recycled-content xerographic
paper, letterhead, stationary, newsletters and informational booklets.
Regarding environmental compliance, environmental health and
occupational safety, Housing has:
- Expended over $1,908,000 to date on asbestos removal and remediation
- Planned to expend $50,000 to $75,000 annually to manage the
remaining in-place asbestos
- Managed retrofits, recovery systems and staff training and
certification to comply with the Clean Air Act in terms of chlorofluorocarbons
(total cost: $125,000)
- Begun surveying and testing for as well as passive remediation
of radon gas for buildings with below-ground living space (approximately
$20,000 spent to date)
- Initiated a lead-based paint removal program to comply with
federal standards for food preparation and serving areas in
all residence halls as well as all areas in Family Housing (approximately
$190,000 spent to date)
- Redirected old PCB-containing light ballasts from trash to
incinerators since they are toxic waste
- Begun to redirect fluorescent bulbs containing mercury for
capture, recycling and re-use
- Started to perform testing on drinking fountains for lead
contamination (The University of Michigan Housing Facilities
Overall, environmental efforts in Housing have been fairly extensive,
but have been pursued mainly through the framework of pollution
prevention. While this is important for reducing use of resources,
a pollution prevention framework fails to address ecosystem carrying
capacity, the planet's life support system, equitable distribution
of resources and ultimate limits to growth. The broad concept
of sustainability offers a chance to incorporate these issues
and concepts in a more proactive and coordinated framework encompassing
all functions of Housing.
A NEW PHILOSOPHICAL FRAMEWORK
The first step toward sustainable management in many organizations
is the development of a philosophical framework and general goals.
The Canadian National Roundtable on Environment and Economy, in
their book entitled A Practical Guide to Environmental Management
on Canadian Campuses (1995), suggests that organizations "draft
the mission statement (sometimes called a vision or philosophy
statement). Keep it to a simple statement initially to improve
the likelihood of consensus. Send it out for comment and endorsement."
Many universities across the world have taken these initial steps
and drafted an environmental or sustainability statement (examples
in the Report include George Washington University, Oxford Brooks
University, Northland College, Tufts University, University of
British Columbia, University of Edinburgh and University of Toronto).
From these examples, leading edge practices (outlined in Section
4 of the Report), and the theoretical framework provided by The
Natural Step (outlined in Section 2 of the Report), a sustainability
mission and goals statement for University Housing has been proposed
University Housing Sustainability Mission and Goals Statement
We, the University of Michigan Housing Division, recognize that
we play a role in environmental degradation and society's current
unsustainable trajectory. We also recognize that future generations
of people and biota have a right to at least the same advantages
currently enjoyed. We believe that we have the responsibility
and ability to take the lead as stewards of the Earth in moving
toward a sustainable and restorative society that respects health,
wholeness, balance and diversity. Furthermore, we realize that
benefits exist for organizations willing to take on the challenge
of sustainable operations. Therefore, we resolve to:
- Encourage sustainable and restorative practices through education
and engagement with all stakeholders, including staff, the University
community, suppliers and contractors.
- Assess and eliminate the long-term environmental impacts of
all our decisions in all functional units through tools such
as life-cycle assessment and full-cost accounting.
- Reduce our use of water, energy and materials to the maximum
feasible extent while incorporating technologies and practices
consistent with a sustainable and restorative organization,
such as the use of solar energy or life-cycle assessment.
- Eliminate pollution and use of toxins or other chemicals that
damage ecosystems to the maximum feasible extent with the eventual
goal of zero discharge and use.
- Provide staff with the training and resources necessary to
meet sustainability objectives.
- Openly communicate and monitor our progress toward sustainable
The opening statement explicitly recognizes the environmental
impacts of operations on current and future generations. It advocates
the holistic and diverse approach necessary to facilitate sustainable
organizational operations and it indicates that there are possible
benefits for organizational alignment with sustainability.
The six goals are a first step in outlining a program to reach
the sustainability vision of the organization. While these goals
are general, they are designed to lead to concrete and measurable
objectives in the future. Moreover, they are far-reaching and
address the interrelationships between University Housing and
other entities. Openness, communication, engagement, learning
and sharing are encouraged along with more operational goals related
to resource usage reduction, technological and methodological
improvement, and ecosystem preservation. Overall, the proposed
statement could serve as the framework for sustainable management
within University Housing by setting the philosophical and directional
Throughout the report, Development of a Sustainability Management
Framework for the University of Michigan Housing Division, three
important principles of management for sustainability in Housing
consistently emerge. These principles can serve as a general summary
of the broad recommendations in the report:
- A holistic perspective on environmental issues is required
for movement toward sustainability: Environmental impacts of
decisions and operations must be considered from the perspective
of society as well as Housing. This principle is applicable
at many levels, but in general requires broad thinking about
implications of actions affecting our collective environment.
- The changes inherent in management for sustainability must
be made systemic using tools such as The Natural Step, full-cost
accounting and life-cycle assessment: This principle highlights
the requisite changes in thinking at every level with every
stakeholder to manage for sustainability. Piecemeal solutions
to environmental problems cannot substitute for institutionalized
changes in systems and values.
- Management for sustainability must be integrative both within
and outside of the University of Michigan: Housing will require
assistance and input from various entities and thus needs to
develop and retain ties with students, faculty, staff, the community
and other entities. If Housing positions itself as a visionary
organization on the leading edge of a movement, interested parties
will begin to seek out Housing and help alleviate any burdens
on staff time.
Overall, implementation of these three principles will require
time, effort and commitment on the part of Housing since they
are not quickly or easily achievable. However, the rewards of
commitment to these principles can be substantial.
The isolated environmental projects currently being undertaken
in Housing, while often very beneficial, fall far short of the
sustainability vision for each operational area and decision-making
structure. The report attempts to build off strong initiatives
outside of the University of Michigan, such as in recycling and
energy management. Most importantly, the report offers an abundance
of suggestions for bridging the gap between Housing's current
situation and its vision for the future. These recommendations,
along with sustainability visions and indicators, were developed
for all key operational and decision-making areas of Housing.
The following ten recommendations figure most prominently in the
- Hire or appoint a sustainability coordinator or sustainability
- Align Housing mission and goals statements with sustainability
and develop a department-wide, free-standing sustainability
- Conduct an annual sustainability audit in Housing and set
goals (and incentives) for the future
- Provide training for staff in sustainability
- Use full-cost accounting and life-cycle assessment as tools
for decision-making for sustainability
- Create an environmentally preferable purchasing program
- Form an environment/sustainability team in dining services
- Involve non-Housing students, staff, faculty and groups in
- Develop partnerships for material reuse
- Implement energy and water efficiency measures (short-term)
while moving toward renewable energy and sustainable water usage
(long-term), perhaps incorporating elements of incentive-based
pricing for energy to spur behavioral change.
Implementing these ten recommendations (as well as many others
in the report) would constitute significant next steps in Housing's
movement toward management for sustainability. As is stressed
in these recommendations and throughout the report, Housing will
need to simultaneously adapt its operations and decision-making
mechanisms in order to make effective and efficient progress.
National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy. The Practical
Guide to Environmental Management on Canadian Campuses. National
Roundtable on the Environment and Economy, Ottawa: 1995.
Recycling Matters: The Newsletter of Waste Management Services
at the University of Michigan. Fall 1998 edition.
The University of Michigan Housing Facilities Department. 1997-98
Annual Report. Unpublished: August 1998.
Waste Management Services Plant Operations Division. 1998 Residence
Hall Waste Sort. Unpublished: May 1998.
Michael Shriberg is currently a PhD student in Environmental
Studies in the University of Michigan's School of Natural Resources
and Environment. Housing's report can be accessed at www.umich.edu/~mshriber.
Michael can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone
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