Distinguished Awards Projects

Displaying 21-30 of 77

Corporate Financial Transparency: Deforestation in Mato Grosso, Brazil

This study attempts to analyze the correlation between deforestation, soy production and processing, and human quality of life development near the port town of Santarem, Brazil. The town has been the location of a Cargill soy processing plant since 2003. The group has completed research on the historical and legal contexts surrounding soy harvesting and processing in the area. They have also conducted background research on ecosystem loss in the Amazon and its correlation with economic and societal development. The teams next steps will be to travel to Brazil and meet with local non-profits working in the area. During that time, they will collect data to complete a regression analysis.

De-silting Minor Irrigation Ponds in South India: The Sustainability of Decentralized Resource Distribution

Team Members

Prof. Shelie Miller (SNRE), Adithya Dahagama (SNRE), Leon Espira (SPH), John Monnat (TCAUP)


We periodically encounter generational challenges that we as humankind must come together to solve. Now is such a time; when the planetary biosphere is under increasing stress and yet we are only starting to understand the interconnectivity inherent in the life-supporting processes which exist on the planet. By connecting the resources and cycles that are already present in the ecosphere, we aim to develop sustainable resource management techniques that both provide for us as a species and conserve the planetary biome as a whole.

In response to these challenges, the goal of our project is to marry the traditional with the modern by recycling a renewable resource within farming communities of Telangana state in India. Minor irrigation ponds are man-made banked earth structures used to store rainwater, and have been in use in Telangana for centuries. These ponds have to be de-silted to keep up their water storage capacity, with the silt being applied to agricultural land in place of artificial inputs (fertilizers and pesticides). We would engage with the FREEDOM Organization, a not-for-profit that over the past 8 years has helped provide silt for over 9000 acres of farmland held by 3800 subsistence farmers.

Together with FREEDOM, we will work on building an inclusive model of pond silt utilization to incorporate social, economic and ecological factors into its calculus. We plan to implement soil tests, for fertilizer viability and health concerns, and to meet with farmers to observe pre and post silt application effects on social mobility, village life, and hydrologic effects. We also seek to involve all layers of government as we work with FREEDOM to develop an actionable system of pond silt utilization that is not only sustainable, both agriculturally and ecologically, but would also tap into global market mechanisms to maximize stakeholder benefits.

Developing a metric of sustainable diets for low-income countries experiencing the nutrition transition

Team Members

Lilly Fink Shapiro (SPH), Douglas Smith (CAUP), Ashley Green (SNRE), Andrew Jones (SPH), Lesli Hoey (CAUP), Jennifer Blesh (SNRE)


The notion of a “sustainable diet” refers to an adherence to common dietary guidelines for maintaining long-term health while simultaneously avoiding excessive consumption of natural resources. Despite this recognition of the interconnection between dietary consumption and conservation of the natural environment, defining and measuring “sustainability” has proven difficult given the diversity of disciplines that apply the concept to different domains of research and practice (e.g. agriculture, ecology, economics, urban planning, public health). Thus, applying a definition and measurement of sustainability to diets has proven particularly challenging. There is a critical need then, to develop a measure of diets that incorporates the salient characteristics of sustainability across the food system and that can be applied to low-income settings experiencing demographic and nutrition transitions.

We propose to address this critical need through a student-led, interdisciplinary research project with two specific objectives: 1) to carry out a comprehensive, systematic review of the scientific and grey literature to identify articles that characterize, define and/or measure sustainable diets; and,2) to conduct in-depth interviews with food system stakeholders in both rural and urban regions of a low-income, transition country to acquire grounded perspectives on domains of sustainable diets. We expect that the knowledge generated through this formative research will allow us to develop an interdisciplinary survey instrument for measuring the sustainability of diets. The significance of this proposed research is that it will synthesize current knowledge on the definition and measurement of sustainable diets, and contribute to the development of a novel measure for assessing sustainable diets—a measure that is currently lacking and that is critically important for advancing food systems research and policy in low-income, transition countries.

Dough: Reduce Overconsumption & Overborrowing

Through this project, a Dow Distinguished Award student team is researching the student debt problem. The team is building a solution co-designed by students to deepen their understanding of loans and the long-term impact of over-borrowing. Currently, Michigan’s student loan default rates are higher than the national average, and women, especially women of color, are disproportionately affected by student debt. The team designed Dough, an online application to help students fully understand the impact of their borrowing decisions, from long-term financial burden to credit challenges. Dough will be utilized by college financial aid offices to personalize and simplify student loan literacy. The team expects to pilot the new application at Wayne State University and hopes to launch it in all of Michigan’s 93 colleges and universities in the future.

  • Location: Michigan
  • Disciplines Represented: Business, Information, Education
  • Project Team: Hulyen Phan, Jaselle Valdez, Victor Poon, Lauren Elbaum, and Catalina Kaiyoorawongs (Team Lead)
  • Faculty Advisor: Jeff Sinclair, School of Business
  • Project Client/Sponsor: US DOE, Wayne State University, NASFAA
Driving Hope

Driving Hope seeks to empower vulnerable families and individuals in Washtenaw County by providing low-cost automotive service and advice to those with a demonstrated need for financial aid and transportation. Clients are charged only for the parts needed for the repair; all labor costs are waived. The team has partnered with the local non-profit Grace Ann Arbor to ensure that the project is sustainable for the long-term. Driving Hope currently has a fully operational and insured garage and is prepared and equipped to provide services pending referrals, which will be provided by SOS Community Services and Friend InDeed. The team is also equipped to provide advice on new or used automotive purchases, including phone consultations and personal vehicle inspections.

Economic and Environmental Viability of Commercial-Scale Aquaponics Systems

Aquaponics, a system combining agriculture and aquaculture, is an alternative to conventional farming that could improve food-security and mitigate environmental impacts. By cycling water and nutrients within the system, aquaponics reduces water usage and removes the need for petroleum-based chemical fertilizers. However, the body of empirical peer-reviewed research on the economic and environmental viability of these systems is relatively scarce. This project would perform a scientific analysis of the inputs and outputs of a medium-scale aquaponics system growing tilapia and tomatoes by measuring the parameters of water and power usage per edible biomass harvested. The system is housed at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens and is projected to begin cycling water by mid-September.

Enabling Energy Efficiency in Rental Properties

Team Members

Cassie Brown, Alicia Chin, Amy Eischen, Efrie Friedlander, and Emily Taylor.


Members of the rental market (landlords as well as renters) are at a particular disadvantage when looking to finance energy efficiency projects. The commercial banking sector, with some of the largest amounts of capital to expend for project financing, often denies loans to multi-tenanted properties, as these projects lack loan security (Freehling, 2011). Furthermore, large financial institutions are generally disinterested in the small scale of energy efficiency upgrades possible in multi-tenant homes or buildings.

This pilot project seeks to overcome these disadvantages in the Ann Arbor, Michigan market. The Ann Arbor rental market is unique for several reasons. First, it has a high turnover rate with the student population which creates about 7,000 new renters each year, many whom are signing a lease for the first time (Green Rental). Second, demand often exceeds supply, which creates little incentive for landlords to make property improvements. Third, it is difficult for the City to raise funds for energy efficiency improvements with taxes on utilities, since utilities are privately-owned. Fourth, the rental market consists of many small management companies that own less than 10 rental properties, many of which are former single-family homes that have been converted to multi-unit dwellings.

Our project involves a two-pronged approach. First, the proposed program would offer grant-supported financial incentives and low-interest loans to landlords wishing to implement energy efficiency upgrades in their rental units. Second, the program would incorporate outreach and education efforts, such as a “green lease” program, whereby property owners agree to manage their unit in a sustainable way and renters pledge to reduce energy consumption and engage in more environmentally conscious behaviors.

Sustainability goals concerning energy efficiency are included in the City’s master plan (Sustainability Framework) and the City has HUD Sustainable Communities Challenge grant funding through 2015 dedicated to improving energy efficiency. However, they need to solve the challenge of addressing the rental market if they are to improve overall energy efficiency in the residential sector. While the City is making the shift toward energy efficiency, it is primarily grant funded. There is a need to implement systems to promote energy efficiency in the long- term for the rental market. Our team is communicating with the City of Ann Arbor about potential strategies.

The success of this project will not only help establish sustainable program within the town of Ann Arbor, but will positively impacting the town’s overall energy footprint.

Environmental, economic, and social Impacts of Expanding a Micro-grid from University of Liberia to Surrounding Communities

Team Members

Hamidreza Tavafoghi Jahromi, Velma Lopez, and Maryam Arbabzadeh


Jose Alfaro

Project Summary

In Liberia, 9 out of 10 Liberians do not have access to electricity, and the lack of basic infrastructure is a significant challenge in addressing this issue. The project team proposed sustainable solutions to electric rates and power reliability at the University of Liberia, and the surrounding communities. The team’s assessment and proposal used a combination of natural resources in Liberia (e.g., solar, biomass, and wind) and diesel fuel to propose a feasible micro-grid. A key factor in implementing a micro-grid is assessing the electrical demand necessary, and the natural resources potential for electricity. Using the results of the assessment, the team proposed goals to address this issue.

The team hypothesized that increased access to electricity will lead to reductions in gender inequality over time. Using a sustainable development framework incorporating the environment, economics, and society, women’s empowerment is a precursor to downstream social impacts, as women play a key role in the betterment of community, household, and child health and well-being. With the predicted changes to women’s empowerment, the team anticipates that expanding the dialogue of renewable energy programs will include important aspects of sustainable development beyond the physical environment.

Feasibility Study for the Development of a Sustainability Consulting Firm on Campus

Responsible recycling and disposal of products at their end-of-life is important to protect valuable and finite resources as well as for the maintenance of the environment. Many non-profit organizations that make money by reselling products receive many items that are unusable. This project established a cross-disciplinary sustainability consulting firm on the U-M campus aimed at helping community non-profits improve their sustainable culture and practices. Much of the team’s recent work has focused on building a relationship with the Kiwanis Club of Ann Arbor to gain a greater understanding of past practices and possible future improvements. Currently, the team is working on outreach to recruit new members to diversify the team and continue researching possibilities for improved recycling streams to augment current practices.

Food Security in West Tallahatchie County

Team Members

Anna Bengtson, Kathleen Carroll, Sarah Ladin, Lee Taylor-Penn, and Grace van Velden


Dr. Laurie Lachance

Project Summary

Food security is crucial to the health of individuals and their communities. Mississippi is the nation’s least food secure state, with 22 percent of households reporting a lack of access to healthy food. People living in Mississippi’s West Tallahatchie County have experienced an increase in food insecurity since the recession. Project partner, the Emmett Till Memorial Commission, is working with partners to increase access to healthy food among the African American community.

A local grocery store in the West Tallahatchie area offers primarily processed and canned foods, and does not offer fresh produce. The project team focused on the ability to achieve food security in this area through long-term, sustainable food systems. Three food system scenarios were proposed and included innovative solutions to this critical issue. Through community engagement, including meetings, interviews and workshops, the team anticipates transitioning the project into the hands of community leaders to implement solutions.