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Investigators at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research and Graham Sustainability Institute launched the sixth Sustainability Cultural Indicators Program survey on Oct. 12. The survey tracks the degree to which members of the campus community are aware of the University’s sustainability measures and also asks about respondents’ personal actions to reduce their carbon footprint. 

The University began sending these annual surveys to students and faculty in 2012. The last version of the survey was in 2018, before the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2021 survey was sent to more than 20,000 students and 7,000 faculty and staff.

This year’s SCIP survey included a new section about carbon neutrality and was the first survey of its kind to be sent to students, faculty and staff on the U-M Flint and Dearborn campuses. 

John Callewaert, director of strategic projects in the Office of the Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education in the College of Engineering and an investigator at the Institute for Social Research, said the SCIP survey is unique because it is a longitudinal study, meaning it measures attitudes over time. 

“What we really wanted to do is measure any changes over time, particularly if there are ways to test new initiatives in part of campus and see if there’s a change there as a way to inform action in other places,” Callewaert said.

Alexandra Haddad, strategic communications manager for the Graham Sustainability Institute, said the survey aims to find out how the campus community feels about the University’s sustainability practices.

“What we’re measuring is not sustainability, like reduction in carbon footprint (or) … quantifiable outcomes and lower greenhouse gas emissions,” Haddad said. “We’re measuring how the culture of sustainability has changed over time at the University of Michigan.”

Since the survey was last sent in 2018, U-M President Mark Schlissel and the Board of Regents committed to achieving total carbon neutrality for the University by 2040, achieving net-zero carbon emissions from purchased electricity and creating a plan to fully divest from fossil fuels by 2050.

In the 2021 winter term, the Board of Regents voted to disinvest from fossil fuels following years of sustained student activism on campus. As a result, the University will no longer invest in the top 100 coal and top 100 oil and gas publicly traded companies

Some student organizations, such as the Climate Action Movement, said the move does not go far enough because it still allows the University to invest in natural gas projects. CAM also criticized the slow timeline for divestment, because the University does not have to sell their existing fossil fuel holdings until 2050.

Callewaert said though many parts of the SCIP survey remained the same from the previous iteration, including questions about waste prevention, conservation and transportation, the addition of questions about carbon neutrality are especially relevant:

“The major change this year is the whole set of questions on carbon neutrality, given the objectives and priorities that the University set recently for getting moving towards carbon neutrality and setting some goals around really increasing efforts around climate action,” Callewaert said.

The surveys differed slightly between the three campuses, Callewaert said, in order to reflect the campuses’ unique sustainability plans.

“Particularly with the carbon neutrality initiative, there’s been a big push for the three campuses to work more collaboratively around some sustainability issues,” Callewaert said. “We created very similar surveys, but we adapted them in ways to best address the activities and the interests of the Dearborn and Flint campuses … We tried to make sure we were only asking questions that made sense at each campus.”

Engineering sophomore Sophie Cronk, a collective impact coordinator for the Student Sustainability Coalition, said the addition of a section on carbon neutrality will help people learn about the University’s carbon neutrality efforts and the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality, which released its final report this past March after two years of research. 

“It’s a really helpful addition because it spreads awareness about the PCCN to people that might not already know about it,” Cronk said. “One of the great things about the SCIP survey is that it goes out to … a broad group of students and not people who just engage with sustainability on campus.”

Daily Staff Reporter Justin O’Beirne can be reached at justinob@umich.edu.

Clarification: This article has been updated to more accurately reflect the University’s carbon neutrality goals.