AASHE 2022 Sustainability Awards recognizes U-M SEAS projects
The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) has announced the finalists and winners for the 2022 Sustainability Awards, which provide global recognition to the individuals and organizations leading the higher education sustainability movement. Out of 430+ entries, a paper written by two University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability (U-M SEAS) alums was selected as one of 12 winners, and a SEAS postdoctoral research fellow was a contributing author on a paper that was selected as a finalist.
Entries were judged on overall impact, innovation, stakeholder involvement, clarity and other criteria specific to each category. With the help of volunteer judges from the community, the awards program raises the visibility of high-impact sustainability projects and collaborations, pioneering research, and student leadership, helping to disseminate innovations and inspire continued progress toward environmental, social and economic health.
Winner: UM Scope 3 Purchased Goods & Services Emissions Footprinting
Anna Rose Ostrander (MS ’22) and Jacob Thomas Namovich (MS ’22) won in the Campus Sustainability Research “Unpublished Graduate Research” category for their paper, U-M Scope 3 Purchased Goods & Services Emissions Footprinting. In this study, Ostrander and Namovich, who both specialized in Sustainable Systems at SEAS, contributed to U-M’s efforts to reach net-zero institutional emissions by developing methods to estimate the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with purchased goods and services (PGS) consumption.
As a result of global reliance on fossil fuels, the production of goods and services releases GHG emissions, which can contribute significantly to an organization’s carbon footprint. Using an EPA tool that provides a collection of emission values per dollar spent across a variety of economic sectors, Ostrander and Namovich were able to calculate U-M’s footprint to estimate emissions released along different supply chains. “From our results, we were able to generate total emissions estimates which could be used to identify ‘hotspots’ of emissions driven by different types of university spending,” says Namovich. “As a result, we were also able to recommend strategies for tracking and reducing U-M’s emissions over time.” The study also revealed an interesting emissions pattern, where smaller sums of spending would sometimes balloon to meaningful quantities of emissions. “In other words, some goods and/or services that are “inexpensive” monetarily can be considered environmentally “expensive” when looking through the lens of climate impacts,” says Namovich.
While the results of this research are exclusive to U-M, the methods used can be used by other organizations interested in quantifying their PGS emissions. “Calculating PGS emissions is an essential step that all organizations must undertake to quantify the impact of their consumption and conform to GHG accounting standards. Like U-M, this process will also allow organizations to design pathways that begin to decouple their PGS consumption from GHG emissions and contribute to the broader goal of climate change mitigation,” says Namovich.
Finalist: An Exploration of the Relationship between Sustainability-Related Involvement and Learning in Higher Education
SEAS Postdoctoral Research Fellow Jessica Ostrow Michel, who has a doctorate in Higher and Postsecondary Education from Teachers College, Columbia University, was a contributing author on the paper An Exploration of the Relationship between Sustainability-Related Involvement and Learning in Higher Education. The paper was selected as a finalist in the Campus Sustainability Research “Published Journal Article Related to Engagement” category. In this SEAS Sustainability Themes Grant-funded study, the seven authors from across U-M units, including SEAS alumni, explored the extent to which U-M students’ involvement in sustainability-focused co-curricular activities is related to leadership practices and other public-facing climate change and sustainability-related behaviors.
The paper used structural equation modeling to examine the relationship between students’ sustainability-related co-curricular involvement and sustainability learning outcomes. Results showed that students who reported participating in sustainability-related activities (such as living-learning communities and campus clubs and organizations) had higher levels of cognitive (i.e., systems and futures thinking, contextual competence, and sustainability literacy) and behavioral (i.e., activism and leadership practices) learning outcomes. There were also strong positive relationships between futures thinking and systems thinking learning outcomes with particular behavioral outcomes such as activism and leadership practices. A small negative relationship between sustainability literacy and activism as well as leadership practices, suggests that there might exist a point at which more knowledge about particular aspects of climate change and sustainability issues makes students less likely to engage in activism and leadership behaviors.
The authors of the study argue that consideration of knowledge and behaviors is necessary for supporting U-M’s goal of producing climate change leaders. “Developing engaged sustainability and climate change leaders is a critical goal facing higher education and society; on the other hand, the higher education enterprise’s role is generally seen as developing and disseminating new knowledge to its students, communities, and society broadly. Our findings suggest that reaching the goal of developing sustainability and climate change leaders might entail more than developing and disseminating knowledge,” says Michel. “Instead, educating emerging future change agents involves ensuring they have the necessary knowledge and mindsets on topics such as environmental justice, and as well as ample opportunities to actually engage in sustainable behaviors.”