Western Michigan University’s Office of Sustainability is working on a list of over 80 different projects to help turn WMU into a green campus.

WMU has pushed forward a solar panel project, developed water filtration systems and helped to design the new Sangren Hall into a certified green building.

Interview with Matthew Hollander

Matthew Hollander, the coordinator of sustainability projects for WMU, wants to assure students that these projects will not hurt them financially, but improve the welfare of the students and faculty on campus.  For example, the recently installed solar panels are paired with five electric powered maintenance vehicles that were purchased after receiving a $700,000 grant from the Department of Energy.

“The solar panels would’ve been a loss had we not purchased them with a grant,” Hollander said.

The solar energy panels connect to the electric grid for WMU and cut the amount of kilowatt-hours by generating solar electricity with photovoltaic cells, which create an electrical current. The current can then be stored in the vehicles during the day, and when plugged back in at night, they act like big batteries.

Along with the solar panels, there are also 16 charging stations for the recently purchased vehicles that are free to use for anyone who has an electric vehicle. Any extra electricity generated by the panels can also be sold back to Consumers Energy, resulting in no wasted energy.

“We want to get as much solar power on campus as possible, that’s the renewable that makes the most sense to us,” Hollander said.

One of the projects Hollander said he has been focusing on is improving bicycle transportation on campus. New pathways for cyclists are going to be created to make it easier and safer to bike across campus.

“If students could more easily ride their bikes on campus it would save them a lot of money on gas and maintenance of their vehicle,” Hollander said.

Marshall Symons, an experienced cyclist, urban farmer and sustainability activist, agreed that motor free vehicles are the way to go.

“I rode my bicycle from San Francisco to Detroit, I know firsthand the importance of motor free transportation and the health affects it has on your body,” Symons said. In almost any situation, riding a bike is always going to be cheaper than driving a car, Symons explained.

WMU’s Office of Sustainability also set a goal to have free filtered water bottle filling stations in every building on campus. The idea is to reduce student need to purchase water bottles everyday, and instead students can refill their Ecomugs. Every year these reusable mugs are given away at events.

One of the largest projects the Office of Sustainability has been working on is the new Sangren Hall. The renovation of Sangren Hall was not a cheap one, Hollander said. It’s a $60 million building, but for good reason. The new Sangren is a L.E.E.D, leadership energy and environmental design, green standard certified building. This means that the building will be energy efficient and save immensely on utilities and maintenance costs.

“The reason they decided to rebuild Sangren was because they were going to save $300,000 a year on utilities alone by having a more efficient building. The project satisfies both economic and sustainability concerns,” Hollander said.

Another important cost effective focus of sustainability is to reuse and recycle old materials, like the construction materials from the Sangren project.

Carolyn Noack, the manager of solid waste reduction for the Office of Sustainability, explained that the first step to being sustainable is to reduce the materials you use.

One way WMU is doing this is by requesting that any large deliveries, such as furniture, not be shipped in a cardboard box but, instead, wrapped in blankets that can be reused to wrap other items when shipped. This method would save on disposal costs of the cardboard including the labor.

“Recycling and waste reduction is always a generally less expensive choice,” Noack said. “When you use fewer materials and can reuse a lot of materials than you’re going to be saving money on purchasing and waste costs.”

The University’s goals for waste reduction by 2015 are to recycle 45 percent of waste and divert 55 percent of waste, meaning reusing the materials, composting or donating.  Noack said the diversion is the easy part, the recycling is a challenge.

Student participation in these efforts is key.

“If more students knew sustainability was actually cost effective, I definitely think more kids would be involved,” said Samantha Sandler, a junior at WMU.

“Having a free mug and free water is just one less thing I have to pay for,” Sandler said. “I’m also excited about the concept of new bike paths; it would definitely encourage me to ride my bike to school more often.”