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2017 Sustainability Progress Report

Historic Milestones

In recognition of the University of Michigan, Planet Blue looks back to explore U-M’s longstanding commitment to raising awareness about the environment and addressing sustainability challenges over the years. For an overview of how we've gotten to where we are today, view our Historic Milestones.

  • Landscaping The U ( January 5, 2017 ) 1857

    Finding a barren campus upon his arrival in Ann Arbor, Professor Andrew Dickson White takes it upon himself to transform the landscape one tree at a time.

  • Arbor Day Origins ( January 5, 2017 ) 1872

    Alumnus J. Sterling Morton originates a tree-planting celebration in Nebraska called “Arbor Day.” Today, this event is celebrated globally.

  • First Forestry Class ( January 5, 2017 ) 1881

    Volney Spalding, a U-M botany instructor, teaches a forward-thinking course on forestry that also explores its impact on the social and economic welfare of the country.

  • Earning Dept Status ( January 5, 2017 ) 1903

    Spalding and others interested in natural resource management prompt the Regents to establish a department of forestry, in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.

  • Bio Station Begins ( January 5, 2017 ) 1909

    The U-M Biological Station is founded on a logged-over parcel, enabling students to observe firsthand how natural resource exploitation impacts the environment.

  • New School, 1st Dean ( January 5, 2017 ) 1927

    Reflecting its growing breadth of focus, the department of forestry evolves into a full-fledged School of Forestry and Conservation. Its dean for the next 24 years, Samuel T. Dana, is a noted scientist and scholar consulted by two U.S. presidents during his extensive career. When the school moves to a dedicated home on the Diag, the building is named for Dana.

  • Nuclear Research ( January 5, 2017 ) 1948

    A small nuclear reactor is built on North Campus as part of the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Project, honoring U-M community members who gave their lives in World War II. Its purpose is to facilitate research into the peaceful uses of atomic energy.

  • Power Conversion ( January 5, 2017 ) 1963

    The Central Power Plant is converted from a coal-burning facility to one that uses natural gas.

  • Teach-In/Earth Day ( January 5, 2017 ) 1970

    In mid-March, U-M students Dave Allan (later to become interim dean of the School of Natural Resources and Environment) and Doug Scott organize the Teach-In on the Environment, a huge and spectacularly successful prototype for the first Earth Day held five weeks later. Crisler Arena is filled to the rafters for four days, as the campus comes together to learn how they can “give Earth a chance.”

  • Early Green Efforts ( January 5, 2017 ) 1970

    U-M begins sponsoring vanpools to facilitate employee commuting and institutes a recycling program.

  • Students Go Solar ( January 5, 2017 ) 1989

    Engineering undergrad Bill Kaliardos founds the University of Michigan Solar Car team, which becomes the most successful solar team on the continent.

  • First Professorship ( January 5, 2017 ) 1993

    The Max McGraw Professorship of Corporate Environmental Management, U-M’s first professorship dedicated to sustainability, is established between the School of Natural Resources and Environment and the business school.


  • Earthfest Debuts ( January 5, 2017 ) 1995

    U-M hosts its first annual party for the planet, called Earthfest, which is designed to engage the campus community in sustainability programs and activities.

  • ERB Institue Opens ( January 5, 2017 ) 1996

    SNRE and the business school establish the Frederick A. and Barbara M. Erb Institute, committed to creating a socially and environmentally sustainable society through the power of business.


  • Gold LEED Building ( January 5, 2017 ) 1998

    A five-year program of renovations to the Dana building begins, resulting in U-M’s first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification (gold). Later, the university commits to LEED silver certification for all new buildings.

  • Sustainability CTR ( January 5, 2017 ) 1999

    The interdisciplinary Center for Sustainable Systems (formerly the National Pollution Prevention Center) is established within SNRE to promote research and implementation of the Life Cycle Design Methodology.

  • First For Justice ( January 5, 2017 ) 1999

    The nation’s first academic program in environmental justice is launched at U-M, promoting research about the causes and consequences of the inequitable distribution of environmental benefits and hazards. Students focus on the mechanisms that give rise to class, gender, racial and other types of disparities.

  • LSA & Environment ( January 5, 2017 ) 2001

    The new Program in the Environment, located within the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, offers students a broad liberal arts education in environmental topics.

  • New Home for Energy ( January 5, 2017 ) 2006

    The North Campus nuclear power reactor is decommissioned and the space surrounding it is repurposed as the innovative, interdisciplinary Energy Institute. The Institute integrates science, technology and policy solutions to address energy challenges.

  • Graham Institute ( January 5, 2017 ) 2006

    An initial $5 million gift from Don and Ingrid Graham, paired with matching funds from U-M, creates the Graham Sustainability Institute, a campus-wide institute to catalyze and coordinate a wide variety of sustainability initiatives. Over the next decade, programs administered by the institute go on to financially support 1,100 students and 200 faculty at U-M.

  • Climate Gathering ( January 5, 2017 ) 2007

    U-M hosts the first National Summit on Coping with Climate Change.

  • New Dual Degree ( January 5, 2017 ) 2008

    Engineering Sustainable Systems, a dual degree between the College of Engineering and SNRE, is established.

  • Students Unite ( January 5, 2017 ) 2008

    The Student Sustainability Initiative launches to bring together like-minded student groups across campus. 45 student groups are a part of the organization today.

  • Tree Campus Honor ( January 5, 2017 ) 2008

    U-M is recognized as a Tree Campus USA by the Arbor Day Foundation. It continues to be recognized every year after.

  • Admin Office Opens ( January 5, 2017 ) 2009

    The Office of Campus Sustainability is founded to serve as a focal point for sustainable campus operations and to encourage collaborations that further the university’s sustainability goals. A Special Counsel to the President for Sustainability is also created. SNRE Professor and Graham Institute Director Don Scavia receives the initial appointment.

  • NOAA & Great Lakes ( January 5, 2017 ) 2010

    A $4 million grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration funds the creation of the Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessment Center, focused on regional adaptation to climate change and variability.

  • Coleman’s Plan ( January 5, 2017 ) 2011

    President Mary Sue Coleman announces the university’s sustainability initiative supported by an investment of $14 million and commits the campus to a series of ambitious goals, including reducing landfill waste by 40 percent and requiring 20 percent of campus food to be locally sourced by 2025.

  • Dow Funds Fellows ( January 5, 2017 ) 2012

    With a gift from The Dow Chemical Company, U-M establishes the Dow Sustainability Fellows program to support scholars committed to finding innovative sustainability solutions on local-to-global scales.

  • ERBS & Water Center ( January 5, 2017 ) 2012

    To strengthen the university’s work in the Great Lakes, the U-M Water Center is established with a $4.5 million gift from the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation. Two years later, NOAA supplements the center’s budget with a $20 million grant.

  • Farming at Matthaei ( January 5, 2017 ) 2012

    An experimental farm is tilled at Matthaei Botanical Gardens as part of U-M’s Sustainable Food Program, and addresses student interest in gaining practical growing experience. The Campus Farm is supported by an award from the Planet Blue Student Innovation Fund, which offers grants of $5,000 to $50,000 for student-initiated projects that promote environmental sustainability on campus.

  • AASHE Recognizes U-M ( January 5, 2017 ) 2012

    U-M earns the prestigious silver rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. In 2015, it will receive a gold rating, putting it in the top 10 percent of educational institutions worldwide.

  • Ambassadors Debut ( January 5, 2017 ) 2013

    The university launches the Planet Blue Ambassador program, focused on encouraging faculty, staff and alumni to engage in personal sustainability actions. It also establishes the Sustainability Cultural Indicators Program, a first-of-its-kind study by the Graham Sustainability Institute and the Institute for Social Research for tracking sustainability culture changes and progress on campus.

  • New Journal ( January 5, 2017 ) 2013

    A team of Graham Sustainability Doctoral Fellows publishes the first issue of the Michigan Journal of Sustainability, making scholarly sustainability research accessible to practitioners and policymakers worldwide.

  • Home for Batteries ( January 5, 2017 ) 2013

    The Battery Fabrication and Characterization User Facility (Battery Lab) is developed in cooperation with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and Ford Motor Company.

  • MCity for vehicles ( January 5, 2017 ) 2015

    Mcity, a new North Campus test facility for connected and automated vehicles and systems, is launched and has the potential to dramatically reduce carbon emissions as well as land use.

  • Schlissel Initiates ( January 5, 2017 ) 2015

    President Mark Schlissel reinvigorates campus sustainability progress by committing $100 million to new efforts relating to climate action, waste prevention, healthy environments and community awareness and action. These efforts include retooling the Central Power Plant to register a 20 percent decrease in greenhouse gas emissions.

  • UMHS is Lauded ( January 5, 2017 ) 2016

    The University of Michigan Health System is named one of the 50 “greenest” hospitals in America.

  • New School Launches ( January 5, 2017 ) 2016

    The Regents approve the creation of the School for Environment and Sustainability to focus on global sustainability challenges at the intersection of environment and society.

  • Dow Fellows program extended ( April 4, 2018 ) 2017

    A new $3 million gift from the Dow Chemical Co. Foundation to the Dow Sustainability Fellows Program at U-M will enable fellows to continue implementing sustainable solutions for food systems, cities, infrastructure, mobility, consumption and energy systems from Michigan to Sub-Saharan Africa.

  • Inaugural Dean of SEAS ( April 4, 2018 ) 2017

    Jonathan T. Overpeck, one of the nation’s leading experts on climate change, is appointed the inaugural dean of U-M’s School for Environment and Sustainability.

  • Zero Waste Stadium ( April 4, 2018 ) 2017

    Michigan Athletics launches zero-waste game days at Michigan Stadium, helping to move U-M closer to reaching its campus sustainability goals.

  • Grand Opening of SEAS ( April 4, 2018 ) 2017

    The opening ceremony for the new School for Environment and Sustainability marks the start of a new path in sustainability research and education that brings together faculty from a wide variety of disciplines and many U-M schools and colleges to address local and global sustainability challenges.