Graham Sustainability Institute

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Search below to access a wide array of products that were generated or supported by the Graham Institute. For more U-M publications related to sustainability, search the U-M Deep Blue database.

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Fact Sheet

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.

April 2018
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Fact Sheet

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

April 2018
Fact Sheet

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

April 2018
Fact Sheet

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

April 2018
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Fact Sheet

The return of large harmful algal blooms to Lake Erie, as well as low oxygen levels (hypoxia) in lake bottom waters, have led to an intensified effort to understand, predict, and reduce nutrient loading to the lake. Coastal wetland restoration has been identified as a management tool for achieving an international goal of 40 percent reduction in phosphorus loading to Lake Erie. For example, wetland restoration is central to nutrient reduction plans for Sandusky Bay, Ohio. However, the capacity of different coastal wetlands to retain nutrients and improve water quality is not well understood.

This project will address key information gaps identified by land managers, regulators, and conservation groups involved in coastal wetland restoration and management efforts around Lake Erie. Specifically, these groups require more precise estimates of nutrient retention in wetlands in order to inform decisions around wetland management, hydrologic reconnection of diked wetlands, and the potential creation of coastal wetlands to manage nutrient run-off. The ability to quantify and communicate the role of wetlands in nutrient management is critical for the development of achievable plans for meeting agreed upon water quality targets for Lake Erie and Sandusky Bay.

April 2018
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Fact Sheet

Nature-based shoreline stabilization and restoration techniques have the potential to maintain and enhance important ecological services and coastal resilience, while at the same time being cost-competitive with traditional approaches. Since 2009, the Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve has engaged in scientific research, implementation, and promotion of sustainable shorelines in the Hudson River Estuary via the Hudson River Sustainable Shorelines Project.

Around the time of passage of the 2014 New York State Community Risk and Resiliency Act, the Hudson River Reserve began receiving requests from other regions of the state about the Sustainable Shorelines Project. Eventually, an ad hoc interagency group, led by the Hudson River Reserve, formed to collaborate on implementation of sustainable shorelines state-wide. The Community Risk and Resiliency Act provided an opportunity for the Hudson River Reserve to formally share lessons learned and to work in collaboration with state agencies to advance the use of many types of nature-based approaches. The act called for the development of guidance on “the use of resiliency measures that utilize natural resources and natural processes to reduce risk” by January 2017 (the deadline has since been extended).

This project coordinated a team of staff members from New York State agencies to draft the required guidance: Using Natural Resilience Measures to Reduce Risk in New York State. The guidance examines the use of resiliency measures that emphasize the implementation of natural resources and natural processes to reduce risk. This project’s collaborative process and products were designed to support New York State agencies, shoreline managers, and other decision makers considering naturebased shoreline approaches and other natural resilience measures.

March 2018
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Fact Sheet

Tidal marshes provide key ecosystem services—and they are increasingly threatened by sea level rise. Narragansett Bay and Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserves recently led the first national assessment of tidal marsh resilience to sea level rise by developing and applying multi-metric indices to 16 reserve sites. Now the group is moving beyond marsh resilience monitoring and assessment efforts to actively test strategies to enhance resilience.

Through this project, replicated restoration experiments are being conducted at several reserve sites across the nation, with the purpose of examining the effectiveness of thin-layer sediment placement as a marsh adaptation strategy. Novel aspects of the project include the broad distribution of sites, the examination of the effectiveness of thin-layer sediment placement at different marsh elevations, a standardized monitoring protocol, and the incorporation of biochar (carbon material produced through the conversion of biomass in an oxygen limited environment) to improve soils and plant health.

Beneficial use of dredged sediment to enhance coastal resilience is of interest to, and already being applied in, many coastal states. At project conception, the team interviewed and surveyed end users involved in funding, permitting, implementation, and monitoring of thin-layer sediment projects. This project will address the needs end users identified, including a vetted monitoring protocol to assess restoration success after thin-layer sediment placement, a synopsis of associated permitting issues, and an evaluation of effectiveness of different treatments detailed in a technical report and summarized in a brochure and webinar.

March 2018
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Fact Sheet

For coastal communities, such as those on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, water quality and the overall health of coastal systems has been deteriorating due to nitrogen pollution, which can come from septic systems, fertilizers, and atmospheric deposition. Excess nitrogen leads to negative ecological and economic impacts on communities and coastal areas, including algal blooms, fish kills, and shellfish and beach closures. Towns along Cape Cod are under pressure to improve coastal water quality, but many approaches are very costly, such as developing centralized sewer treatment infrastructure for homes that currently have septic systems.

A number of towns are exploring the use of various shellfish aquaculture systems to remediate water quality. This project addresses a critical information gap identified by water quality managers and regulators, specifically: how much nitrogen is removed from coastal waters by common oyster aquaculture methods, and what culturing practices should be adopted to maximize benefits for water quality?

March 2018
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Fact Sheet

Biological monitoring programs are essential foundations for effective management of estuaries and coasts, but they can be expensive to conduct and may be traumatic for the target species. Advancements in DNA methods now make it possible to identify the organisms in an area by the DNA they leave behind. Environmental DNA (eDNA) comes from feces, gametes, scales, and cells that an organism sheds, and is easily collected from water and sediment samples. Rapid reductions in analytical costs now allow scientists to analyze eDNA in water samples and identify dozens of species without having to capture live animals or plants.

This project will work collaboratively with resource managers in Oregon, Maine, and New Hampshire to pilot and refine DNA-based monitoring protocols that can be applied to specific issues and species of interest in estuarine ecosystems.

March 2018
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Fact Sheet

The Kenai Lowlands cover 9,400 square kilometers, with much of the area comprised of wetlands and over half of the landscape characterized as peatlands. These wetlands sequester large stores of carbon, preventing the carbon from entering the atmosphere. In 2016, at the request of the Kachemak Bay Community Council, a group of municipalities, government agencies, and local nonprofits, the Kachemak Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve partnered with the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center to conduct pilot tests of saltmarsh carbon sequestration. The results spurred interest in blue carbon valuation throughout the region. 

This project will build on Kachemak Bay Reserve’s expertise in wetland ecosystem function and ecosystem services to map carbon stores in Kenai Peninsula wetlands, and explore opportunities for engaging local stakeholders in valuing wetlands. The reserve will benefit from the expertise of Waquoit Bay Reserve’s blue carbon stakeholder engagement process and from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center’s expertise in global blue carbon assessment.

March 2018

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