Trevor Parnell, Events and Marketing Specialist

Since 2011, the University of Michigan enhanced its commitment to sustainability with the adoption of six long-term sustainability goals to guide our efforts to live, work, and learn sustainably. These goals included: fuel efficiency, waste reduction, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, purchasing sustainable food, protecting the Huron River, investing in programs to educate the U-M community, tracking behavior, and reporting progress over time toward a campus-wide ethic of sustainability.

Sustainable Workplace Certification Program

Within the Center for Academic Innovation, we’ve always valued sustainability, however, we never formalized a plan or set goals around it. This changed in the fall of 2017 when we opted to enroll in the Office of Campus Sustainability’s (OCS) Sustainable Workplace Certification program. The program started with an online self-assessment of our current workplace conditions and environment. After completing the assessment, an OCS staff member worked with us to digest the results and discuss challenges, areas for improvement, and a plan of action moving forward. We were ultimately given a certification level of Bronze…whomp, whomp. In true Academic Innovation fashion, we had our eyes set on the gold, or in this case, platinum, the highest level of certification OCS awards offices and units around campus.

Sustainable Workplace Certification

Throughout the next couple of years, we worked through our challenges and made sustainable updates to processes. The goal was to eventually achieve platinum-level status and we were excited about becoming more sustainable as a team. A small group of Academic Innovation staff members met regularly to check in on our original assessment to keep the full team moving in the right direction. Eventually, we made enough sustainable changes to earn a silver, gold, and then finally a platinum-level certification. Some of the sustainable actions we’ve taken between 2017-2019 include: 

  • Placing signage in all conference rooms to encourage staff to turn off lights when not in use.
  • Removing all space heaters from the workplace.
  • Making most Academic Innovation events zero-waste.
  • Eliminating single-use packets of sugar and coffee creamer.
  • Purchasing compostable flatware, cups, and plates for office kitchens and encouraging staff to move away from single-use items.
  • Creating a recycling area for electronic media, batteries, snack wrappers, and writing utensils.
  • Switching to all rechargeable batteries.
  • No longer supplying bottled water at Academic Innovation team events and encouraging staff to bring a reusable water bottle.
  • Switching all printers and copiers to use double-sided printing as the default setting.
  • Encouraging all staff to avoid printing anything for meetings by keeping all documents digital.
  • Prioritizing sustainable options when ordering supplies.
  • Including sustainability resources and information in our onboarding materials for new hires.

Planet Blue Ambassadors

The final item on our sustainability checklist was to certify at least 50% of our team as Planet Blue Ambassadors, staff members who are encouraged to lead by example and serve as sustainability champions on campus. Once the certification was completed, we would finally reach our goal as a platinum-level sustainable workplace. During our full team staff meeting in December 2019, the entire team participated in a group Planet Blue Ambassador training. The Planet Blue Ambassador training is the entry point into U-M’s sustainability community on campus. The goal of the program is to empower faculty, staff, and students with information and resources they need in order to live, learn, and work more sustainably at U-M. Our staff learned about U-M’s sustainability goals, updates on the progress of the goals, why they are important, and how we can get involved in sustainability on campus. We were very pleased to have 71 percent of the team certified as Planet Blue Ambassadors, making them all leaders in sustainability at U-M.

Looking Ahead

We are thrilled to hold the platinum sustainable workplace certification, but we plan to continue to think about sustainability moving forward. There are still challenges from our initial self-assessment that we can work on, and we can always improve upon procedures and policies we’ve already put in place. To help with all of this, we have formally started a sustainability working group, which will be comprised of 10-15 Academic Innovation staff members with representation from all three of the Center’s office locations. We’re excited for a few upcoming projects, including composting in all office kitchens and providing bike sharing rentals for each office location to encourage staff to bike instead of drive to meetings. We look forward to continuing to align our own sustainability goals with U-M’s and are excited to play a small part in helping the campus community reduce waste, conserve energy, and create more sustainable workplaces.