September 25, 2007
It's Not Easy Being Green: Environmental Law at UM
By Sumeera Younis
I’ll admit that I’ve never considered myself an environmentalist. My obsession with turning off the lights has more to do with being brought up by immigrant parents who were trying to keep the bills low than any real understanding of its effect on the earth. So, when I was asked to cover former EPA director Carol Browner’s talk at the inauguration of the Environmental Law and Public Policy program, I thought I would stop by, write a quick story and move on. Instead the event became the first leg in a journey of discovering a little bit more about environmentalism and how the Law School plays a unique and important role in the global environment.
Carol Browner, the longest serving Administrator in the history of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is chair of the Audobon Society and a principal at the Albright Group, a “global strategy group” headed by United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. In her address, she discussed some things that the average person can do to help the environment, emphasizing the importance of being politically proactive regarding environmental issues. One way to do that is by contacting congressmembers and vocalizing that the environment is a serious concern for constituents. If politicians feel that they are being held accountable for environmental issues, then they are more likely to promote and implement environmentally friendly policy.
Lobbying and letter writing is not the only way to effect political change. Perhaps the easiest way to show how you feel about the environment is with your pocketbook. No, I’m not suggesting that you start sending tons of money to political campaigns. (As if we had any money to send in the first place.) Instead we can buy products that are environmentally friendly. Notebooks made on recycled paper, energy-efficient light bulbs and things in environmentally friendly packaging are some simple examples of products that are better for the environment. By buying environmentally friendly products, consumers send a signal to the marketplace. This can influence many of the decisions that corporations are making.
Browner discussed the impact of each individual’s effect on the environment, but if one person can make a difference in the environment, then what would be the global effects of corporations or educational institutions ‘going green’? Many universities across the country have explored this issue and have decided that the answers they found were significant enough for them to make serious changes in the way their institutions operated. In the last decade campus green initiatives have been rapidly spreading across the country.
Going green is not only good for the environment, it is good for the university’s purse. The President of Harvard, Larry Summers, said: “The best investment in the University is not the endowment but the Green Loan Fund.” The facts seem to support Summer’s claim. When corporations from Wal-mart to Goldman Sachs suddenly started going green, researchers hypothesized that businesses were actually being motivated by a different green, and they were right. One company was able to save over 3 billion dollars over two decades in an effort to reduce carbon emissions. The energy, resource and fiscal savings from going green are huge. So, whats holding the law school back from joining the craze?
In fact the law school has been thinking about the environment. According to Dean Caminker, Michigan Law’s establishment of the Environmental Law and Policy Program recognizes the “indisputable importance of environmental issues as viewed from the legal perspective, the need to ensure practitioner familiarity with the field, and the opportunities for collaboration with other University of Michigan units, programs, and schools dedicated to addressing environmental issues and sustainability on a global basis.” Toward those ends the Law School recently hired Professor David Uhlmann, who will direct the new Environmental Law and Policy Program and will also be teaching environmental law. Before joining the faculty at the Law School, Uhlmann graduated from Yale Law School and worked for the DOJ, Environmental Crimes Section.
As a newly minted environmentalist, I still think the school can do more. As the Law School approaches new expansions and looks at building renovations, I hope they do so with their “green goggles” on. The Environmental Law Society on campus is highly charged to effect change this year., “The ELS has developed a broad network of experts generously willing to volunteer their time, and we are working hard to research and articulate viable alternatives,” said Jamie Knowles, ELS member. Knowles is also active in the Law School’s burgeoning Green Building Campaign, an informal organization of students within ELS who seek to work with the Law School Building Committee to achieve LEED certification for the new building currently in the early planning stages. “Because the Law School pays its own operating costs, energy saving measures will pay dividends for many decades,” Knowles added.
In the conclusion of her talk, Carol Browner encouraged students to consider spending time working in public service. She said that it gives people an opportunity every single day to stop and think, “How can I make my community and the world a better place?” It looks like we are being presented with that question and opportunity here at the Law School. I will leave you with the same words that Browner left us with and the same words that have been echoing in my head since. “Making a little difference in the world can make a huge difference in your life.”
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