U-M Graduate Students Win Dow Awards to Pursue Sustainability Solutions in Southeast Michigan & India

By: 
Lisa A. Pappas, Graham Sustainability Institute
Release Date: 
11/13/2013

Four teams of University of Michigan graduate students were recently selected to receive Dow Distinguished Awards for Sustainability totaling more than $135,000. Three of the winning teams are pursuing projects focused on built environment matters in Southeast Michigan, and the fourth is investigating water demand management issues in India.

“As part of the Dow Sustainability Fellows program, the Distinguished Awards are intended to spur multidisciplinary collaborations that seek to develop sustainability solutions on local to global scales,” said Don Scavia, director of the Graham Sustainability Institute, which administers the program on behalf of the university. “We are excited to see what this year’s inaugural winners can accomplish through their projects.”

A dozen teams entered the competition, and winners were selected by a diverse group of sustainability experts including U-M faculty and external practitioners from business, government and civil society.

“It’s very exciting to grant the first of the Dow Distinguished Awards for Interdisciplinary Sustainability at the University of Michigan, enabling the winning teams to pursue projects that drive sustainability here at home and around the world,” said Neil Hawkins, Dow vice president of Global Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) and Sustainability.

Award criteria included interdisciplinarity, innovation and potential impact. A unique aspect of the competition is that it welcomes collaborations with external entities, such as municipalities and non-profit organizations.

Winning proposals, project team members, and their schools are as follows:

  • Enabling Energy Efficiency in Rental Properties. This pilot project seeks to overcome disadvantages that members of the residential rental market (landlords as well as renters) face when seeking to finance energy efficiency projects in their units.  It focuses on the Ann Arbor, Michigan market through 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. The team is communicating with the City of Ann Arbor about potential strategies. Students on this team are: Cassie Brown, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy; Alicia Chin and Amy Eischen, both of the Ross School of Business; Efrie Friedlander, Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning; and Emily Taylor, Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise, the dual master’s program between Ross and the School of Natural Resources and the Environment (SNRE). All team members are Dow Sustainability Masters/Professional degree Fellows.
  • Greenhouse Gas Inventory for the City of Detroit: Institutionalization and Spatial Analysis.  For this project, students are compiling the first comprehensive inventory of greenhouse gas emissions (sources and amounts) in Detroit, using protocols specified by the Environmental Protection Agency.  Spearheaded by the local non-profit organization and project client, Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice, and with support from U-M’s Center for Sustainable Systems, the greenhouse gas inventory will feed into a collaborative effort underway among local stakeholders and the Detroit Climate Action Collaborative to develop a city Climate Action Plan. Under the faculty direction of Rosina Bierbaum and Gregory Keoleian, SNRE, project team members include: Jill Carlson, Jenny Cooper, Dow Sustainability Master’s Fellows; Marie Donahue, Robb De Kleine, Max Neale and Anis Ragland, SNRE; and Melissa Stults, Architecture/Urban Planning and a Dow Doctoral-level Sustainability Fellow.
  • Retrofitting Ann Arbor: The Living Building Challenge. A team of master’s and doctoral students is overseeing the retrofit of a 112-year-old house in Ann Arbor, so the home will meet parameters of what’s called a “Living Building,” meaning that it is self-sufficient and self-sustaining in energy needs and water resources. Partnering with the THRIVE Net-Zero Collaborative, and working with U-M’s Living Building team, the group is leading the design of a zero-waste portable rainwater harvesting system, with on-site reclamation and treatment. The students are also seeking to qualify the site for certification under the Living Building Challenge by allowing the home to leave a net-zero impact on the site’s water cycle, an undertaking never before attempted on a single-family house. The project team includes: Derya Ayral, Devki Desai and Emily Herbert, Engineering; Alexandro Bazan and Sarang Supekar, SNRE and Architecture/Urban Planning; and Alexander Chow, Architecture/Urban Planning. The faculty advisor is Steven Skerlos, Mechanical Engineering.
  •  Water Demand Management for Improved Adaptation by Small Farmers in Semi-Arid India. This project team is investigating how water-demand management in the semi-arid region of Rajasthan, India, can help small farmers, poor households and communities in the region to be more resilient to the impacts of climate change and variability. The project team is partnering with the Foundation for Ecological Security, which is implementing a large-scale Watershed Development Project in the area. Project team members include: James Erbaugh and Heather Huntington, postdoctoral research fellows, SNRE; Ajay Shenoy, Economics, School of Literature, Science, and the Arts (LSA); and Hope Thompson, Public Policy. The faculty advisor is Arun Agrawal, SNRE.

For more information about the Dow Distinguished Awards in Sustainability, visit the U-M Planet Blue website at http://sustainability.umich.edu/education/dow.