Highlights from Flint Sustainability Week

Last week was Flint Sustainability Week. It was the first big sustainability event on the Flint campus, and I am sure, having been able to attend part of it myself, that it will not be the last! I didn’t get to attend all of the different events throughout the week because I’m based on our Ann Arbor campus, but I just wanted to share some of my reflections and highlights on the parts of the week I was lucky enough to be able to attend.

Opening Keynote by Dr. Diogo Veríssimo

Sustainability Week was kicked off by a keynote lecture from Dr. Diogo Veríssimo. He’s a research fellow at Oxford and UM-Flint Thompson Visiting Professor. He presented on “Conservation 2.0: Harnessing the power of digital to sustain life on Earth.” As someone who studied social psychology in undergrad, I found his talk extremely interesting. One of the most captivating parts was when he introduced those of us in the audience to a mobile game, much like Subway Surfers, but about a little chubby, endangered green parrot called the Kakapu: Kakapo Run. Turns out that individuals who played this Kakapo Run game in a research study, in comparison to a control group of individuals who were asked to play Subway Surfers, showed increased:

  • environmental knowledge,
  • environmental awareness,
  • willingness to support environmental policy,
  • willingness to volunteer for an environmental cause, and 
  • willingness to perform behaviors that would sustain the Kakapo bird population. 

How cool that spending some time playing a fun game that is only loosely tied to environmentalism could have impacts on our pro-environmental attitudes and intentions! What was even more interesting, was that in another study, Dr. Veríssimo found that spending time watching an environmental documentary didn’t have the same, meaningful impacts on people’s intentions. I wonder if app and videogame developers know they have the potential to impact the world with something as simple as choosing to have a little charismatic bird as the main character in their games rather than a little animated human?

Dr. Verissimo presenting his talk at Flint Sustainability Week.
Dr. Veríssimo presenting during Flint Sustainability Week.

Aeronode Interactive Art Installation

After the keynote, I headed over to figure out what Aeronode: Climate Change Signs In The Cloud was. I didn’t have much of an idea before stepping into this small room on the first floor of UCEN, but it ended up to be much more engaging than anything I anticipated! I think I had it in my mind that I would be observing this exhibit not helping to co-create it. 

Aeronode Exhibit Room
The view as I entered the Aeronode space.

When I entered the room, I found myself immediately drawn to several small pieces of paper literally nailed in place around the walls of the room. There was such an interesting mix of things written on them. “Be the change you want to be in the world.” “We have the power to make a difference.” “The fight starts with all of us, let’s improve the culture of sustainability at UM-Flint!” “You don’t need to do this alone.” “We need to act NOW!” 

After I had read my way around the room, I found a set of instructions on the table in the middle of the space. It invited me to grab a quill and gather my thoughts. I noticed the quills floating near some blank pages, and used one to write down perhaps not the most profound, but my own personal thoughts and encouragement that I wanted to share with the Flint community about climate change. I then grabbed one of the hammers that was scattered on the exhibit floor and felt just a tiny bit powerful while nailing what I had written down onto the wall along with the others. 

I went to this exhibit relatively early on in the week, and I wonder how much more wisdom was gathered there by the end of its showing. What I thought upon first glance was an unfinished construction project with strings hanging in the air and hammers scattered on the ground was actually one of the most interactive art installations I’ve witnessed. Such a creative idea!

A quill hanging in the space and the message “We need to act NOW!”

Student Lightning Talks 

Fast forward to Thursday at lunch time, and I was back in Flint for the Student Lighting Talks! This event was organized by my graduate student intern Chloe Summers and two faculty members who have been instrumental to getting all sorts of sustainability work launched at UM-Flint: Dr. Rebecca Tonietto and Dr. Heather Dawson. There was some much appreciated sustenance (pizza) and swag (cute lip balms) provided by the graduate program in Biology, a room full of about 40 people, and the main highlight was the enthusiasm and detailed knowledge of the student speakers. Seven students presented short (less than 5 minute) presentations on their own personal take on sustainability. The range of presentation topics was impressive:

  • Jessica Holley: Ecobricking
  • Trent Adams: Lawn Alternatives
  • Megan Horodko: Sustainable Gardening And Food Preservation 
  • Justin Franks: Hemp: More Than Just A Weed
  • Daniel Koglin: Helping Through Hunting
  • Viineeth Manam: Conservation of Red Wolves In California: A Success Story
  • Leah Hart: Sustainability Fashion And Toys
Student Presenters from Left to Right: Daniel Koglin, Justin Franks, Megan Horodko, Leah Hart, Jessica Holley, Trent Adams, and Viineeth Manam.

Two memorable moments for me were being amazed at how beautiful ecobrick structures can be and wondering where I can learn more about Ford’s 1930’s hemp car that was 10x stronger than steel. All the presenters did a wonderful job, and I was so glad that Sustainability Week gave them each the opportunity to have a brief 5 minutes to shine. 

Sustainable Laundry Hands-On Workshop

After the lightning talks, students and staff were welcomed to stay in the same room for a hands-on workshop that I had the pleasure of organizing. We started the workshop off by discussing some sustainable laundry best practices:

  • Rewear clothes more than once before washing.
  • Only do full loads (find a laundry buddy if you never seem to fill the washer).
  • Use cold water.
  • Choose Safer Choice detergents.
  • Air dry your clothes.
  • Use reusable dryer balls when you do machine dry instead of dry sheets.

Then we spent the next hour or two together just needle felting cute decorations onto wool dryer balls as people chatted. The idea was to create dryer balls that the participants would be excited to use instead of boring and chemical-covered dryer sheets. Eventually, because the activity was fun and definitely something to have patience with and take time on, participants who were a part of the Wildlife Biology Club combined their meeting into our room, and we got to listen to a really interesting Q&A session with Dr. Veríssimo. 

Were you able to attend part of Flint Sustainability Week? I wasn’t able to attend so many of the other parts of the week that I definitely wished I could have attended. There was a behind-the-scenes facilities tour with Richard Hamilton of the Flint Facilities and Operations team, a few other speaker events, an Art Walk, and a Flint River Clean Up, among others. So if you were able to attend, share in the comments below what your experience was like! Can’t wait to see what all the community comes up with for next year!