Mission & History

Mission

The University of Michigan’s Center for Sustainable Systems at the School for Environment and Sustainability creates systems analysis methods, models, and metrics for advancing sustainable futures.

We engage with diverse stakeholders in interdisciplinary research, education, and outreach to achieve measurable outcomes with the greatest impact.  Our expertise spans life cycle assessment, sustainable supply chains, circular economies, emerging technologies, the nexus of systems, and social and economic impacts.  Our work with stakeholders catalyzes the transformation of systems (energy, urban and built environment, mobility, food, and water) to enhance sustainability.

We measure success by our research innovations, the accomplishments of the student leaders and change agents we train, the designs and technologies that we improve, the policies that we help shape and ultimately the systems that we help transform.

Vision

Our Vision is to accelerate high impact sustainability transformations.

The Center for Sustainable Systems will be the leaders and best in systems analysis research and education for advancing sustainable futures by building on the success of the Center’s first 25 years of accomplishments.  By growing our network, we can leverage and disseminate our core knowledge and expand our circle of influence.

We promote the adoption of systems thinking by students, researchers, businesses, the public, and policymakers to foster environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable futures.

Values

Fundamental to the Center’s success in accomplishing its mission and realizing its vision are the values to which we are committed:

  • Accelerate transformations through discovery, education, and engagement – Change is best achieved through new knowledge and innovation, education and training of change agents, and direct engagement with stakeholders.  We are strongly committed to experiential learning, fostering student research excellence, and strong teamwork and communication skills.
  • Seek transdisciplinary solutions – Creating sustainable systems necessitates interdisciplinary perspectives and broad stakeholder engagement.  Progress towards sustainability also requires resolving a diverse and often conflicting set of performance, environmental, economic, and social goals.
  • Promote Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion – Ensure that each member of our community has full opportunity to thrive, since diversity is key to individual and societal success, educational excellence, and the advancement of knowledge.  Meeting basic needs among current and future members of the global society is a fundamental condition of sustainability.
  • Apply nature as a model – Natural systems inspire and guide the design of sustainable systems.
  • Protect the planet’s life support system – Restoring and enhancing ecosystem health through stewardship is critical to the planet's life support system and is a fundamental condition for sustainability.  Natural capital is the ultimate foundation for socio-economic sustainability.
  • Be transparent, comprehensive, and thorough – We will develop sustainability methods, models, and metrics that are comprehensive, transparent, and address externalities.  Evaluating the full life cycle consequences and opportunities establishes a basis for measuring progress towards sustainability.  We provide and make accessible full documentation of methods, assumptions, and data sources in our studies.

History

The Center for Sustainable Systems is an evolution of the National Pollution Prevention Center for Higher Education (NPPC), which was created in 1991 by a US EPA competitive grant between 28 colleges and universities. NPPC's primary mission was to collect, develop, and disseminate educational materials on pollution preventionClick here to watch the NPPC Overview video [11:51 minutes].

In 1997 the center's scope was broadened to focus on systems analysis and sustainability. The new name, Center for Sustainable Systems, reflected the shift in focus. Research became the primary activity, with education and outreach continuing as key goals.

Besides the growing library of research reports, journal articles and conference proceedings, our most popular publications are the Factsheets, that examine current trends of a particular system, such as Personal Transportation or Residential Buildings. Much of the research underpinning these resources is based on a methodology called Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) as a way of modeling the inputs and outputs (of materials, energy, desired product, and undesired pollution) of a system.

The Center continues to grow as it passes the 25-year milestone at the University of Michigan. More students are becoming involved through paid fellowships, Master's projects, internships, visiting scholars and volunteers.

 

Important Moments in CSS's History

2017 - School of Natural Resources & Environment (SNRE) becomes School for Environment & Sustainability (SEAS).

2016 - 25th anniversary of the Center.

2016 - Tony Reames appointed as Assistant Professor.

2014 - Jeremiah Johnson appointed as Assistant Professor; Jose Alfaro as Assistant Professor of Practice.

2012 - CSS sponsors Sustainability Without Borders student group.

2011 - Peter M. Wege & Jonathan W. Bulkley Fellowship in Sustainable Systems is endowed.

2011 - Jonathan W. Bulkley Collegiate Professor in Sustainable Systems is endowed.

2011 - Peter M. Wege Lecture on Sustainability is endowed.

2011 - Jonathan Bulkley, co-director of CSS, retires after 43 years of teaching.

2010 - Four new SNRE faculty join CSS: Jarod Kelly, Shelie Miller, Josh Newell & Ming Xu.

2008 - His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama gives 'Earth Day Reflections' talk to 8,000 in Crisler Arena.

2007 - Engineering Sustainable Systems (ESS) dual Master's degree program with the College of Engineering and SNRE is launched.

2006 - Michigan at a Climate Crossroads report presents the impacts of ten strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to the Michigan State Legislature and Office of the Governor.

2005 - SNRE Sustainable Systems Master's degree field of study opens for fall enrollment.

2005 - Alcoa Foundation Conservation and Sustainability Fellowship program supports six post-docs researching Enabling Technology for a Sustainable Energy Future.

2004 - Provost recognizes CSS as a permanent University Center.

2003 - CSS hosts the biennial meeting of the International Society for Industrial Ecology (ISIE).

2003 - National Science Foundation (NSF) awards CSS $1.7 million for study of sustainable concrete infrastructure (MUSES project).

2002 - A prototype University of Michigan sustainability report is released by the Center.

2001 - The first annual Peter M. Wege Lecture on Sustainability is inaugurated by CSS.

2000 - The Wege Foundation pledges $1.5 million to endow Peter M. Wege Chair of Sustainable Systems.

1999 - The graduate certificate Program in Industrial Ecology (PIE) is established under CSS guidance.

1999 - The Wege Foundation pledges $1.8 million in support of the CSS endowment.

1997 - The external advisory board approves transition from National Pollution Prevention Center (NPPC) to Center for Sustainable Systems (CSS).

1994 - The EPA awards $0.5 million to NPPC for the development and demonstration of the Life Cycle Design Methodology.

1992 - The NPPC external advisory board holds its first meeting.

1992 - NPPC releases its first of 16 compendia (topic based collections of bibliographies, syllabi and case studies) on pollution prevention.

1991 - An EPA grant establishes the National Pollution Prevention Center (NPPC) at the University of Michigan.