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.

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.
  • The ChEM Reuse Program will reopen the week of July 13. Pick-ups and deliveries will be 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 not provide free compostable disposables in FY21. Thank you for your understanding. We will continue to provide compost collection service, boxes and liners.
  • Office Supply Reuse Day is canceled this year. We are developing other resources to help departments reduce office supply waste.

The Energy Management team is working with partners to seize energy efficiency opportunities (such as by shutting down three childcare centers that won’t be used through the end of 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 team model, and assistance with small-scale pilots to test out sustainability ideas.

Sustainably Transitioning Back to Campus

As you prepare to come back to campus when allowed, 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. Our Planet Blue partners are working on more student-oriented resources, which we will link to when available.

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.

  • Detailed guidance for cost-savings in a sustainable kitchenette/break room is coming soon.
  • 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.), ChEM Reuse (lab supplies), and the Upholstery Shop & Furniture Repair rather than buying new when they reopen.

  • Consider doing a waste audit (guide coming soon!) to identify sources of waste and opportunities to reduce waste and save money, such as printing less and buying cheaper in bulk.
  • 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 & Blue Cupboard.
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.

  • 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).

Fall 2020 student move-in waste reduction plans are being finalized. The City of Ann Arbor provides info for students living off campus.

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.

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. You might also be interested in this story about how Facilities and Operations designed clear plastic shields for U-M buses and enabled AAATA to do so as well.   
  • 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 at U-M 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.

  • 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 are postponed, some 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!