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Week of October 14, 2013

Landmark U-M effort measures sustainability culture on campus 

A report released by the University of Michigan’s Graham Sustainability Institute and Institute for Social Research reveals the extent to which the campus community is “walking the talk” of sustainability. It also provides a set of indicators for measuring and assessing changes and progress over time.

It’s all part of the Sustainability Cultural Indicators Program, a multi-year study the Graham Institute and ISR are administering to track the “sustainability culture” on the university’s Ann Arbor campus over a six-year period, with particular focus on four campus sustainability goal areas: climate action, waste prevention, healthy environments and community awareness.

“The university is committed to ambitious sustainability goals — one of which is to pursue evaluation strategies toward a campus-wide ethic of sustainability,” said John Callewaert, director of Integrated Assessment at the Graham Institute and co-principal investigator on the SCIP project with Robert W. Marans, research professor at ISR. “SCIP is serving as the university’s primary community awareness evaluation tool; we’re excited to be sharing the first-year report.”

SCIP kicked off campuswide last October by surveying more than 6,600 students, faculty, and staff about their sustainability knowledge, beliefs and behaviors. The first-year report, titled “Monitoring the Culture of Sustainability at the University of Michigan: Fall 2012,” represents the tabulated results from that survey. The second annual survey will be distributed to a new sample of students, faculty, and staff later this month.

According to the report, key observations and notable findings are as follows:

• First, there is considerable room for improvement with regard to the behaviors, levels of awareness, degrees of engagement and expressed commitment to sustainability among members of the university community.

• Second, the behaviors of students are far more in tune with the goal of greenhouse gas reduction than the behaviors of staff and faculty. This is largely due to differences in the ways each group travels to and from campus. Students are also likely to know more about transportation options available to them and are more engaged than either staff or faculty in sustainability activities on campus.

• Third, compared to students and staff, faculty tend to act in a more sustainability manner with respect to conserving energy, preventing waste, purchasing food, and more generally, engaging in pro-environmental activities outside of the university. Faculty members also express a higher level of commitment to sustainability than others on campus.

• Finally, students tend to be less knowledgeable than staff or faculty about protecting the environment, preventing waste, and sustainable foods. But they are more aware than faculty about what is happening at the university with regard to sustainability. Nonetheless, members of the staff are most aware of the range of U-M Sustainability initiatives.

According to Marans, index scores from the first-year survey are crucial because they serve as benchmarks against which findings in subsequent years will be compared, with 15 specific sustainability cultural indicators to be monitored annually.

“Findings covered in our first-year report are primarily descriptive, showing differential responses among U-M students, staff, and faculty,” Marans said. “We anticipate doing additional ‘data mining’ to test hypotheses and consider factors that may be associated with indicator scores.”

Using annual SCIP data as a gauge, the university hopes to see U-M’s sustainability culture improve more and more each year as community members become increasingly aware of, and engaged in, campus sustainability initiatives, such as the Planet Blue Ambassador program and the annual Earthfest event.

Callewaert says the university intends to share the SCIP research methodology with other sustainability minded organizations worldwide.

The complete Year One SCIP Report, a six-page overview report, the Year One surveys and other related materials are available on the Graham Institute website at


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