The Sustainable Campus (Trends and Innovations)

Sustainability is Working at U-M

At the University of Michigan (U-M) in Ann Arbor, faculty, staff and students have made progress with waste prevention, promoting sustainable food and participating in activities like the Planet Blue Ambassadors program. This news is based on the latest report of the U-M Sustainability Cultural Indicators Program (SCIP), a comprehensive study designed to assess sustainability knowledge, behaviors and attitudes across U-M students, faculty and staff over time.

The research team compared information from the 2015 SCIP survey about the awareness, attitudes and behavior of students, staff and faculty with results from previous surveys conducted each year since 2012.

“Participating in sustainability activities is important,” says John Callewaert, emerging opportunities program director at the Graham Sustainability Institute at U-M, and co-principal investigator on the SCIP initiative with Robert W. Marans, research professor at the Institute for Research (ISR). “Even small steps like turning off the lights or opting to take the bus make a difference.”

Waste Reduction and Transportation

One of the most positive findings from the report is that the U-M community has become more knowledgeable about waste prevention and sustainable foods and has reduced waste through specific behaviors, like recycling and composting on campus and at home.

Actions like reusing and recycling, and purchasing items with minimal packaging were noted in the report. Also, it remains critical that the university continue sustainability research, education and outreach.

“We are actively using data from the SCIP to analyze the knowledge of U-M sustainability efforts among campus communities,” says Andrew Berki, director of the Office of Campus Sustainability. “We can look at specific sectors of the campus population and alter our communication approach to be more effective in reaching students, faculty or staff.”

Berki said several campus projects focusing on waste reduction were rolled out this year, including composting all pre- and postconsumer food waste from residence halls, expanding a formal Zero Waste Events program and converting Michigan Stadium to a zero-waste facility by 2017. These waste-reduction efforts support one of the university’s long-term sustainability goals: reducing waste sent to landfills by 40 percent by 2025.

SCIP results also indicate students are more likely to walk, bus or bike to campus and are more informed than U-M employees about transportation options available to them.

A significant difference among staff surveyed is that, on average, they live quite a bit further from campus than students and travel more than twice as far as faculty to work. This may mean that promoting commuter options like vanpools, the MRide bus program and park-and-ride lots is more crucial for staff.

Analyzing and Applying the Data

Several schools, departments and programs also draw on SCIP data to better educate and engage U-M faculty, students and staff, and to improve sustainability efforts.

“I’m using the SCIP data with master’s students this term,” says Victoria Campbell-Arvai, assistant research scientist at the School of Natural Resources and Environment. “Students developed a testable hypothesis from SCIP survey questions and analyzed SCIP data sets to test their hypothesis.”

Campbell-Arvai remarks on how important it was for students to use a rich data set and focus on real-world problems across campus. Students will compile specific recommendations to improve the sustainability culture at U-M and share these with the SCIP research team. This input will help inform new survey questions and possible interventions to improve sustainability efforts in the future.

The next round of data collection will be in fall 2017 and the research team is working to update the survey based on new U-M sustainability initiatives.

Noah Webster, assistant research scientist at ISR, co-authored the report with Callewaert and Marans. The 2015 SCIP report includes detailed results and findings from the survey and a “Sustainability Indicators Highlights” summary provides key indicators showing trends between 2012 and 2015.

“The feedback we receive from SCIP surveys is critical in understanding how we’re doing and where we should focus additional efforts,” says Marans. “What we’re doing here at U-M is pretty unique.”

SCIP is a collaborative effort of the Graham Institute and ISR, with support from the Office of the Provost. Launched in 2012 to track “sustainability culture” on the Ann Arbor campus, SCIP uses annual surveys to measure and evaluate changes and progress over time.


This article first appeared in The University Record, the official source for faculty-staff news at the University of Michigan, and is used with permission.

This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of College Planning & Management.

About the Author

Elizabeth LaPorte is the science outreach manager for the Graham Sustainability Institute at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor (http://graham.umich.edu). She can be reached at elzblap@umich.edu.

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