June 4, 2021: MSU sustainability update

Dear Spartans,

World Environment Day is observed tomorrow, June 5, across the globe. It’s an appropriate time to share with you some highlights of Michigan State University’s sustainability progress and climate change efforts.

Sustainability at MSU
Sustainability is rooted in MSU’s very foundations of education, research and outreach, extending first across Michigan and now the world. Understanding nature’s complex relationships and our own interdependence and impacts are, well, natural for the nation’s first college to teach scientific agriculture.

MSU continues its strong leadership in sustainability through curriculum, cutting-edge research, experiential learning, community engagement and sustainable operations. We met our Department of Energy Better Buildings Energy Efficiency Challenge targets two years early. And we are developing new ways to harness sustainable energy through innovations such as the solar carports that cover 5,000 campus parking spaces and produce an estimated 15,000 MWh/year of solar energy. They comprise the largest solar array in North America.

For our sustainable accomplishments, MSU has earned a Gold STARS rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education; a top-50 ranking in the Princeton Review Green Schools list; a top Times Higher Education Impact Ranking for sustainable development goals; a gold-level Bicycle Friendly University designation; and a Tree Campus Higher Education recognition. These are recognitions we can all be proud to receive.

Addressing climate change impacts
Beyond our campus, MSU researchers and outreach experts work with growers across the state and the globe to help address the effects of changing climate, including by enhancing crop drought, pest and disease tolerance. 

While much progress has been made, we see many more opportunities to raise the visibility of our efforts, collaborate with global partners and leverage resources to foster academic excellence, research innovation and technology and to make an even greater difference here and around the world.

On a national level, the United States is re-engaging in the Paris Climate Agreement and developing an aggressive climate action agenda. In Michigan, several MSU staff and faculty members are serving on work groups for the Council on Climate Solutions, which is overseeing deliberations and development of the MI Healthy Climate Plan for the state and other initiatives. 

Regionally, our faculty and staff are actively engaged in several community sustainability partnerships and organizations. There also is great interest among students. That includes groups implementing green projects on campus such as the new “green wall” of plantings along the Red Cedar bridge south of the Main Library as well as graduate students researching climate action at the university.

Moving forward
As we turn to our efforts to address climate change, a number of important efforts are underway. The Associated Students of MSU last semester declared climate action an emergency and asked university leadership to do the same. I, too, recognize the urgency to address the climate crisis as an emergency, which will require innovative solutions and direct actions to combat the effects of climate change.

MSU is well-positioned to act as a change agent to accelerate cross-sector climate response, generate knowledge, serve as a convener and educate the next generation of leaders, who are likely to be disproportionately impacted by climate change.  

Sustainability and climate change will be key elements of our vision and goals for the next several years, as well as part of updates to key activities and campus plans.

I also have tasked MSU Director of Sustainability Amy Butler with establishing the University Sustainable Systems Steering Group, or US3G. This is a cross-organizational effort whose charge will include the development of our sustainability and climate change strategy. We’ll focus on what we can and need to do between now and 2030 to reduce MSU’s greenhouse gas impacts and promote sustainability progress within our four pillars framework — campus, curriculum, community and culture. This strategy will move the university toward reaching climate neutrality by 2050 while considering technology innovation, fiscal stewardship and finding ways to more effectively embed sustainability into our culture.

Thinking globally, acting locally
The theme of this year’s World Environment Day is ecosystem restoration, a subject of MSU research and outreach since renowned botanist William Beal joined the university in the 1870s. Not only did Beal plant trees and gardens on campus and begin his famous seed viability experiment, but he also worked to reforest Michigan after the lumber boom.

Current MSU restoration research and activities range from the banks of the Red Cedar River to crop fields that support pollinating bees. We will highlight projects, initiatives and collaborations centered around progress toward the UN Sustainable Development Goals throughout the next academic year. 

We all can be proud of MSU’s sustainability activities and scholarship. I look forward to working with the US3G; our students, staff and faculty; and communities across Michigan and around the world as we address climate change and advance  sustainability.


Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D. (he/him)