Landmark U-M effort measures sustainability culture on campus

October 14, 2013

SCIP logoANN ARBOR—Most University of Michigan faculty, students and staff say they are committed to sustainability, but new survey results indicate significant room for improvement in sustainability behaviors, awareness, engagement and accountability.

The survey findings are part of a U-M report that also provides a set of indicators for measuring and assessing changes and progress. It’s all part of the Sustainability Cultural Indicators Program, known as SCIP, a first-of-its-kind study by the Graham Sustainability Institute and the Institute for Social Research.

The program is tracking 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 Sustainability Institute and co-principal investigator of the SCIP project with Robert Marans, research professor at the Institute for Social Research. “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 across campus a year ago 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 of that survey. The second annual survey will be distributed to a new sample of students, faculty and staff this month.

Key observations and notable findings are as follows:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Compared to students and staff, faculty tend to act in a more sustainable manner with respect to conserving energy, preventing waste, purchasing food and, more generally, engaging in pro-environment activities outside the university.
  • 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. Indicators cover awareness, dispositions and actions related to travel and transportation, waste prevention, conservation, the natural environment, climate, food and engagement. They also cover awareness and ratings of campus sustainability initiatives. Survey data are supplemented with geographic data covering campus buildings where respondents live, work and study.

“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 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 said the university intends to share the SCIP research methodology with other sustainability-minded organizations worldwide.

“The primary purpose of SCIP is to inform U-M officials and others responsible for day-to-day options at the university, including its academic programs,” he said. “However, we also hope to serve as a model demonstrating how behavioral research can be used to address critical environmental issues within academic institutions and other organizational settings. We are eager to see the program replicated elsewhere.”

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

Established in 2006, the Graham Sustainability Institute is a U-M provost’s unit that fosters sustainability at all scales by leading stakeholder-centric activities that systematically bring together and harness talents across all U-M schools, colleges and units. The institute’s work focuses on three key areas: translational knowledge, transformative learning and institutional leadership.

Established in 1949, the Institute for Social Research is the world’s largest academic social science survey and research organization and is a world leader in developing and applying social science methodology, and in educating researchers and students from around the world. For more information, visit the ISR website at


Contact: Lisa Pappas (734) 615-3325, [email protected]



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