The Sustainable Systems Research Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit green think tank and project incubator based in Santa Cruz, California. SSRF seeks to:

  • Address complex and wicked environmental and sustainability problems that confound communities, defy singular technical or social solutions and cannot be addressed successfully at a global scale.
  • Bring together numerous stakeholders with competing interests, capacities and approaches while addressing the critical importance of equity and justice.
  • Collaborate with partner organizations to incubate and develop local projects and programs that  promote community sustainability and development. 
  • Pursue projects that are replicable and scalable, based on best practices and insights drawn from successful projects.

Our philosophy is that a project or program implemented successfully at one site can be replicated in many other places, with appropriate adjustments to local conditions. To learn more about SSRF’s work and projects, please go to the “What We Do” page.


SSRF was founded in 2015 by Ronnie D. Lipschutz, Kevin W. Bell and Thomas Rettenwender, instructors in the Sustainability Studies minor at UC Santa Cruz’s Rachel Carson College. All three wanted to develop projects that seemed unlikely to be approved or supported by the University, and small, independent non-profit appeared to be a more feasible and attractive vehicle for these projects.  You can learn more about the founders, staff and volunteers who sustain the organization on the “People” page and about our work on the “What We Do” page.  You can also click on the Project icons on the landing page.


SSRF’s wants to be the “go-to” place for information about and solutions to sustainability-related problems and solutions. Our education, research and policy efforts seek to provide accurate, comprehensive, and widely accessible information to the public about local problems and solutions. We seek the enhancement of regional environmental quality and sustainability through collaborative policy research and project development by way of our four programmatic areas: education; research; public policy, and project incubation.


SSRF’s education programs seek to offer high school and university students and post-graduates the knowledge and know-how to hone skills needed for success through hands-on training in sustainability-related systems design and development in areas such as energy, food, water, transportation, waste, and housing, among others.


SSRF staff and interns conduct applied research focused on local and regional "wicked" problems and issues, such as waste management, recycling and waste, affordable housing development, sustainable urban agriculture and planning for the transition to renewable energy and power..

Public policy & advocacy

SSRF works on local environmental issues, such as the local recycling crisis, analyzes their causes and consequences, develops proposals to deal with them, and advocates for these proposals.

Project Incubation

SSRF offers an intellectual environment, skills mentoring, and workspaces to engage and stimulate enterprising students, post-graduates and individuals who seek to launch sustainability-related projects, services and goods.