Go Blue While Going Green: Planet Blue Student Innovation Fund Aids Sustainability Projects

The University of Michigan Student Sustainability Coalition (SSC) has awarded four new grants through the Planet Blue Student Innovation Fund (PBSIF) to support large-scale, student-led projects that increase sustainability on the Ann Arbor campus. 

Born out of a collaboration between students and administrators in 2011, the PBSIF grants advance progress towards a more sustainable and just campus while inspiring students to pilot innovative ideas and utilize campus as a living-learning laboratory.

Past PBSIF funding has supported the U-M Campus Farm, the Maize & Blue Cupboard, the Strawbale Building at Matthaei Botanical Gardens, and the Food Recovery Network at U-M.

“Helping to get these projects off the ground has been extremely empowering. The credit definitely goes to the project teams—they have worked so hard on these projects and deserve that recognition! We got a lot of fantastic grant applications this year, but these four projects really stood out,” said Elizabeth Boman, one of the grantors from SSC this year. 

Projects receiving PBSIF funding this year are:

U-M Campus Farm Cold Storage ($24,000)

The Campus Farm at Matthaei Botanical Gardens actively engages in the development of sustainable food systems, while remaining as carbon neutral as possible. This project came about as a way to move towards their commitment of reaching carbon neutrality for all emissions generated and electricity used on-site by 2026. With the newly funded, high efficiency cold storage facility, they will be able to increase their energy efficiency by approximately 50% and reduce their carbon emissions as a result. This will serve as a model for other refrigeration needs across campus to adapt in a way that will have an incredibly positive effect in curbing electrical waste generated. 

As Lunia Oriol, the Carbon Neutrality Manager at the Campus Farm, stated: “Completing this project will help further the Campus Farm’s core mission of providing a living-learning laboratory for sustainable food systems work on campus, advancing food justice within the greater University of Michigan community, and empowering students through leadership development.”

Canopy Cover ($24,000)

Collaborators on this project intend to plant 25+ new trees in fall 2022 to increase canopy cover and carbon sequestration on campus. Drawing inspiration and guidance from those performing similar work, including the Ford C3 project in Dearborn and the A2Zero 10,000 trees initiative, the project will not only result in cleaner air and better soil in Ann Arbor, but it will also help to bring awareness to sustainability and environmental efforts on campus. 

With the help of U-M Grounds Services, the BLUElab student organization, will host a few tree-planting events “where student orgs can make a tangible impact on the University’s carbon neutrality goals and stay involved in other environmental efforts,” as Preethi Kumaran, Project Manager at BLUElab said. 

Light Switch Stickers ($1,000)

For many, something as simple as flipping a switch becomes a habit that’s often forgotten—especially in residence halls. Members of Students for Clean Energy (SfCE) will put the funds they received from PBSIF towards distributing stickers to U-M students to place on their light switches as a reminder of how simple, and important, it is to turn off the lights. Due to the work of the Office of Campus Sustainability and staff involved in green teams and sustainable workplaces throughout campus, light switch stickers can be found frequently in staff areas of U-M buildings, but in the Fall 2022, the project will expand their implementation to student residences both on and off campus. 

“SfCE would not have been able to move forward with this project without the help of PBSIF. We hope this little reminder will help make a small impact in daily life, because as many of us know, we need many small changes to make a big impact,” stated Hadley Vande Vusse, a member of Students for Clean Energy. 

Bike Repair Station ($1,000)

Students in Students for Clean Energy (SfCE) gave a second-life to an existing bike repair station at the Central Campus Transit Center. With the help of staff in the department of Logistics, Transportation and Parking, the new parts were installed in March 2022—reconditioning an appliance that may go unnoticed to some, but certainly not to bike users.

“We hope that increased biking on campus will decrease the use of other forms of transportation such as cars and buses that mainly run on fossil fuels,” stated Benjamin Klein. 

“We started a SfCE bike team a couple of years ago to look into ways we could improve the cycling infrastructure on campus. The bike repair station team only started this project last fall, and the final repaired station was installed this month. The PBSIF application process was easy, and we believe the feedback we received during the process helped steer our team in the right direction.”

The bike repair station before being fixed.
The bike repair station after being fixed.

The Bike Repair Station (Before and After). Photos courtesy of Benjamin Klein

Do you have an idea for a campus sustainability related project? Check out the PBSIF application requirements and connect with the Student Sustainability Coalition about it!