Survey looks at faculty, staff, student sustainability behaviors

November 17, 2022

Contact: Jon Meerdink (meerdink@umich.edu)

ANN ARBOR — Students, faculty and staff at the University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus are doing more to alter their behaviors in environmentally positive ways, but more work needs to be done to expand pro-environmental behaviors, awareness levels and engagement.

Those are the suggestions found in the most recent survey from the Sustainability Cultural Indicators Program, a multiyear project designed to measure and track the culture of sustainability at U-M.

Data collected in the fall of 2021 found students’ mode of travel to and from campus is more in line with the U-M goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions than the ways staff and faculty travel to work.

The survey found that U-M students were more likely than staff or faculty to walk, bike, or ride a bus to campus. For staff and faculty, heavy reliance on driving alone remained the dominant means of traveling to campus.

However, faculty tend to do better at preventing waste and conserving energy than either staff or students. They were more likely than students and staff to recycle, turn off lights when not using rooms, and use power-saving settings on their computers.

Staff, meanwhile, were the most aware of U-M’s sustainability efforts and were somewhat more involved than either students or faculty in sustainability organizations and events on campus.

Compared to participants from earlier SCIP surveys, participants in 2021 had stronger feelings about climate change and were more positively inclined toward carbon neutrality. They reported that climate change is of greater importance to them than did participants from earlier surveys.

More than three-quarters of all respondents said they believe U-M is serious about achieving carbon neutrality. Most expressed commitment to modifying their own behaviors to help U-M achieve that goal.

“The culture of sustainability on campus is not changing as much as it should be,” said principal investigator Robert W. Marans, research professor at the Institute for Social Research, and professor emeritus in the A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning.

“Hopefully, bold new initiatives will be put forth to raise levels of awareness of things like travel options available to students, faculty and staff; and to change travel and other behaviors that reduce our collective carbon footprint.”

The SCIP collected data for this survey through two web questionnaires during the fall 2021 semester. Nearly 3,500 students responded to the Ann Arbor survey, in addition to 743 staff and 830 faculty — a 27.2% overall response rate.

The multiyear study launched in 2012, focusing on U-M’s Ann Arbor campus before expanding to the Dearborn and Flint campuses in 2021. The full reports from the most recent surveys at all three campuses, as well as prior years, are available on the Graham Sustainability Institute website.