SCIP Toward Sustainability

Erin Barton, Graham Sustainability Institute
Release Date: 


Many organizations are taking steps to reduce environmental impacts in the workplace. But since these impacts are largely driven by human decisions (e.g., whether to recycle or not, or how many times a week to ride a bike versus taking a car, or even what brands to purchase), being able to achieve reductions is dependent on human behavior and psychology. bikes on snowy Ann Arbor campusThese two factors are notoriously hard to measure and are the focus of the University of Michigan (U-M) team working on the Sustainability Cultural Indicators Program (SCIP)

SCIP is a partnership between U-M’s Graham Sustainability Institute and the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR). Started in Fall 2012, the program administers a survey to randomly selected U-M staff, faculty, and students on the university’s central campus in Ann Arbor. Its aim is to monitor the university’s progress toward a culture of sustainability, defined in the SCIP Methodology Report as a culture reflecting, “a set of attitudes, behaviors, levels of understanding and commitment, degrees of engagement, and dispositions among the population” about sustainability. SCIP is also meant to serve as a model for how behavioral research can be used to measure progress toward sustainability challenges within universities and in organizational settings more broadly.

The surveys administered by SCIP are aligned with four U-M sustainability goals: climate action, waste prevention, healthy environments, and community awareness. Survey participant groups (students, faculty, and staff) complete different surveys; an average of 4,000 students and 2,000 faculty and staff have completed the survey each year, with an average response rate approximately 30%. Surveys have been conducted in 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015. The next SCIP survey is being administered this winter (2018) and will incorporate changes made by survey developers at the end of 2017. Invitations will be sent by email and recipients are encouraged to complete the surveys.

Overview of Four Years
of SCIP Data

Indicators which have increased:

  • Waste prevention behavior
  • Sustainable food awareness
  • Sustainability commitment
  • Sustainability engagement at U-M

Indicators which have stayed roughly the same:

  • Climate action: Conservation behavior: Sustainable food purchases
  • Healthy environments: (increased for staff)
  • Community awareness: Sustainable travel and transportation (decreased for students), and Waste prevention
  • Rating U-M sustainability initiatives

Results from the surveys indicate U-M is making the most progress in sustainability knowledge, particularly in the areas of waste prevention, promoting sustainable foods, and engaging the campus community. Engagement occurs through the Planet Blue Ambassadors program, the Campus Farms, and other efforts. It is notable, too, that faculty, staff, and student groups show different levels of awareness and sustainable behavior in different categories. For instance, students are more likely to use low or zero-carbon transportation options, like walking, biking, and public transit, whereas faculty are more engaged in off-campus pro-environmental behaviors, and staff display the most knowledge about U-M’s sustainability initiatives. However, increased awareness has not led to significant behavior change in any group.

Students, faculty, and staff are encouraged to use data from the four surveys for their work. SCIP survey results are distributed to various campus units, including the Office of Campus Sustainability, Sustainable Computing, Athletics, the North Campus Sustainability Initiative, and Parking & Transportation Services. Staff can use the data to evaluate the effectiveness of sustainability programs and guide programming, and Planet Blue uses the data to inform co-curricular educational programs. Victoria Campbell-Arvai, U-M professor in the School for Environment and Sustainability, uses SCIP data to teach graduate students about social science research methodologies and data analysis. Her students use the information to test hypotheses and develop both potential behavioral interventions and suggestions for how to improve the survey instrument.

Outside organizations have also taken note. To date, the Graham Institute received over 130 requests for the survey instrument from outside institutions.

See Overview of Four Years of SCIP Data in Sidebar at Right

(For more summarized information, see “Sustainability Indicators Infographic” pdf).

Contact the SCIP Principal Investigators

Robert W. Marans, John Callewaert,

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