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2018 Dow Sustainability Fellows Annual ReportIn the Sixth Annual Report, Collaborative Leadership for Sustainability, made possible by The Dow Chemical Company Foundation, the Dow Sustainability Fellows Program at the University of Michigan (U-M) engaged 17 of U-M's 19 schools and colleges this past year.

Getting around without a car isn’t easy in many U.S. cities. People who rely on public transit often contend with many challenges, including decaying infrastructure, not having easy access to a transit stop, lack of system reliability, restrictions to how late or early a system operates, and often a lack of support to fund transit improvements. These difficulties can impact people in many ways, including their ability to access essential healthcare, jobs, and grocery stores. Ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft can pick up the slack from inadequate public transit, but they also present challenges, like being inaccessible to people with disabilities; lacking the incentive to work along unpopular routes; creating more emissions per mile traveled; and siphoning riders (and money) from public transit. One solution to these challenges is for transit agencies to enter into public-private partnerships with ride-hailing companies to expand public transit coverage.

The Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority (AAATA) partnered with a University of Michigan Dow Sustainability Fellows team to explore the potential for a public-private partnership that could supplement and enhance the current public transit system in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The team researched the economic, social, and environmental costs and benefits of different ride-hailing public-private partnership models to determine which model could best be used to cover under-used bus routes and connect riders to transit stops.

São Paulo, Brazil, is a booming city. Growing, thriving, and leaving far too many people behind in the process. According to the Washington Post, a 2013 government survey found Brazil is short over 6 million housing units, a shortage demonstrated in São Paulo. A solution many urban residents consider is joining a land occupation, or “Ocupação” in Portuguese. These are settlements organized on land owned by someone other than the inhabitants. 

Ocupação Anchieta started four years ago in Grajaú, a city district on the southern periphery of São Paulo, on land owned by the nonprofit organization Instituto Anchieta Grajaú (IAG). Over 800 families now live on the land, negatively impacting the Mata Atlantica forest and natural springs on the site. Currently, AIG and the residents are collaborating on a solution that balances a right to safe housing with environmental health. As part of this ongoing process, an interdisciplinary team of University of Michigan (U-M) students and faculty is working with residents, IAG, and local architectural and engineering firms to create an environmentally and socially sustainable community.

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The concept of energy democracy is for people and communities to have control of their energy supply, like choosing whether it comes from fossil fuels or renewables, infrastructure considerations, and other options. Energy democracy focuses on poor and working class people of color, often most impacted by energy purchase decisions. In the case of Highland Park, the city has a majority African-American and Black population, with nearly half of residents living below the poverty line. Approximately 40% of the population reported difficulty in paying their energy bills, and multiple people reported illegal shut-offs, all of which suggest a high and possibly unjust energy burden on the population. These were some of the findings from the community survey on which Soulardarity and the Dow Fellows team collaborated.

Keywords: Energy democracy, Community Solar Calculator, Community Solar Power, Highland Park

Yuan’s trip to Ghana centered on market research for the Solar-Powered Mini Electric Vehicle (EV) Project. The project originated as a collaboration between a start-up driven by MIT adjunct professor Dr. Christopher Borroni Bird (Afreecar), and the University of Michigan School of Engineering. The overall goal is to a) create a solar electric bike trailer to be used for transportation and as a charging station, and b) demonstrate that such a vehicle can improve quality of life for urban and rural populations in developing countries and impoverished communities. Keywords: Solar-Powered Mini Electric Vehicle (EV) Project, Solar, Electric bike, Trailer, Transportation

Over the course of 2017, a team of University of Michigan (U-M) Dow Sustainability Fellows partnered with the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians in Wisconsin to assess NELD impacts experienced by their community. Students collaborated with the tribe to document and illuminate the potential adverse health, cultural, and psychological impacts stemming from biodiversity losses and destruction or alteration of landscapes. Their research highlights the interconnected relationship between the environment and tribal members’ identity, spirituality, and culture. Moreover, it demonstrates how dedicated the community is to being environmental stewards.
Keywords:  Non-economic losses and damages (NELD), Bad River Band of Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians, emotional, health, psychological impacts stemming, climate and environmental change, Wisconsin


Dow Fellow Lee Taylor-Penn from the U-M Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and U-M School of Public Health shares the team’s idea to increase food security in West Tallahatchie, MS by utilizing research and the voices of the community to develop an actionable report the community could use improve food security in the area.


Dow Fellows Robert Meyer from the U-M School for Environment and Sustainability and U-M College of Engineering, Shivani Kamodia from the U-M School of Dentistry, Mary-Catherine Goddard from the U-M School of Public Health and Elizabeth Yates from the U-M Medical School share the team’s goals to discover and provide sustainability recommendations in a toolkit that can be used by dental professionals to implement environmentally-friendly practices.

Team Members: Sydney Forrester, Yide Gu, Usmaan Jaffer, Tim Yuan, Ziyang Zhong

Advisor: Dr. Kazuhiro Saitou

Project Summary: The long-term goal of this project is to demonstrate that a short range, low speed, network-connected, solar-powered, mini electric vehicle can improve quality of life among disadvantaged communities. Such a vehicle would enable greater access to markets, health care, and other social services in an environmentally sustainable manner while allowing more time for education and economic advancement in impoverished populations. The team designed and manufactured an early prototype of a bicycle attached to a solar panel trailer–and conducted preliminary testing and market feasibility analyses in Accra and Kumasi, Ghana. Goals for 2018 include conducting further testing on the current prototype and development of an improved design and prototype tailored for urban usage in Ghana based on feasibility research and analysis.

Seed Grant and Large Grant Award

Dow Sustainability Fellows Program

Team Members: Michael Amidon, Ashish Bhandari, Olaia Chivite Amigo, Laura Devine, Kayla Hunter, Jiayang Li, Erika Linenfelser, Bruna De Souza Oewel, Yao Tang

Advisor: Dr. María Arquero de Alarcón & Dr. Ana Paula Pimentel Walker

Project Summary: The Ocupação Anchieta Avança! project addresses patterns of rapid informal urbanization of areas of environmental protection in cities’ peripheries in response to a lack of affordable housing options for the poor, a phenomenon emerging as one of the Global South’s most pressing issues. Through a site-specific case, and in collaboration with a robust network of local partners, this project proposes new sustainable strategies of land stewardship to address the detrimental impacts informal settlements impose upon areas of environmental value in the urban periphery of São Paulo, Brazil. The team developed plans for a new cultural center and is in the process of developing and implementing sustainable housing prototypes and raising further awareness of the team’s efforts through the creation of a website and blog.

Seed Grant and Large Grant Award

Dow Sustainability Fellows Program