Overall Rating Expired
Overall Score Expired
Liaison Jeff Spoelstra
Submission Date July 22, 2014
Executive Letter Download

STARS v2.0

Western Michigan University
IN-3: Innovation 3

Status Score Responsible Party
Complete Expired Jeff Spoelstra
Sustainability Coordinator
Office for Sustainability
"---" indicates that no data was submitted for this field

Title or keywords related to the innovative policy, practice, program, or outcome:
Social Learning Model and Community Sustainability Incubator

A brief description of the innovative policy, practice, program, or outcome:

Western Michigan University and its Office for Sustainability apply social learning to leverage behavioral change and bridge the “gap” between people’s stated aspirations for a sustainable world and their generally unsustainable actions. With every project, we create open, cross-college and/or community collaborations that build durable and ongoing relationships, which support the development of new sustainability champions. To avoid creating a patchwork of disconnected projects, we use strategic incrementalism to create a framework where each project dovetails into another, like a bee’s honeycomb.

To successfully act on our President’s call to build a culture of sustainability, we recognized that we needed a coherent, systems-based approach to model sustainability and drive continuous improvement. Our “learning for sustainability” foundation includes three key elements of the formal education process: 1) Content – What do we teach?; 2) Pedagogy – How do we teach?; and, 3) Context – How do we model our values and our commitments in all facets of university policy and practice? As we work to re-imagine the purpose and promise of higher education, we pay particular attention to the underdeveloped element, context, as we build our culture of sustainability.

Sustainability is both a process and an end goal. As we pursue it, we want anyone who encounters the WMU community to recognize an interdisciplinary, collaborative, and discovery driven experience. This level of fully integrated sustainability, one that “strikes” you as you step foot on campus and stays with you when you leave, requires long-term commitments that draw together campus operations, research, academic affairs, business and finance, administration, and the broader community.

We apply social learning when conducting projects in pursuit of our overall sustainability goals. Our strategies are to:

-Identify and help implement innovative and cost-effective strategies for reducing WMU’s ecocultural wake, which span all of our policies, programs, and activities;
-Facilitate interdisciplinary and cross-college collaboration, research, and inquiry around sustainability;
-Encourage and support weaving sustainability and climate change education into existing curriculum;
-Support active learning and real-world problem solving through student sustainability research, internships, and co-curricular activities;
-Graduate knowledgeable, open-minded, well-prepared, and engaged planetary stewards; and,
-Serve as a resource and advocate for sustainability on campus and in the community, region, and state.

Planning, best practice review, fundamental behavioral analysis research, pilot testing, and other related efforts are guided by working groups of faculty, staff, administrators, community stakeholders, and most importantly undergraduate and graduate students. In each case, the Office for Sustainability (OfS) references and leverages university sustainability commitments and a growing network of sustainability leaders rooted in the President’s Universitywide Sustainability Committee (PUSC) and OfS student programs. The PUSC includes representatives from all seven colleges, major operations units, and both undergraduate and graduate students.

Four major projects demonstrate our approach to modeling sustainability in everything we do. We are pursuing carbon neutrality, fostering a groundswell of faculty efforts to infuse sustainability and climate change themes into both curriculum and research, linking sustainability to university strategic plan implementation efforts, and collaborating with the community to expand awareness of sustainability and climate change and support regional planning for a living local economy that improves quality of life for all.

Our social learning approach is constantly evolving but guides how we tackle individual projects that have more concrete timelines and deliverables. New ideas or potential improvements on existing policies or practices turn into projects that progress through cycles of - Engagement, Inspiration, Leadership, Assessment, Measurement, Benchmarking, Design, Implementation, Evaluation, and Iteration. In pursuit of sustainability, no project is ever really done. Projects may enter these cycles at any point and may cycle through several iterations.


A brief description of any positive measurable outcomes associated with the innovation (if not reported above):

Learning together, in a place that models sustainability, has many benefits. Our own facilities management team, which has successfully pursued aggressive energy conservation measures for years, genuinely enjoys working with and “teaching” students and recognizes that the next frontier in energy and emissions reductions will require behavior change (i.e., basic and applied research) by the campus community. Using a comprehensive energy reduction strategy over the past two decades, WMU has reduced its overall energy consumption while increasing its overall building area. Power plant emissions have been reduced by over 90%.

Ongoing reporting for numerous campus sustainability rating/ranking efforts reaffirms our belief that in order for these sustainability efforts to provide value they must be relevant to policies and practices on campus AND have engagement and support from administrators. Without engagement and clear linkages to internal strategic planning processes, participation might be more of a distraction to sustainability champions, taking away precious time to implement potential sustainability initiatives already prioritized on campus. Fortunately, we are seeing participation and internal commitments of financial support to move forward with sustainability efforts even in these times of shrinking budgets—because the value proposition of sustainability as improving quality of life for all is clearly being recognized on campus and beyond.

This past fall the University community delivered more than 25 major climate change programs in the community and we did a pro bono Bike Share Options study for Kalamazoo at the request of the mayor. We hosted a Community Sustainability Roundtable and Sustainability Slam on National Campus Sustainability Day 2013 and a regional Sustainability Leadership Summit in early 2014. These projects and many others are helping to advance WMU’s effort to build a culture of sustainability on campus and beyond.

The Fine Arts are an integral part of WMUs campus wide sustainability efforts. The Office for Sustainability has a dedicated art wall, which has housed student and faculty art shows.

It is thrilling to report other efforts increasing around campus. A juried art exhibit addressing climate change was arranged to run Oct. 10-17, 2013 in WMU's Richmond Center for Visual Arts. Western Michigan University students who wished to share their creative vision for climate change were invited to submit original artwork to the "Spare|Change: The Art of Climate" exhibit. All full- and part-time WMU students enrolled in the fall 2013 semester were eligible to submit up to three pieces of original artwork.

"Spare|Change: The Art of Climate" was sponsored by the WMU Environmental Studies Gwen Frostic Series in partnership with the University's Frostic School of Art and Center for Humanities as well as the Kalamazoo Nature Center and People's Food Co-op. Bill McKibben awarded the grand prize to the winning student.


A letter of affirmation from an individual with relevant expertise:
Which of the following STARS subcategories does the innovation most closely relate to? (Select all that apply up to a maximum of five):
Yes or No
Curriculum ---
Research ---
Campus Engagement Yes
Public Engagement Yes
Air & Climate ---
Buildings ---
Dining Services ---
Energy ---
Grounds ---
Purchasing ---
Transportation ---
Waste ---
Water ---
Coordination, Planning & Governance Yes
Diversity & Affordability ---
Health, Wellbeing & Work ---
Investment ---

Other topic(s) that the innovation relates to that are not listed above:
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The website URL where information about the innovation is available:

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