UM Graham Institute Research Grants Target Sustainability Challenges

ANN ARBOR — The Graham Sustainability Institute at the University of Michigan has awarded nearly $500,000 to support four sustainability-related research projects in the United States and abroad.

The four projects will investigate sustainable diets in Kenya and Vietnam, climate adaptation strategies of indigenous tribes in the Great Lakes region, climate-related health disparities among marginalized communities, and climate adaptation strategies for vulnerable communities along the northern coast of Ecuador.

Each cross-disciplinary team includes UM researchers and external partners, including experts from other universities and colleges, tribal agencies and non-governmental organizations. The projects are funded through the Graham Institute’s Emerging Opportunities program.

“These projects reflect an exceptional range of sustainability initiatives being led by UM faculty in partnership with local and global partners. I’m confident the results from these efforts will lead to meaningful lasting impacts,” said U-M President Mark Schlissel.

The largest of the four grants, a three-year Transformation Grant totaling $450,000, was awarded to a team led by Andrew Jones of the UM School of Public Health. The project is titled “Leveraging existing data and insights into the policy process to accelerate progress toward achieving sustainable diets in the global south.”

Researchers will analyze currently available data from Kenya and Vietnam on the links between diet, human health and environmental change. Poor-quality diets underlie the most prominent causes of disease worldwide, while agricultural production is among the largest sources of global greenhouse gas emissions, consumes massive amounts of water, and contributes to nutrient pollution and deforestation.

In both Kenya and Vietnam, nearly a quarter of preschool-age children are stunted. While obesity is on the rise in both countries, the trend is especially evident in Kenya.

The goal of this project is to provide clear policy guidance that helps improve the sustainability of human diets in the two case-study countries. The researchers define sustainable diets as diets that are protective and respectful of biodiversity and ecosystems; culturally acceptable, accessible, economically fair and affordable; and nutritionally adequate, safe and healthy.

“In places like Kenya and Vietnam, there is an urgent imperative to reshape human diets to safeguard human health, mitigate climate change, and sustainably use the planet’s natural resources,” Jones said. “The expected long-term impact of this project is accelerated progress toward achieving the goals of sustainable diets in both countries.”

The core external partner for the project is the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, which has primary research hubs in Kenya and Vietnam that are supported through the Agriculture for Nutrition and Health Research Program.

Co-investigators on the research team are Lesli Hoey of UM’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, Martin Heller of UM’s School of Natural Resources and Environment, and Colin Khoury of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture. Additional team members are Evan Girvetz and Stef de Haan of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture.

The Graham Institute also awarded three eight-month Catalyst Grants of $10,000 to support collaborative activities such as conferences, project planning, white papers and workshops. The Catalyst Grant projects are:

* “Training in participatory methodology to investigate vulnerability and adaptive capacity to extreme climate events in northern coast of Ecuador.” The northern coast of Ecuador is experiencing increasingly dramatic and unpredictable patterns of flooding and drought that threaten the socioeconomic stability and health of communities in the region. UM researchers will partner with the Universidad Técnica de Luis Vargas Torres in Esmeraldas, Ecuador, to train faculty and students in research methods to help vulnerable communities devise climate-change adaptation strategies and to share findings with public officials. The principal investigator is Joseph Eisenberg of the UM School of Public Health. Co-Investigators are SNRE’s Maria Carmen Lemos and Environment and Betty Corozo of Universidad Técnica de Luis Vargas Torres. Additional team members: Ivan Cangemi and Gwenyth Lee of the UM School of Public Health and James Trostle of Trinity College.

* “Workshop to advance climate adaptation initiatives for indigenous tribes within the Great Lakes region.” In light of the changing climate, the Inter-Tribal Council of Michigan and its member tribes recently performed an analysis of projected climate conditions at mid-century, followed by an assessment of tribal resource vulnerabilities and the identification of climate-adaptation strategies. Since the completion of the ITCM assessment, member tribes have expressed the desire to gather and share stories about the progress and challenges faced by individual tribal communities in their efforts to apply climate-adaptation strategies. In collaboration with the ITCM, this UM-led research team will host a workshop to address these needs and to determine future steps. The principal investigator is Frank Marsik of UM’s College of Engineering. The co-PI is Maria Carmen Lemos of SNRE, with external partner Robin Clark of the Inter-Tribal Council of Michigan.

* “Climate changes health: ensuring environmental justice underlies public health’s climate change work.” Climate change disproportionately impacts vulnerable and marginalized communities, and an urgent response is needed to ensure that local planning efforts address these disparities. Marginalized populations may be at greater risk of health problems associated with heat waves and other extreme climate-related events. Those with preexisting chronic conditions, poor access to transportation, low health literacy, and those living in older housing stock—all factors associated with low socioeconomic status—are particularly susceptible to climate-related health problems. In this project, university researchers and environmental justice leaders will convene a summit to develop recommendations and will prepare a corresponding white paper. The principal investigator is Natalie Sampson of UM-Dearborn. Co-Investigators are Adrienne Hollis of WE ACT for Environmental Justice and George Washington University, Megan Latshaw of the American Public Health Association and Johns Hopkins University, Paul Mohai of SNRE, Carmel Price U-M-Dearborn, Fatemeh Shafiei of Spelman College, and Melissa Varga of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

For the first round of Transformation Grants, 12 proposals involving 39 UM faculty members and researchers from seven units were submitted. For the latest round of Catalyst Grants, six proposals were submitted, involving 18 faculty members/researchers from eight units.

“We’re very pleased to have received so many high-quality proposals from talented faculty across campus. Important sustainability work is taking place throughout the university, and we’re happy to support it,” said Drew Horning, the Graham Institute’s interim director.

The Graham Sustainability Institute engages, empowers and supports faculty, staff and students from all U-M units and integrates this talent with external stakeholders to foster collaborative sustainability solutions at all scales. The Institute is supported by individuals, corporations, foundations, government agencies and the university. The institute’s work spans three areas: translational science, transformative learning and campus leadership. More at
More information about the Graham Sustainability Institute’s Emerging Opportunities program and the recently funded projects:

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