Kimberly Andrews Espy, Santa Ono and Teresa Woodruff

Our students are serious about the environment. Among Generation Z, 42% of respondents to a 2023 Deloitte survey have already changed or plan to change their job or industry due to climate concerns.

Research universities are uniquely positioned and carry great responsibility to expand our understanding of the crisis through research, developing sustainable solutions through innovation and testing, and fostering change through the education of tomorrow’s leaders.

As the University Research Corridor (URC), an alliance of Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University, we are committed to fighting climate change and are marshaling all of our resources to combat this crisis through sustainability.

For us, sustainability is more than a buzzword. It’s an imperative to discover ways to meet today’s economic and health needs and ensure a healthy environment for future generations.Sustainability includes decarbonization, reducing waste and pollution, and managing limited resources. We do this critical work on our campuses, with our students, in our communities, and with our government and industry partners who look to us for help developing sustainable solutions. In many cases, sustainable solutions equate to economical ones, offering more cost-effective technologies and practices.

We are implementing sustainability plans to reduce our own carbon footprints and use our campuses as living labs, where technologies and practices can be studied, tested and scaled to the larger world. And we are preparing students to become tomorrow’s sustainability change-makers through thousands of courses and scores of academic programs, such as MSU’s KnightCenter for Environmental Journalism; U-M’s School for Environment and Sustainability; and the Regional Centre of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development, a United Nations-supported partnership between Wayne State and the University of Windsor.

Industry also recognizes its sustainability imperatives and is counting on our research. As leading contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, mobility partners are undergoing a historic transition to electric vehicles. URC members joined to showcase our innovations in advanced battery technologies, charging infrastructure, eco-friendly manufacturing processes and materials, and autonomous vehicles at last month’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

Like all Michiganians, we hold great reverence for our Great Lakes and inland waters — it’s a major part of our identity. But stewardship of 20% of the world’s surface fresh water is a monumental responsibility for our communities and region. URC researchers and partners across Michigan’s universities are dedicated to the preservation of the Great Lakes and Michigan’s inland lakes and streams from environmental threats, such as invasive species, PFAS and microplastics.

Our universities are committed to our communities through long-term efforts, such as the Michigan Sea Grant and new programs, like the following:

Detroit: Wayne State launched the Center for Leadership in Environmental Awareness and Research to study old pollutants unique to old factories, identify how they spread, and their impact on the health of mothers and babies.

Michigan: MSU is a research leader in mass timber, a renewable resource used in sustainable buildings across Michigan, including on the campuses of U-M and MSU.

International: U-M’s Global Center for Climate Change Impact on Transboundary Waters. In partnership with McMaster University, Toronto Metropolitan University, the Six Nations of the Grand River, Brock University, and Wilfrid Laurier University, the center studies how climate change is affecting water resources in different areas, especially when those areas share borders.

What we see happening today and the predictions of future consequences of climate change for our communities, economy and planet compel us to push further, broaden our actions and deepen our efforts. We pledge to work together to quicken the adoption of needed climate action to advance new solutions. We care deeply for our students, neighbors and partners, as well as future generations, and stand strong to move us all to a greener, cleaner future.

Kimberly Andrews Espy is president of Wayne State University; Santa J. Ono is president of the University of Michigan; and Teresa K. Woodruff is interim president of Michigan State University.

This story was originally published in The Detroit News.