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Michigan State University

From the President - Spartan Alumni Magazine, Fall 2023

Spartans Go Green

Bicycle excursions and strolls around campus often take me past the W.J. Beal Botanical Garden, a haven for Spartans to reflect and recharge for generations. It is the nation’s oldest continuously operated university botanical garden, and we are thrilled this year to celebrate its 150th anniversary.

William Beal was an eminent botanist who understood that close study of the natural world was fundamental to working and living in harmony with it. In this column, I want to bring you up to date on our research and teaching in the area of sustainability.

Over 500 tenure-track faculty at MSU are engaged in research that addresses sustainability and global challenges like climate change. MSU School of Packaging researchers, for example, recently published findings on a promising compostable material for food packaging.

Some sustainable technology is already at work on campus. Transparent, window-like solar panels developed by Johansen Crosby Endowed Professor Richard Lunt were installed on the Biomedical and Physical Sciences Building in 2021. Technology invented at MSU generating energy for MSU? Wow!

The university offers three flagship degree programs in sustainability and over 20 undergraduate minors rooted in sustainability. Students can further enrich their studies with over 800 sustainability course offerings across 75 academic departments. Again, wow!

At the same time, stewardship and sustainability constitute one of the six key focus areas of our 2030 strategic plan, which is moving our university and campus toward climate neutrality by 2050. Our solar carports, a standout project, represent one of the largest such solar arrays in North America, supplying about 5.5% of campus energy consumption. I visited our power plant over the summer and our solar energy was powering the entirety of the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams. Would another “wow” be redundant?

Perhaps no facility better represents our sustainable practices than the award-winning MSU Surplus Store and Recycling Center (SSRC), which anchors an integrated system of reuse, recycling, collaboration and education. Processing up to 25 million pounds of discarded material annually, SSRC has helped MSU reduce yearly landfill totals by 55% and trash per student by 66% since 1990.

The SSRC engages students through paid positions, interdisciplinary education, workshops and research projects. It also collects over 115,000 pounds of campus food waste every month for composting, which finds its way to locations including the Beal gardens.

This issue is dedicated to Michigan State’s sustainability research and practices, so be sure to read the feature story on MSU Bikes—another reflection of our strategic commitments to deploy sustainable solutions and support the health of students and employees. And this time of year, it is just plain fun.

I like to think William Beal would agree that, every day in every way, Spartans go green!


Teresa K. Woodruff, Ph.D.

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