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The purpose of this project was to tackle sustainability on an intrinsic level, and consider platforms or tools to educate people on the importance of sustainability. Our Dow Master's team investigated the potential competing societal values limiting progress towards environmental sustainability within the United States. The vision for this project was seeing such tools being used as exercises in businesses or academia to educate employers, employees, students, and staff members to become more aware about how they approach solving sustainability challenges. Increased understanding of the triple bottom line — considering people, planet, and prosperity — may result in more efficient and effective choices. Our mission was to affect change within ourselves and others leading to more conscientious choices. Underpinning these statements is the assertion or worldview that living in a sustainable world is an ethically desirable pursuit.

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Sustainable Harvest Inc. (SH) is a specialty coffee importer headquartered in Portland, Oregon. SH sources unroasted (green) coffee beans from 18 countries in Latin America and Africa, and sells to roasters in the United States, Canada, and Australia. Over the past 17 years, SH has pioneered the “Relationship Coffee Model” as a method of direct trade, providing significant investment and trainings to producers at origin to facilitate improved coffee bean quality, protect against environmental and price risks, and improve farmer livelihoods. SH also strives to increase transparency along the supply chain.

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Demand for “local foods” is a growing trend across the United States. Since the early twentieth century, U.S. farms have undergone increasing industrialization, consolidation, and specialization. In the wake of these trends, diverse stakeholders aim to strengthen local food systems by creating smaller operations, increasing food diversity, and improving social connections to producers. Proponents believe a strong local food system can increase food security, improve the nutritional quality of crops, mitigate the environmental impacts of globalized food production, and expand local economic development. Existing farmers are increasingly embracing direct-to-consumer mechanisms to remove middlemen and increase profit margins (Diamond & Soto, 2009; Martinez et al., 2010).

Smarter Water

Dow Sustainability Fellows at the University of Michigan applied a multidisciplinary approach addressing resource allocation and information sharing for non-profits focused on creating water resources in developing countries. Our team worked in The Republic of Sudan, a country in north-east Africa.

The team partnered with Sadagaat, a Sudanese non-profit organization, to help the organization with sustainable water decisions. The first six months of the project were spent researching Sadagaat’s institutional capability, narrowing the scope of the project, and conducting on-site interviews with Sadagaat’s staff to determine the scope of the project. One challenge our team identified was, as a small non-profit, Sadagaat often builds water resources in areas where villages support construction. This practice results in water resources developed in areas without identifying a specific need or the availability of water.

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The main objective of this study is to develop recommendations to improve the government of India’s Housing for All policy. Apart from the recommendations to policymakers on institutional themes, our Dow Master's student team provided recommendations to private sector real-estate developers for designing sustainable low-income settlements.

Our project, Retrofitting Landscapes, began as an exploration to build upon existing initiatives to reduce urban waterway pollution in the Cleveland, OH area. To adopt a site-based approach, our Dow Master's project team initiated a partnership with LAND studio, an organization interested in improving adjacent public spaces, and water quality of the Doan Brook Watershed. LAND studio is a non-profit design and place-making organization specializing in improving neighborhoods through public art, sustainable design, and inclusive and dynamic programming. The organization’s mission is to develop and implement innovative ideas by engaging in inclusive planning practices, and it is committed to sustainable design excellence and collaborative planning.

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As a part of the 2015 Dow Master’s Fellow Cohort, our team worked to support the success of a new microgreen greenhouse, Black Pearl Gardens, located in the basement of The Black Pearl Restaurant. Our client, Christy Kaledas, is a microgreen grower hired by the Black Pearl to transform their basement space into a greenhouse. All of the crops grown will be served at the Black Pearl restaurant and other local businesses. Black Pearl expects to expand efforts to localize their menu, and promote their efforts by advertising the restaurant as a sustainable place to eat. Our team of fellows developed recommendations for many aspects of the project: social media analysis, project development/operations, logistics recommendation, environmental analysis, analysis of space, growth plan, and financial feasibility. The full report includes details of this project to used as a case study about urban farming.

Improving the process of de-silting can play a key role in the local agriculture. There are more than 45,000 irrigation ponds in the Telangana region that need to be periodically de-silted in dry seasons to maintain their water storage capacity. Better management of the de-silting process can provide rural employment, and improve storage of rainwater for use during the dry season. Also, silt can be used as a fertilizer to improve land productivity and reduce the environmental footprint of farming in the region. An interdisciplinary student project team of Dow Sustainability Fellows at the University of Michigan (U-M) identified a need for systematic planning to include de-silting best practices into mainstream agriculture.

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Many organizations create social impact through their actions, such as creating jobs, supporting local farmers, and supporting people from diverse backgrounds. However, one of the main challenges these organizations face is expanding in a sustainable manner. Recommendations for organizational leaders include ensuring that social impact increases as the business grows, carefully monitoring the quality of products or services, and identifying methods to reduce costs.