Viewpoint: U-M Sustainability Culture — Actions Not Keeping Up with Awareness

BY GRAHAM SUSTAINABILITY INSTITUTE AND INSTITUTE FOR SOCIAL RESEARCH

Published October 23, 2014

According to findings from a new U-M Sustainability Cultural Indicators Program report, most U-M faculty, students, and staff have boosted their knowledge about how to be more sustainable, particularly in the areas of foods and waste prevention. However, behavior in these areas has remained essentially the same.

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 campus-wide 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 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 W. 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 co-PI’s 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.”

Callewaert elaborates: “The main goal of SCIP is to inform U-M administrators and others responsible for day-to-day operations of the University. So it’s wonderful to see so many decision makers across campus already starting to put the data to good use.”

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 most impactful, data must be collected over several years to effectively assess changes and trends over time.

“The web survey takes only about 15 minutes to complete,” said Marans. “I urge everyone who receives it through e-mail to complete it right away. Sustainability is a top priority for the University, and the survey feedback we receive from our students, staff, and faculty is critical in understanding how we’re doing and where we should be going.”

To learn more, and to access the SCIP reports or highlights, visit sustainability.umich.edu/about/analysis. If you want to do more to help the University to meet its campus sustainability goals, become a Planet Blue Ambassador. Online training is available at sustainability.umich.edu/pba.

Dr. Robert W. Marans is a research professor at the Institute for Social Research and a professor emeritus of architecture and urban planning in the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. Dr. John Callewaert is the Integrated Assessment (IA) Center Director of the Graham Institute. They are the co-principle investigators on this project.

This article was originally published one the Graham Sustainability Institute's website.