Green Colleges and Universities bill introduced to recognize sustainability efforts

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Senator Margaret O'Brien

Senator Margaret O’Brien

LANSING, Mich. — Michigan colleges and universities would be recognized for setting and achieving environmental sustainability goals under legislation recently introduced by state Senator Margaret O’Brien.

“Michigan is defined by its natural resources and we should be doing what we can to protect them,” said O’Brien, R-Portage. “By recognizing our institutions of higher learning for their environmental sustainability work, we can help achieve our shared goals of protecting and preserving our state’s natural beauty and model best practices to help promote these important efforts.”

Senate Bill 916 would establish the Green College and University Advisory Council within the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). The council would annually recognize higher education institutions for their sustainability efforts. The program would rank schools into Gold, Silver and Bronze categories based on a point system that scores specific action areas, including air; energy; transportation; buildings; food; water; waste; sustainability outreach, studies and personnel; research; and fieldwork.

The bill is modeled after an existing green schools program that encourages K-12 schools to adopt certain environmental programs. O’Brien worked closely with students in Western Michigan University’s environmental policy course to draft the bill. The course explores why environmental policy is necessary and how it is made. O’Brien previously spoke to the class, which inspired her to work with the students on the bill.

“It has been enlightening to learn about environmental policy and invigorating to help craft a bill to help guide Michigan into a sustainable future,” said Stephen Nehring, a senior at WMU majoring in geography with a minor in environmental and sustainability studies. “I hope that this bill will show everyone in Michigan that we all have a part to play in the management and protection of our natural resources.”

Through the program, the DEQ would recognize schools based on ranking and on the schools’ size and type. To participate, schools would need to submit an application to the department.

The advisory council would consist of a faculty member and a student representative from each participating school. Council members would be appointed by the department director, chosen from a list of nominees submitted by the participating schools.

SB 916 was referred to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources for consideration.