Liza Wallis

Liza Wallis
University of Michigan,
junior (program in the environment)

Tottered on: 3 February 2007
Temperature: 10F
Ceiling: partly sunny
Ground: blown snow
Wind: SSW at 20mph

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TT with HD: Liza Wallis

[Ed. note: Liza is a member of the Environmental Enthusiasts, a student group at the University of Michigan. Last fall they created a grant propsal to create a green roof on the Elbel Building at Elbel Field and submitted it as a part of MTV-U's Ecomagination Challenge. Before reading the Talk below, it's worth taking the time to watch the green roof video they submitted as a part of the proposal and to vote.]

HD: And the first order of business is ...

LW: ... balancing?

HD: Yeah, you probably need to scoot back a little bit.

LW: I haven't been on one of these for a while. Does that work? I might break it [laugh]!

HD: No, you're definitely not going to break it. Let's pause for just a second so we can get the picture taken.

LW: Oh, man. In my attractive winter gear! [Ed. note: photography ensues]

HD: Well, welcome to the teeter totter.

LW: Thank you, good to be here!

HD: First question. So are you a fan of Bruce Hornsby?

LW: I don't know who Bruce Hornsby is!

HD: Isn't the sound track from the video you guys created from ...

LW: ... oh, the guy who made it is actually a friend of the President. We didn't put it together. He's the one who did everything, but I like the music!

HD: Yeah, I felt like I was being transported back to the late 80's, early 90's. I forget exactly when he was popular.

LW: He knows his music. Drew [Roberts] definitely seems like he knows what he's doing.

HD: Now when you say a 'friend of the President', you mean President Coleman, of the University??

LW: No, the President of our student organization, the Environmental Enthusiasts. Sarah [Benatar], the President, knows him.

HD: So he was given complete artistic control?

LW: Pretty much. Most of the rest of us, when we saw we had to make a video, we kind of got a little nervous, because none of us have any video experience whatsoever. And he's a film major, so that was pretty good luck!

HD: So did he handle all the camera work for the interview?

LW: He handled most of it. Sarah had him tell her what to do, and she did some of the interviews, but he compiled all the footage and he put it all together. He was very essential to the completion of the video!

HD: So right now it's in the evaluation phase? They have judges who are evaluating this project, and then there's online voting that's another aspect to the final verdict as well?

LW: Yeah, that's how I understand it. You have people from your campus, or just friends, vote until March 5th or something. Then MTV, they are the final arbiters of what happens. It's not just the voting, because our campus is so big that we have an unfair advantage. But I'm sure that's one component to it.

HD: But there are some other very large universities in the finals, right?

LW: Yeah, I think UCLA or UC San Diego is in it, one of the California schools, which are huge. But then there's Connecticut College, which is really small.

HD: And Vanderbilt is in there, which is not gigantic.

LW: Yeah, so we would definitely have an unfair advantage.

HD: Well, speaking of finalists, there were 125 or so entries, and you guys made the final 10, so this was not one of those deals where 'everybody wins'.

LW: No, definitely not. I was looking at the list of all the ones that submitted applications and it ranges all over. So I'm pretty excited that we made the final cut.

HD: How difficult was it to arrive at green roofs as an idea? Were there other candidate ideas that you explored, or did you pretty quickly identify that as the thing you wanted to do?

LW: My first idea was that I wanted to do energy conservation at the University of Michigan. And the more I researched it, the more I realized that the University had already come a very long way. So anything I'd want to do would probably be too expensive for a $25,000 grant, and the project proposal that I was going to have to put together in a month and a half. So I contacted Plant Operations to see if maybe there was a specific aspect of energy conservation I could focus on. And they put me in touch with Steve Kunselman.

HD: So you didn't know him prior to this?

LW: No. So he and I met and he gave me some ideas that he had been thinking about. One of those was a green roof on the Elbel Field Building and that sounded to me like it would be perfect. I mean, the building is really small, so it was perfect for a $25,000 grant. The reason they hadn't done it before is because the University wouldn't put up the funds. I guess to them it seemed so minor. But with $25,000, we could do something that made a statement on campus, was kind of like a pilot project. They are trying to put, I think, green roofs on the children's hospital, and then, I think, the business school. Hopefully, we'll be the first.

HD: So there's a bit of competitive spirit to the idea of getting the green roof on?

LW: For me there is.

HD: So are you right now working on the specifics of the design?

LW: We're going to wait and see. I don't think the design should be too difficult. We're thinking of doing planter boxes for the roof. Then we would want to have local school students, or college students, or just the regular community come out and help us plant them, so that we could have some community interaction with the green roof. But the guy who gave us really the main ideas for how to put the roof together was Joel Perkovich--he's a graduate student--and he had done planter boxes at the Botanical Gardens. So he's the one who really suggested that we use native species, and kind of gave us a really good idea of how we could go about it, gave us a good estimate of what the budget would be. So he's more the one we would go to first for if we get the grant.

HD: I think a lot of people, when they hear 'green roof', they immediately think you're basically going to roll out a bunch of sod and make a big flat lawn on top of the building--which I guess is actually sort of my notion, too. But this is going to be planter boxes, you say? Raised off the roof?

LW: There's different ways you can do a green roof. One of them is you can just do it all as one big flat roof. And then you can use different types of species. We want to use native plants. We don't want to use foreign species--a lot of them they use because they're drought-resistant or you don't have to take that much care of them. I don't know if Ford Rouge Plant has foreign species. But Joel, one of the unique things about his project was he was using native species, and that caught my interest and I liked it. The Arb is doing that, too.

HD: So 'his project', by that you mean?

LW: The planter boxes out at the Botanical Gardens. So you can do it as one big roof, or you can do it as--we were thinking of these 3' x 3' boxes and you just kind of fit them together. And as the plants grow up, you can't really tell, because it's a flat roof, so you can't really see up onto it anyway. It just makes them easier to transport, and if you're going to do maintenance, you can take them out easily, instead of having to rip up the whole roof.

HD: Got it.

LW: So for ease, and for community interaction, we felt like that was the kind of green roof we would go with.

HD: So are you graduating this spring?

LW: No, I have another year.

HD: Are you planning to submit another project next year?

LW: I don't know. I liked putting the proposal together, it was fun. It's one of the things I like most about my major--I'm a program in the environment major. It's fun to enact change on campus, so that was exciting for me to actually submit something that would happen while I was here on campus. So I don't know. I would definitely have to investigate it further to see what kind of other areas would be needed to be improved upon. I'm beginning to write a thesis. One of the girls in my class, she wants to write a thesis on energy conservation on campus and she wants to go more into depth. I guess it's the original idea I had, but she noticed a lot of the same things I noticed: a lot of lights are left on after most people are gone, a lot of computers are left on. Just a lot of energy seems to be wasted on campus and it doesn't need to be. So I think she's going to investigate that more fully, see what steps professors and students and the Ann Arbor community can take to reduce their energy consumption. And depending on what the outcome of her project would be, it'd be interesting to go on that and see what she finds. I definitely want to stay in contact with her and see what she finds.

HD: Do you have anything to do with the RecycleMania that Tracy Artley, the recycling coordinator, is running this term?

LW: I don't. I mean, I recycle, but I don't have anything specific to do with the Recycle Campaign.

HD: So the Environmental Enthusiasts weren't given a special task to do?

LW: No, we could use a special task, but it's hard to find stuff to do in the winter in Michigan. I like the going outside, you know, but it's hard when there's snow all over the ground and it's negative seven degrees!

HD: You know, of the other projects that were finalists, the other nine, the one that to me was interesting from a content point of view was the pedal-powered electricity generation. I think it's UMass that has some idea of creating a station where they would have a bicycle-powered electric generator where you could charge a laptop battery, or whatever. And I'm a big fan of pedal-powered things, so that caught my eye. But what I didn't like about that project, was that it had a certain just educational or demonstration quality to it, as opposed to: this is the way we're going to do things on a substantial scale. So what I liked about the green roof project was that you weren't talking about building a demonstration shed on the Diag and putting a green roof on it, like a Hands On Museum exhibit. It's taking an actual building that people actually use and putting a green roof on it. So that got me started thinking about this new dorm they're building. The North Quad?

LW: Yes!

HD: So I was wondering, have students had any opportunity to have some input on the inside amenities?

LW: That's an interesting question. A kid in one of my classes is on the Environmental Issues Commission, and he wanted to have North Quad be LEED certified. And he went to the administration and they said, No. So students were trying, and they said they were already taking measures in that direction and so didn't want to have to follow the exact protocol. I don't know, some of the LEED specifications, some of them are kind of random. You get points for building a bicycle rack, or putting in showers--for an office so that people have the opportunity. And using locally grown stuff, there's a lot to do with landscaping, I think. So I don't know if they didn't want to jump through some of the hoops, if that's the reason why. I mean, I'm sure they're being environmentally conscious, the steps the University has taken. Obviously, they could do more. It kind of makes me sad that they wouldn't maybe want to take some of the extra measures, even though it doesn't do a whole lot. Still, it's something that you're doing in the right direction. So I don't know. I know students have tried and it didn't really work as well as planned.

HD: I'd like to pitch the idea of putting a pedal-powered launderette on one of the North Quad dorm floors. I mean, they've gotta have laundry facilities of some kind, right?

LW: Yeah! They have them usually every floor.

HD: Right, so one of them on one of the floors could be a pedal-powered launderette, where the washing and the spin drying would happen by pedal power. And you could put drying racks in every dorm-room. There's these very cool accordion-fold drying racks you can get--the Amish make them.

LW: Huh!

HD: You bolt them to the wall and they collapse flat against the wall, but when you pull them out, you get enough drying space for pretty much a standard load. And if you really spin the water out well, then you know, in the space of 24 hours, 36 hours max, it'll be dry. In the wintertime, when the indoor air is really dry, maybe even faster, like 18 hours. And that would be something you could just specify, you know? Every room, they're going to put a desk and a bed in there, right? Throw a drying rack in there, too! You should lobby for that.

LW: I will work on it!

HD: See, you're a student and you have some leverage. They're not going to listen to me.

LW: Yeah, I don't know. I find one of the most frustrating things about being a student is that you don't know how the administration works, so you don't know who to go to. So I feel like you might spend just as much time trying to figure out who to get to as you would explaining what you want to do or getting to that end product. So I don't know. When students have ideas, I feel like there should be more of a venue for that, I guess ... I'm sure there's plenty of contact between student government and the administration, but I don't know about that ...

HD: ... yeah, I guess student government would be the first thing I'd think of, but who knows. So you're originally from the Philadelphia area, is that right?

LW: Yep!

HD: So what in the world made you think to want to come to Michigan to school?

LW: [laugh] I thought I could get in-state tuition! My aunt lives in the UP. So I thought maybe I could go to a good university for half as much money as anywhere else. And apparently my parents have to be dead, or I have to be 24, or my aunt has to legally adopt me and then file all my taxes. So that was a little too much of a hassle. So I just came out here anyway. Because I came and visited the campus and I just fell in love with it. My mom's from the midwest--she's from outside Chicago. So she really liked it here, she was the one who mentioned it.

HD: What other campuses did you visit?

LW: So many! I applied to eleven schools.

HD: Did you visit every one of them?

LW: No. I visited most of them. I was really thinking I was going to stay on the east coast. The only places I applied to out west were here and Northwestern. But other than that, everything was from Pennsylvania up.

HD: Interesting that you think of it as 'out west'.

LW: Yeah, well, midwest I know! My dad was asking me the other day what the real border is between east coast and the midwest, and we decided it's probably somewhere in the middle of Pennsylvania or the Pennsylvania-Ohio border. Because when I think of western Pennsylvania, it's just so different from eastern Pennsylvania.

HD: So what was it that stood out about the U of M campus for you?

LW: Well, I came here on one of those typical 70 degree days in the middle of March or April--something totally out of the ordinary when the whole campus was in a frenzy, because no one had seen the sun for four months. So everyone was really excited, everyone was in a good mood. It just looked beautiful. I really like the people here. It was more of a laid-back atmosphere than I was used to in high school. I guess I was really attracted by that. I loved the feeling of the buildings. Yeah, I guess, just the atmosphere, I mean yeah, it's a big university so I could do kind of whatever I wanted. But, I guess academically I had never felt really limited in the smaller schools I went to. I assumed I'd be somewhere in the liberal arts--I wasn't thinking something like engineering--so if I went somewhere really small [it wasn't] that I wouldn't be able to do what I wanted to do. But more the atmosphere.

HD: Buildings. So do you have any classes in the Dana Building at all?

LW: Yes, I love the Dana Building!

HD: What is it that you like about it? I mean, the reason I was asking partly is in connection with the idea of demonstration-slash-educational projects versus actual projects that are implemented. So there's these composting toilets in the Dana Building. A while back I went over there to take some pictures of the composting toilets, and I don't know why I was surprised, but I actually had to wait to get in there--there were people in line to use the thing. So I had my camera, and I endured some pretty hard stares, let me tell you. So that is actually in use, right?

LW: Yeah!

HD: So to what extent is there a plan to implement other composting toilets elsewhere on campus? Do you know anything about that?

LW: I don't know. I feel like the reception of the composting toilets in the Dana Building is going to be better there than most other buildings on campus, just because of the student body that tends to use Dana Building. It's people that are more--I don't want to say more 'environmentally conscious'--but, I guess, support these kind of 'wacky' ideas.

HD: Yeah, well, now there's support in the form of people saying, Yes, I support that idea, like in the video that you guys made, there's people who were quite happy to say, I support the idea of green roofs on campus, not even knowing what a green roof is. To me, that was very striking, that there's a willingness to lend verbal support to an idea. But when it comes down to ...

LW: ... action ...

HD: ... we need you to help build a planter box, we need you to invest ten hours of time on a Saturday, then maybe the reaction is, Hmm, there's something I think I gotta do, a homework set or something. I'm sorry, I interrupted you.

LW: No, I totally agree. It's in fashion now to be environmentally conscious, to want to do something to help the environment. You see businesses now advertising the fact that they have green campaigns or are conscious in some way. There was an Newsweek article, I think last year, about how Wal-Mart is environmentally conscious. I'm not sure ...

HD: ... oh, selling compact fluorescent bulbs, I think, is their thing.

LW: Or they said they were using organic cotton in the T shirts they're selling. Wait a minute, everything I'd heard about Wal-mart was not together with environmentalism, it was the opposite. So I was surprised and I felt like they were taking advantage of the fact that people seem to be very receptive the idea of having something in place that's good for the environment.

HD: They like to have that label.

LW: Yeah, it's very fashionable now to have that label that you do something that's good for the environment. Especially with everything being 'organic' now. I was walking down the aisle and I saw this macaroni and cheese that was organic. I was a little confused--I guess the powdered cheese is now considered organic?

HD: Well, what is that, is it Annie's?

LW: There's Annie's, there's Back to Nature, there's a lot of different ones. It's just that everything can be labeled 'organic' now.

HD: Well, the best part about Annie's is not the organic part ...

LW: ... it's just good!

HD: No, it's the box design: the way you open it is you get to press down on the bunny tail, you know? Well, listen you have anything else on your mind this morning--or I guess it's afternoon, now?

LW: No, I mean, I like the snow on the ground. I'm excited it finally snowed.

HD: I noticed on your sweatshirt when you came in, it says Michigan Crew. So you row?

LW: I used to. I used to be a coxswain for the Michigan men's crew team. I was a coxswain for my freshman year and half my sophomore year.

HD: So you're good at yelling?

LW: Supposedly, yes. I'm good at yelling and withstanding cold temperatures like this. I felt like I was coming back into crew, like when we'd go on the water after spring break, and there's still ice on the water, and it's freezing and none of us can feel our fingers or toes.

HD: The practice venue is up above Argo Dam?

LW: Mmm hmm. And I don't know, I've heard different rumors about maybe getting rid of Argo Dam. Is that true?

HD: There's some talk.

LW: Yeah? So I'm interested to see how that develops. Because now dams are a 'bad' thing. But there's a lot of recreation up there. So I wonder what they'll do.

HD: And I think they get some electricity off that I think.

LW: Yeah, there's all these big orange things in the water. I never understood quite what that was connected to, because there's not really anything down there except the canoe club, Michigan's boathouse, Ann Arbor Rowing Club boathouse, ...

HD: ... and Pioneer Rowing Club, too, right?

LW: Yeah.

HD: So is that something you fell into by accident when you arrived here, or do you have some background?

LW: No, I have some background. My dad rowed, my uncle rowed, my mom's dad rowed, and I rowed in high school for four years. I got interested in it just from hearing my dad talk about it. And I go to a camp up in New Hampshire--at least I did, for five years--and they had rowing shells. These were wooden ones, they were 50 years old, they'd been around forever. But it was just really exciting to be out on the water. I always loved going out on the water--sailboats, canoes, too. I always loved it. I did that in the summer between eighth grade and ninth grade, so then when I had the opportunity in high school I went out, I loved it, and stuck with it for four years. But then when I came to college, I realized I was a little smaller than was normal for a good female rower, so ...

HD: ... in high school, were you in a four-person boat, or eight-person?

LW: It depended. We never did doubles or singles. So it was either four or eight. Mostly eights. But some fours in the fall.

HD: Well, listen thanks very much for coming over on such a brutally cold day!

LW: Thanks for having me! It was good to get outside, I wouldn't have been outside otherwise!