U-M campus sustainability awareness is up, actions lag

October 13, 2014
  • umichnews@umich.edu

Sustainability Cultural Indicators Program (SCIP)ANN ARBOR—Findings from a new U-M Sustainability Cultural Indicators Program report show that most U-M faculty, students, and staff have increased their knowledge about how to be more sustainable, particularly in the areas of foods and waste prevention, but behavior change hasn’t kept pace.

SCIP is a collaborative effort between U-M’s Graham Sustainability Institute and the Institute for Social Research, 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.

The survey data inform a set of sustainability indicators in four key categories: climate action, waste prevention, healthy environments and community awareness—aligning directly with the university’s campus sustainability goal areas. The second-year SCIP report reflects responses from 4,700 faculty, students and staff in 2013, and compares those results to benchmarks established in 2012.

“To achieve its ambitious campus goals, the university prioritized stakeholder engagement, education and evaluation strategies toward a campuswide ethic of sustainability,” said Professor Don Scavia, special counsel to the U-M president for sustainability and director of the Graham Institute. “SCIP is a critical tool to assess sustainability behaviors throughout our campus community, and to inform strategies for improving them over time.”

The 105-page SCIP report covers findings on people’s levels of awareness, behaviors and commitment to sustainability, and an easy-to-read “Sustainability Indicators Highlights” sheet (available on the Planet Blue and Graham Institute websites) outlines statistically significant increases and decreases between 2012 and 2013.

A promising outcome is that more indicators went up than down from 2012 to 2013, particularly in the area of community awareness. However, while most people on campus said they were committed to sustainability in both years, key sustainability behavior indicators for climate action, waste prevention and healthy environments all remained unchanged.

“It’s an important stride that people know more about sustainability, and that shows success in terms of on-campus education and outreach programs,” said the Graham Institute’s John Callewaert, co-principal investigator on the initiative with Robert Marans from ISR. “Now, we just need to see higher levels of awareness translated into more sustainable behaviors.”

To ensure the SCIP findings are put to good use, the researchers are distributing and discussing the data and results with multiple units on campus. For example, they have met with U-M’s Office of Campus Sustainability, Sustainable Computing, Athletics, the North Campus Sustainability Initiative, Parking & Transportation Services and several others. They’re also collaborating with the Planet Blue Ambassador Program, which educates and engages U-M faculty, students and staff in sustainability on campus.

“SCIP has brought people together in ways never seen before,” said Kevin Morgan, regional energy manager for U-M Planet Blue Operations Team, who is using the SCIP data to plan energy conservation efforts across campus. “To meet campus goals, it’s important to have those conversations.”

With an invitation letter from U-M President Mark Schlissel, ISR will send third-year surveys to a cross-section of the campus community in October and November. For the SCIP effort to be successful, data must be collected over several years to effectively assess changes and trends over time.


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M planet blue: the sustainable differenceU-M Sustainability fosters a more sustainable world through collaborations across campus and beyond aimed at educating students, generating new knowledge, and minimizing our environmental footprint. Learn more at sustainability.umich.edu.