Ella Mannino

STUDENT – Chair of TREES Subcommittee

“I’m from Ortonville, Michigan, which is about like an hour north of here, in between Flint and Pontiac. Ortonville is kind of a rural farm town, like I lived in the woods, so that’s a big part of why I care so much about the environment. I’m an International Studies and Middle East Studies major, so it’s not like I’m in PitE or anything. I just love being outside and I love nature. I’ve always been really concerned about climate change and the environment. My parents are super big hippies and my mom was active in the Sierra Club in the 90s. And so I’ve been raised to care about the environment and be really appreciative of nature, and [to recognize] how interconnected we are with our natural environment. I think it’s always been something that I’ve cared about, but I never really had the opportunity to do anything about it until I got here. That’s what drew me to Sierra Club, and [how I initially] got involved in environmentalism.

And now I’m the Chair of TREES, which stands for the Taking Responsibility for The Earth and Environment subcommittee. And we’re the environmental branch of LSA Student Government under our student-led committee. I got involved my freshman year and because of my membership in Sierra Club, I knew a lot about environmental issues that were going on at campus. That was a period of time where there were a lot of climate strikes going on and the movement was really strong on carbon neutrality for the university to adhere to PCNN (President’s Commission for Carbon Neutrality) recommendations. 

In terms of my own life, I feel like a lot of times when people think about environmental activism, and the importance of the environment, they feel that environmental activism is restricted to people who are majoring in PitE, or who have some sort of like sciency STEM background. But I think that I’ve noticed in my Middle East Studies major, which you wouldn’t think of as being environmentally focused, that climate change impacts every single facet of our lives, because we are so interconnected with the environment. So [even] within the Middle East Studies, climate change is one of the most dire crises in the Middle East right now because of water scarcity. And because of resource motivated conflict and heat waves and things like that that are impacting people’s lives. And so it’s important to understand environmental issues because we, humans and the environment, are one. We are the environment. So you need to understand that no matter what field you’re going into. In any field or major, you can find ways that everything ties back to environmental issues, because humans are so dependent on the land, and resources, and animals and food. And it’s like that all ties back to the environment no matter what. 

“Something that I [also] want everybody to understand is the urgency of the climate crisis, and the fact that we really have no time to waste and that we have to do something about climate change, otherwise, we will go extinct. I think at this university, specifically, we need to up the pace on moving towards carbon neutrality. And [people like] Caitlin Jacobs and President Ono have been doing really great on this, but there still are a lot of things that we should be doing to be more sustainable in general. I think that the university is obviously an academic institution, but it’s also a business and U of M is a brand, especially with things like U of M Athletics. We’re a brand and I think that a lot of decisions that the university makes, in regards to upholding the brand identity of the university, kind of directly conflicts with our sustainability goals. For example, it makes me so mad every single time I go to a football game or a hockey game, and there are disposable pom poms passed out to everybody that are just gonna end up in a landfill. Why are we doing that? It’s because they’re upholding the brand and they want everybody to have a specific experience when they go to a football game or when they watch a game. And it’s like these things need to be on the same level and the university should be okay with it. [They wouldn’t even be] sacrificing profits because people are still going to come to games. But even if they did have to sacrifice part of the brand in order to be more sustainable, that should be okay, right?

I think something that’s [also] been talked about a lot in sustainability circles is the university as a money making institution that constantly wants to expand. And this is something that we’re seeing a lot of when we’re talking about the master planning process, and campus plan 2050. Like, what does it mean? What should the university look like in 2050, and I think a lot of people on campus are calling for meaningful and purposeful use of space. For example, with the site of the former Fleming building in the Regents plaza area, I’ve been working since my freshman year with a team of people…students [and] administrators who I’m so grateful to be involved with, and we are working to turn that space into a green space. [And] students really want [that] to be prioritized as something that can promote native species and like, wildlife on campus, pollinator gardens, rain gardens. It could be a space to educate people about sustainable gardening and things like that. But one of the fears that people have on campus related to that space, is that even if it is made a green space, it’ll only be temporary. Because the university is going to want to expand and build a new building in that space, because that’s prime real estate. And so I think that there are a lot of things where the university as an academic institution wants to be sustainable, but then at the same time, as a brand, it wants to expand and also increase profits, so there’s that tension.

Still, as a junior who was here before President Ono, I can say that the fresh leadership that Ono brings to the sustainability movement on campus is something that I’m really hopeful about. I think he’s done a really great job of listening to students and of moving faster towards sustainability and towards carbon neutrality. And I’m very excited that Caitlin is now in this role and that Shana Weber is now the associate vice president of sustainability. I’m very hopeful that the university is taking a bigger focus on these issues and that it seems like we really are making real progress. And something else that makes me hopeful is the really awesome community of student leaders on this campus that I’ve been privileged and honored to work with for the last three years on all of these projects. They’re all such amazing leaders on this campus. 

As part of the LSA Year of Sustainability, LSA Dean’s Fellow Cherish Dean sat down with a range of students, staff, and faculty across the University to illustrate the various relationships people across campus already have to this work, to showcase ways people can get involved, and to highlight the reasons that this work should matter.

To view an abbreviated transcript of Cherish’s full conversation with Ella, click here.

Cherish can be reached at cherishd@umich.edu. To contact the LSA Year of Sustainability Team as a whole, please contact sustainable-lsa@umich.edu

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