Survey shows sustainability knowledge not translating to action

October 12, 2015

The results are in from the U-M Sustainability Cultural Indicators Program 2014 survey, providing the third year of information about the awareness, attitudes, and behavior of students, staff and faculty.

While U-M community members report an increase in sustainability knowledge, SCIP results indicate there is considerable room for improvement with regard to environmentally responsible behaviors.151012_scip-graphic2

Other areas for improvement include awareness levels, degrees of engagement, and expressed commitment to sustainability among members of the U-M community.

“People are learning more about sustainability in some key areas,” said John Callewaert, integrated assessment program director at the Graham Sustainability Institute, and co-principal investigator on the initiative with Robert W. Marans, research professor emeritus at the Institute for Social Research. “However, we need to continue promoting programs that actually lead to more sustainable behaviors.”

More than 6,200 faculty, students and staff participated in the SCIP survey in late 2014. Survey results help inform strategies for improving U-M sustainability efforts.

While faculty and staff tend to be more knowledgeable than students about protecting the natural environment, preventing waste and sustainable foods, SCIP results indicate students are more likely to know about and use alternative transportation (walk, bus or bike) to and from campus than staff and faculty. They also know about and are more engaged in campus sustainability activities.

Compared to students and staff, faculty report acting more sustainably in conserving energy, preventing waste, purchasing food and engaging in environmental-friendly activities outside the university. Faculty members also express a higher level of commitment to sustainability than staff or students.

One of the most positive findings is that the U-M community has become more knowledgeable about sustainability. There are significant positive changes that reflect a growing understanding of waste prevention, protecting the natural environment, and sustainable foods over the past three years.

In some instances, scores for 2014 are significantly higher than 2012 scores or higher than the 2013 scores. Also, compared to benchmarks established in 2012, the recent results indicate that U-M’s commitment to sustainability remains unchanged.

“We’re working toward a campuswide ethic of sustainability,” said Don Scavia, special counsel to the U-M president for sustainability and director of the Graham Institute. “With three years of SCIP data, we now have greater insight into the complexity of changing behavior and the associated opportunities.”

The survey measures four key categories of sustainability that align with U-M’s campus sustainability goals: climate action, waste prevention, healthy environments and community awareness.

To ensure SCIP findings are put to good use, the co-principal investigators distribute and discuss the data and results with multiple units on campus. For example, they have met with the Office of Campus Sustainability, Sustainable Computing, Athletics, the North Campus Sustainability Initiative, Parking & Transportation Services and several others.

And the information is being used. For example, the Planet Blue Ambassador Program draws on the data to better educate and engage U-M faculty, students and staff about sustainability.

The effort also is gaining attention outside of U-M, with the Graham Institute receiving more than 100 requests for copies of the survey instrument from other institutions since SCIP began.

Richard Wener, professor of environmental psychology at New York University’s School of Engineering, notes that SCIP “provides the kind of baseline and ongoing information feedback that makes it feasible to change campus culture with respect to sustainability.”

Survey invitations for the next round of data collection will be sent via email to students, faculty and staff starting in mid-October.

“Most participants complete the survey in about 15 minutes,” Marans said. “As a high priority for the university, the feedback we receive from the survey is critical in understanding how we’re doing and where we should focus additional efforts. That makes what we’re doing here at U-M pretty unique.”

The 120-page SCIP 2014 report includes detailed results and findings from the survey. A “Sustainability Indicators Highlights” fact sheet provides a high-level analysis using a set of key indicators showing trends between 2012 and 2014. Two recently released videos provide short overviews of the purpose of SCIP and what the university is learning through the process.

SCIP is a collaborative effort of the 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.

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