Sustainability in the Time of COVID-19

Program Updates

We continue our work to support U-M’s sustainability goals and your sustainability efforts, adapting as needed. While there are many unknowns, here’s what we can tell you now. We’ll update this page regularly. The FY20 Sustainability Goal Fact Sheets are now available, including brief assessments of COVID-19 impact.

Composting and Recycling
  • YES, recycling and composting on campus are still being serviced on the U-M Ann Arbor campus and delivered to their respective waste diversion facilities. Special recycling programs, including styrofoam, batteries, bottle caps, and pens, also continue.
  • Disposable masks and gloves must go in the landfill bins. NONE are recyclable or compostable on campus (despite the marketing on some of them). EHS recommends reusable face coverings sealed as tightly as possible to the face for most staff. They should be laundered after each use.
  • ChEM Reuse pick-ups and deliveries are as contactless as possible. No in-person visits allowed. Please use the online form or email
  • Due to limits on discretionary spending, the Zero Waste Events Program will only be providing student-led (not staff/faculty) free compostable disposables in FY21. Thank you for your understanding. We continue to provide compost collection service, boxes and liners to events.

The Energy Management team is working with partners to seize energy efficiency opportunities (such as reducing airflow in auditoriums and theaters that were empty all summer), while also adjusting to new practices to ensure the health of building occupants.


For some, this transition creates an opportunity to test out new ideas and establish new norms. Let us help! We offer virtual workshops and training, a reinvigorated Green Teams Program, and assistance with small-scale pilots to test out sustainability ideas.

Sustainability During COVID-19 at U-M

As you come back to campus or continue your work or classes from home, we all understand there will be changes. We want to be there with resources and support to keep sustainability in the conversation. This information is primarily geared toward sustainable operations and staff engagement. Although our office focuses on sustainability on campus, we’ve included a few off-campus resources here from our local experts.

This is a living document, with changes and updates as they happen. If you have any questions, or ideas for possible inclusion, please don’t hesitate to reach out to


There are many ways in which the cost-saving option is also a sustainable one, especially if it means purchasing less.

  • With limits on providing coffee at the office, if you are making coffee at the office, use bulk coffee like you do at home. Make sure to wash the measuring spoon/cup after each use.
  • Purchase a set of flatware and use a dishpan to wash utensils in HOT water. Or bring your own dishes for use at the office and take them home every day to wash.
  • The cost of disposables adds up quickly, but many people have questions about the safety of using reusables. See this Post-Landfill Action Network guide for the most recent information from the FDA, CDC, and ServSafe.

As replacements, updates, and repairs are needed, don’t forget to use cost-saving options such as Property Disposition (inexpensive computers, whiteboards, furniture, etc.), or ChEM Reuse (lab supplies) rather than buying new.

If you are working from home, check with your department if you are allowed to bring home equipment such as monitors, keyboards, and chairs before buying new. 

  • Encourage cultural shifts and leadership support of behaviors that reduce resource use, such as encouraging faculty not to print syllabi or staff not to print meeting agendas unless requested. Check with your department chair or HR if items such as annual reviews can be shared digitally instead of printed. Digital content should follow accessibility guidelines.
  • Check out this paper calculator to calculate the impact of your office paper choice and identify sustainable options at a variety of price points.
  • Due to purchasing limits this year, there will be much less “free” food available on campus. Please direct students and staff in need to the Maize and Blue Cupboard.
  • As people are spending more time at home, residential waste is at an all-time high. Consider second-hand options, buying in bulk to minimize packaging, avoiding single-use items, and opting for reusable instead of single-use (masks, cleaning supplies, napkins, etc.) whenever safe. Using reusable items and reducing waste often saves you money too!
Recycling and Composting

If you have questions about anything solid waste-related on campus, please email If your question is about hazardous waste, please contact Remember, reducing ALL waste reduces U-M’s operating costs and helps our environment.

If you are not on campus this semester, please note that your recycling and composting guidelines are probably different than on campus. Check with your landlord, local government, or waste provider for local details. can also be a good resource, but it’s always best to confirm your options locally.

Want to reduce your waste but don’t know where to start? Check out the Planet Blue Ambassador Program’s At-Home Waste Audit.

Are you home and missing your compost bin on campus? Consider composting at home! It is easy to start no matter what space you are in. Compost items such as fruit and veggie scraps, yard waste, and paper towels. When composting at home, avoid adding items such as compostable utensils, meat, or dairy. Those items need a commercial operation to break down effectively and are more likely to cause issues. The EPA has a great introduction to composting at home.

  • A guide to cost savings at low-waste events is coming soon.
  • Conference and Event Services shared a great series of tips on hosting sustainable events. Part 1 (energy use, waste, and engagement). Part 2 (food). Part 3 (giveaways and venue).
Energy Management
  • If you are a facility manager in a general fund or NCRC building, contact your Regional Energy Manager with questions about energy-saving opportunities in your building.
  • As your department plans to return to campus, make sure to let your facility manager know. Heating and air-conditioning systems have likely been set to unoccupied levels during the stay-at-home orders to save energy. REMs will work with facility managers to coordinate a return to occupied settings.
  • As a building occupant, especially if you are returning to campus only part-time, make sure to turn off any lights or equipment (computers including peripherals, copiers, lab equipment, coffee maker, etc.) and set back thermostats (if applicable). Eliminating space heaters and personal printers can also significantly reduce energy use.
  • We offer posters and stickers to help building occupants remember to turn off, turn down, and unplug. You can request them here (there may be a delay in delivery), or use digital/printable copies.
  • Building a positive culture around turning off and maintaining equipment can not only save energy and money, but also extend the life of expensive equipment. For instance, regularly cleaning and maintaining ultra low-temperature freezers can produce major savings.

If you are working from home, you may be utilizing your home energy systems differently than before. Here are some energy-saving tips!

  • Change your air filters in the furnace a bit more frequently (every 2-3 months) if your furnace or A/C is running more frequently since you are home all the time.
  • Change lightbulbs in lamps in your workspace/office to LEDs.
  • Consider using a large insulated travel mug (with lid) in lieu of a regular mug so the coffee pot warmer can be turned off once brewing is done.
  • Check out the resources at DTE Energy or Consumers Energy, Washtenaw County’s Home Weatherization Program (free or eligible homes), A2Energy (provides energy saving tips and resources whether you are a renter or homeowner), or the US Department of Energy (resources also available in Spanish!).

As campus gradually reopens, many people who can work remotely will continue. Others will begin commuting again and may consider different means. All of these have various cost and environmental savings, and may require planning and a shift in workplace culture. 

  • Learn about biking infrastructure on campus and check out this handy bike map of Ann Arbor and the surrounding area.
  • Want to know more about walking around the Ann Arbor campus and surrounding community? GetDowntown has many resources for pedestrians (as well as other alternative modes of commuting).
  • Google Maps can help you identify walking routes and times. 
  • U-M Logistics, Transportation and Parking posts updates on bus service and safety measures on their homepage. Please note that routes have drastically changed for this fall and masks are required. 
  • AAATA TheRide provides transit service across Washtenaw County. U-M staff, faculty and students ride free with a valid U-M ID. See service updates and safety measures.
  • Want to see how much money you save by commuting less or by methods other than driving solo? Check out this handy commute calculator.
  • And remember, don’t idle! Not only does idling vehicles waste fuel and contribute to climate change, it directly impacts our air quality and health as well. Whenever possible, turn off the engine when the vehicle is not actively traveling.
Engagement Opportunities

You are not alone! There are many opportunities to engage with others at U-M on sustainability.

The best way to get involved in sustainability as part of the U-M community is the Planet Blue Ambassador Program. This program offers a quick training to get you up-to-date on what is going on in sustainability at U-M. Then, the program offers ongoing updates via a monthly newsletter, as well as additional resources, workshops, and community conversations as applicable to your interests and work both on and off campus.

  • Do you want ideas or a way to measure how your office or laboratory is doing when it comes to sustainability initiatives? Check out our Sustainable Workplace program to get ideas and receive recognition!
  • Want more casual engagement? Check out the PBA Workplace Group
  • U-M has amazing academic courses covering all aspects of sustainability, including several free classes through Michigan Online.
  • Though many of the sustainability events that make our community so vibrant aren’t happening, many virtual events are available. Check the sustainability event listings for updates.
Environment, Health and Safety

Environment, Health and Safety provides leadership at all levels to ensure a healthy workplace and protect the environment. Check their COVID-19 page for regular updates and resources. 

Sustainable Transition Planning

We are prepared to give guidance to departments/units with questions. Contact For students, please contact

  • Sustainability is one of U-M’s presidential initiatives. We have campus sustainability goals for 2025, as well as the emerging President’s Commission on Climate Neutrality. Keep this in mind for long-term visioning and planning.
  • What about the broader framework of sustainability? Sustainability goes beyond just environmental—it incorporates aspects of DEI, wellness, and more. Check out the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
  • When making operational or procedural changes in your department, actively engage your staff, faculty, and students in the decision-making. Successful sustainability initiatives clearly communicate their purpose and impacts, both environmental and economic.
  • While environmental benefits can be highlighted to ease the transition, be open and honest with your staff and students and express gratitude for their engagement, among other research-backed advice from the Center for Positive Organizations.
  • Adaptation, resiliency, and change management have long been part of the conversation about sustainability and leadership at U-M. Lessons-learned and best practices may be helpful as we transition to new ways of doing things.
  • Always remember, sustainability is important to our students!
Sustainable Transition Success Stories
  • Shared Services teams moved customer onboarding sessions into on-demand videos, switched university suppliers from paper to electronic invoicing processes, and created new procedures so employees can submit benefits and other HR forms securely via electronic means.
  • Michigan Medicine eliminated the after-visit summary (2-3 pieces of paper, on average) for patients who have an online patient account to reduce infection risk and save money—while also reducing waste!