Top 10 Achievements

25th Anniversary celebration for:

National Pollution Prevention Center (NPPC) 1991-1998

Center for Sustainable Systems (CSS) 1999 -


1. Center launched to lead P2 education

The National Pollution Prevention Center for Higher Education (NPPC) was established by a competitive three-year US Environmental Protection Agency grant at the University of Michigan in 1991, with a mission to collect, develop, and disseminate educational materials on pollution prevention (P2). NPPC produced educational resource compendia for disciplines ranging from accounting and finance to chemistry and chemical engineering, and established a national network of colleges and universities to develop and disseminate these educational resources.

2. Creation of the Sustainable Systems concept and Center transition

In 1997, the Center took a bold leap by coining the term “Sustainable Systems” and transitioning to a focus on developing and applying systems analysis methods to enhance sustainability of mobility, energy, built environment, food, and other systems for meeting basic human needs. This was well before the terms sustainable energy systems, sustainable food systems, etc. were in common use. The Center for Sustainable Systems (CSS) was launched in 1999.

The Center raised endowment to ensure its “sustainability” and was designated a permanent Center by the Provost in 2004. Peter M. Wege and the Wege Foundation provided major endowment gifts for the Center, the Peter M. Wege Endowed Chair in Sustainable Systems, the Wege Lecture on Sustainability, the Wege and Bulkley Fellowship in Sustainable Systems, and the Jonathan W. Bulkley Collegiate Professorship in Sustainable Systems. Ford Motor Company, 3M, and Kevin Olmstead (collaborator on NPPC curriculum development and winner of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire) also provided endowment gifts. 

3. Pioneered life cycle assessment tools and applications

CSS has pioneered new methods in life cycle analysis, design, and optimization and has led over 200 research projects focused on a wide range of topics, including vehicle technologies, renewable energy systems, buildings and infrastructure, appliances, information technology, food and agricultural systems, and packaging alternatives. CSS researchers, through interdisciplinary collaboration with industry partners, conducted the first comprehensive life cycle assessments of cars (internal combustion and electric), residential and institutional buildings, U.S. diets, photovoltaics, e-books, and wireless charging of vehicles. Optimal replacement strategies were developed to inform decisions on timing the retirement of cars, refrigerators, air conditioners, and other products to reduce their life-cycle impacts.

4. Sustainability Lecture Series brings Dalai Lama and other leaders to campus

CSS established the annual Peter M. Wege Sustainability Lecture Series in 2001, which invites an internationally recognized expert to address important sustainability challenges facing society. Past speakers have included Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Vice President Al Gore, Bill Ford, U.S. President’s Chief Science Advisor John Holdren, and Costa Rican President Jose Figueres. Lecture topics have included energy security and declining fossil resources, global climate change, freshwater scarcity, ecosystem degradation and biodiversity loss, sustainable development strategies for mobility and built environment in both developed and developing countries. This year’s speaker, Dr. William Clark, will deliver the lecture “Pursuing Sustainability: Linking Science and Practice” on September 29 at 5 PM in Rackham Auditorium.

5. Sustainability Factsheet Collection

Since 2001, CSS has developed 29 factsheets that cover topics including energy, water, food, waste, buildings, materials, and transportation systems. Each factsheet presents important patterns of use, life cycle impacts, and sustainable solutions. They are designed to provide a concise overview of a topic for policymakers, business professionals, students, and teachers. The factsheets contain complete references, are fully peer-reviewed and updated annually. The two newest factsheets focus on autonomous vehicles and grid energy storage.

6. CSS Research Guides State Energy Policies

CSS developed a model to evaluate the economic impacts on jobs and Gross State Product in support of the first Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) legislation in Michigan.

CSS researchers also employed several scenarios to evaluate the cost and environmental impacts of expanding RPS targets in Michigan. They found that carbon intensity of electricity generation in MI (currently dominated by high-carbon coal) would drop 33% in the 40% renewables by 2035 scenario, while increasing cost 7% ($6.70/mo) for a typical household. This work was presented to the MPSC and state legislators.

7. CSS Conducts Greenhouse Gas Inventories

CSS developed the first comprehensive greenhouse gas (GHG) inventories for the University of Michigan (2002), the City of Ann Arbor (2003), the City of Detroit (2014), and the State of Michigan (2005). These inventories provide a baseline for goal setting and against which progress is measured as systems (energy, food, mobility, etc.) are guided towards sustainability.

8. CSS initiates Sustainability Reporting and advances sustainability at UM

CSS has had significant impact in advancing sustainability on the University of Michigan campus. Student researchers created the sustainability assessment and reporting framework, including a prototype report, that defined the sustainability metrics and annual reporting process used by the University today.

Between 1998 and 2004, CSS researchers were instrumental in making sustainability a central goal in the “Greening of Dana” project that expanded and renovated the 1903 building that is home to SNRE and CSS. Energy, water, and materials were primary aspects of the project, which resulted in the first LEED Gold rated building on the UM campus and one of the first academic buildings in the country.

CSS was awarded a grant from the Wege Foundation to install and conduct research on a 33kW PV system on the roof of the Dana building, one of the largest PV systems in Michigan when it was installed 2005.

9. Innovative Interdisciplinary Sustainability Education Programs at U. Michigan

The Center has been instrumental in advancing new programs at the University of Michigan, including the Sustainable Systems Field of Study, the Engineering Sustainable Systems Program, the Graduate Certificate Program in Industrial Ecology and the Graduate Certificate Program in Sustainability.  The Sustainable Systems graduate program annually enrolls between 30 and 40 percent of MS degree students in the School of Natural Resources and Environment. The Engineering Sustainable Systems Program (ESS) is training a new breed of engineers with skills and tools to solve challenging sustainability problems facing society. Launched by CSS in 2007, the ESS dual degree program confers a Master of Science (M.S.) degree from the School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE) and a Master of Science in Engineering (M.S.E.) from the College of Engineering (CoE).

The Center sponsors Sustainability Without Borders, which enables student experiential learning and capacity building in communities by jointly developing and implementing water, energy, and food sustainability projects.

CSS faculty members developed and teach in the sustainability minor curriculum of the undergraduate Program in the Environment.

CSS alumni are key sustainability champions in the public and private sectors, working at National Labs (e.g., ANL, BNL, NREL, PNNL), Universities (e.g., Stanford, UC Davis, UVA, Waterloo, Yale), government (e.g., EPA, USDA), and range of businesses and industry (e.g., 5 Lakes Energy, Chrysler, DTE Energy, Dow, Ford, Franklin Associates, GM, Mars, US Renewables Group).

10. Big and small companies, NGOs, and government benefit from research with CSS

Researchers at CSS have worked with a wide array of public and private sector organizations to advance their sustainability performance. This research has included guiding sustainability strategy and reporting, metrics and assessment, design, greenhouse gas accounting, and life cycle assessment of products, evaluation of energy and environmental policy, and sustainability codes and standards. A partial list of public and private sector partners includes:

i. Business and Industry: 3M, AISI, APC, AT&T, Aurora Organic Dairy, Aveda, Ballard, Ben & Jerry’s, BHP Billiton, Chrysler, Dairy Management Inc., Dairy Research Institute, Dow, DuPont, Ford, GM, IISI, Lucent Technologies, Meijer, P&G, Soc of Plastic Ind, Steelcase, Stonyfield, USAMP, United Solar, United Technologies Corp.
ii. Government: ANL, Dept of the Navy, US EPA, USDA, US DOE, NIST, NREL, NSF, State of MI, MI DNR, MPSC, Mid-America Regional Council, OR DEQ, LADWP, Metro Water District of SoCal, City of Detroit, City of Ann Arbor
iii. NGO: 5 Lakes Energy, DWEJ, GRID Alternatives, Lower Eastside Action Plan, Detroit Future City, National Environmental Trust
iv. Foundations: Alcoa Foundation, DTE Energy Foundation, Energy Foundation, Mott Foundation, Wege Foundation, Wellcome Trust