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Michigan university students tackle sustainability challenges in EGLE-supported competition

Powerpoint slide on Sustainability and deconstruction in DetroitThe Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) supported a recent "sustainability pitch competition" for students at three Detroit-area universities, giving them the opportunity to address the complex challenges associated with sustainability.

Students at Wayne State University, Lawrence Tech University and University of Detroit Mercy tackled the challenge before them: to develop plans to deconstruct buildings instead of demolishing them. Demolition creates a lot of waste. In a deconstruction, up to 70% of materials can be recycled, and up to 25% of materials can be reused. Other benefits of deconstruction include reduced toxic dust from job sites, reduced waste to landfills, and removal of blight.

"EGLE participated to promote its sustainability work that protects human health and the environment," said Eileen Boekestein, environmental education coordinator. She worked with EGLE's Materials Management Division to write the case study that students were challenged with. "We wanted to showcase the work happening around deconstruction and building material reuse across the state, to support education around sustainability, and to help inspire young people to enter the field so that they can help address the complex challenges associated with sustainability."

EGLE staffers Rhonda Oyer, Jeff Spencer and Tracy Purrenhage served as coaches, and Andy Draheim and Mike Quigg were judges for the competition.

The competition had high stakes for these students, with the first-place team in the competition taking home a $2,500 cash prize and the second and third place teams receiving $1,000. All participants received a $50 MoGo gift card, with all prizes sponsored by the Erb Family Foundation.

The winner of the sustainability pitch competition was a team of students from both Wayne State and Detroit Mercy. The team exemplified the diversity of experience and interest necessary to tackle thorny sustainability problems: Lilly Solomon is a senior at Wayne State studying political science and romance languages; Alexander Kalaj is a freshman in Detroit Mercy's five-year Master of Business Administration (MBA) program, and Knicko Mojica is a junior in Wayne State's civil engineering program. Their pitch recommended full deconstruction of blighted structures and material disposal via a circular economy that puts the community first in all phases of the project.

Other teams included similarly diverse groups of students, and all projects included thoughtful approaches to community improvement as part of the process. Recommendations for the reuse of materials from deconstruction included building shelters for people experiencing homelessness, creation of community art, and support of urban gardening programs.

"It was impressive to see this diverse group of students from colleges and universities across southeast Michigan pull together and come up with creative solutions and persuasive pitches in a matter of days," said Andy Draheim, one of the coaches from EGLE. "Their passion for and knowledge of environmental and public health issues --related to a wide array of EGLE programs -- left me feeling inspired and hopeful for the future."

Boekestein says that the students' proposed solutions may be used by the City of Detroit's Green Taskforce as they develop a pilot project to increase the use of deconstruction over demolition in the city.

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