The Sustainability Cultural Indicators Program recently released its five-year report, which tracks the culture surrounding sustainability at the University of Michigan and how it has changed over the course of the program. The findings from SCIP serve to guide operations on campus and address environmental issues within the community.
SCIP began in 2012 and has been conducting surveys every year and a half, with the most recent data gathered from winter 2018. The surveys focus on three target populations, which encompass students, faculty and staff. Some of the key findings of the five-year report include participants are more likely to believe in climate change, waste prevention practices of undergraduates have improved and automobiles as a mode of transportation to work has increased for staff.
Robert Marans, research professor at the Institute for Social Research and a professor emeritus of architecture and urban planning, and John Callewaert, integrated assessment center director of the Graham Institute, are the two co-principal investigators for the program. Marans brought survey expertise to SCIP, while Callewaert was knowledgeable of sustainability goals.
“Bob (Marans) and I got involved together,” Callewaert said. “I was bringing the specific knowledge of sustainability goals’ areas along with Bob’s knowledge of survey research, so it was a good partnership.”
Marans said the goal of SCIP is to measure how the University’s culture aligns in certain areas related to the environment and sustainability.
“SCIP is really an attempt to evaluate and see how we’re doing in all these areas,” Marans said. “They’re all related to the big goals set up by the University in terms of climate action and waste reduction and healthy environments and community awareness.”
Callewaert added that SCIP has also led pilot programs, such as a composting initiative in Bursley, to test whether a certain project could be applied to the larger campus community as a whole.
“The value of what SCIP can do is we are asking people what they know about composting and if they are doing it, just kind of baseline data,” Callewaert said. “Then you can go into a place like Bursley — there’s enough students in Bursley that we can pull out their responses and see if it makes any difference and to kind of evaluate the pilot test before saying we want to do this in every residence hall.”
The biggest finding from the recent report, according to Marans, is the increased likelihood that a participant believes in climate change and the increased concern for the environment.
“One of the early findings was there was a big jump in the number of students and faculty and staff between 2015 and 2018 and those that believed in climate change believed it was impacted by human activity and thought that it was impacting them personally,” Marans said. “There’s a much greater concern and awareness about issues related to climate change, that’s one big takeaway.”
In addition, the SCIP data has been used by other students and faculty in their own research. Callewaert said he’s pleased with the number of ways in which the community has interacted with the data.
“I’m excited that overtime we’re seeing more and more people use the results,” Callewaert said. “Students that are using it for their research, for their honors theses, for their dissertations — really excited about that. We really have it set it up from the beginning so it’s something people can use.”
LSA senior Greg Cogut has been working with SCIP data since his sophomore year as an Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program student. Cogut’s focus is on the areas of waste prevention and travel transportation, adding that he’s interested in the human behavior aspect of sustainability.
“My (UROP) topic was studying human behavior in environmental sustainability,” Cogut said. “It was really in conjunction with the notion of what SCIP is looking for, identifying trends at the University realm. We sort of view the University as a living laboratory.”
Cogut recently submitted some of his findings for publication, explaining the tracking of change over time is a unique aspect of SCIP data.
“The other academic journals … there weren’t many studies that were very long-term or that large,” Cogut said. “When you’re dealing with changing human behavior, you really want to have a long study and a large sample population. I tested my own theories about human behavior in environmental sustainability informed by my research and I was able to use the SCIP data.”
Marans mentioned this notion of tracking culture and human behavior in the field of environmental sustainability has gained international as well as national interest.
“There’s growing interest not only in other universities in the United States, but around the world in doing what the University of Michigan is doing with respect to measuring and tracking culture of sustainability,” Marans said. “I’ve got a call scheduled next week with a woman in Taiwan. They want to do something similar, they requested some of our data, there are other universities around the world that are interested in doing something like our SCIP program.”
Callewaert added that not all findings of the five-year report indicate positive changes. He cited increased commute times for staff as a growing trend over the course of the program.
“Some of the more challenging pieces (are) that staff are reporting longer commutes each time,” Callewaert said. “Fewer staff are living in Ann Arbor because of the housing prices, pushing a lot of staff to live further and further out. Their commute times have gone up almost every time, more time on the road, more time in the car. Specifically in terms of climate action that’s a challenge. You have to let people live where they want to live, but it’s so consistent each year staff commute gets further — not so much for faculty because, you know, higher salaries.”
As for the future directions of SCIP, a proposal has been put in to receive additional funding to continue tracking trends on campus. Marans said they are hopeful for more time.
“The Graham Institute has put in a big proposal to the Provost’s Office to support and continue to support not just the SCIP program but all these other things related to culture,” Marans said. “We’re waiting to see and the proposal was to extend the funding for this work for almost three more years, and we’re fairly optimistic.”