The Sustainable Systems Research Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit green think tank 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. We design, develop and deploy local projects and programs to promote community development through citizen science and engineering and participatory action approaches.  We design and pursue projects that are local, replicable and scalable, based on best practices and insights drawn from successful projects. We seek to bring together numerous stakeholders with competing interests, capacities and approaches. We believe that if a project or program can be implemented successfully at one site, it can be replicated in other places, with appropriate adjustments to local conditions.


SSRF was founded in 2015 by Ronnie D. Lipschutz, Kevin W. Bell and Thomas Rettenwender.  All three were instructors in the Sustainability Studies minor at UC Santa Cruz’s Rachel Carson College, and all three wanted to pursue local projects that seemed unlikely to be developed by the University.  A small, independent non-profit appeared to be a more feasible and attractive vehicle for these projects.  SSRF did not really get off the ground until Spring 2019, when several UCSC students began to push the founders to activate the organization.  Since then, SSRF staff, volunteers and interns have been working on the projects described in detail elsewhere on this website.  You can learn more about the founders, staff and volunteers, who make the organization function, on the “People” page.


SSRF’s primary goal is to become the “go-to” place for information about 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 objectives are:​


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.