2861 Mission Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95060 (Room 247) sustainablesystemsresearch@gmail.com 831.708.5836

Our Programs


“Designing and building a sustainable and just civilization…through pragmatic, well-designed, replicable, and scalable implementation of sustainable systems policy, education, research, and infrastructure”


SSRF strives to be an active supporter of our community’s goals to become more sustainable and just. We are developing a number of programs focused on the needs of the community, individuals, local organizations and businesses, as well as faculty, students and staff at UC Santa Cruz and other Bay Area educational institutions. We collaborate with organizations, agencies and projects that share our interests and goals. If you are interested in working with SSRF, please contact us.

Waste Management

Waste Not, Want Not is an initiative to work with local businesses and institutions and the City and County of Santa Cruz to address the region’s waste management challenges.  SSRF is focusing on the procurement end of the materials flow cycle, since this is where careful product choices can have a significant impact on waste streams. If, for example, all containers and utensils flowing through a restaurant are readily compostable, customers don’t have to decide in which bin to put their wastes. And if businesses can provide reusable containers for bulk products, needless wrapping and bags are not necessary. You can find out more about this program here. SSRF Co-Director Kevin Bell recently gave a webinar on “Plastics, disposables, and sustainability in the post-recycling era,” You can find powerpoint slides here.

Affordable Housing

Accessory Dwelling Units in Our Backyards (ADUBs) represents an effort to increase affordable housing options in Santa Cruz and Santa Cruz County by making backyard Accessory Dwelling Units and Junior Accessory Dwelling Units as common and as acceptable as sliced bread. ADUs and JADUs offer numerous advantages over more conventional projects to build new housing in the region (and across California). They do not require costly new land acquisition or significant infrastructural additions, because the homeowner already owns the construction site and utilities are accessible through the main house on the property.  The construction footprint is small, a number of affordable financing options are available, the unit can provide a respectable return on investment, and it can house tenants, family and even homeowners seeking to downsize. Here is a 2019 guest commentary in the Santa Cruz Sentinel. You can find out more about this program here and watch a promotional video here. We’ve also added an ADU Resource page with links to websites, webinars, articles and other materials.

Food production, access & security

Sustainable Urban Food Initiative (SUFI) supports urban agriculture and community farming, both of which are increasingly recognized as sustainable long-term alternative to the large-scale, corporate enterprises that provide most of the nation’s food.  Research has found that small-scale projects produce more and healthier food per acre, use resources more efficiently, and educate community members more effectively.  SUFI assists farmers and gardeners in their efforts to increase productivity through strategic application of a promising modular and scalable approach to high-performance community food production through hydroponics and real-time predictive irrigation sensors and controls, to provide comprehensive, ongoing documentation. You can learn more about SUFI here. You can read a proposal prepared by SSRF and Common Roots Farm and submitted to the United States Department of Agriculture here. Visit the SUFI Resources page to learn more about urban and peri-urban farms and gardens.

Energy & the Future of Electricity

End Poverty in California with Solar (EPICS) is designed to provide, by 2060, every individual in California with 10 kilowatts of installed solar photovoltaic panels and a monthly basic income, from birth to death and regardless of wealth and income, through the sale of the generated electricity. This is to be achieved by, first, giving every Californian with a share in the California Solar Energy Commons, linked to the total solar energy falling on the state; second, by assigning a 10kW solar photovoltaic array to every individual resident, from which sale of electricity will provide a basic income of $1,000 per month. You can learn more about EPICS here. The Universal Basic Income resources page offers more information about concept and practice.

The Santa Cruz Westside Microblock Project (SWIM): SSRF is beginning the design of a microgrid on the West side of Santa Cruz, incorporating several older buildings (see map below). A key benefit of renewable microgrids connected through a large distribution network is that they can disconnect from the grid, if necessary, continuing to deliver safe, reliable power and avoiding arbitrary blackouts of millions of people. The well-being of tens of millions of people will no longer be in the hands of a distant, profit-oriented utility but, rather, local decision-makers committed to their communities. ” SSRF Policy Brief 20-#1, “Designing the Santa Cruz Westside Microblock: A Strategy and Call for Renewable Community Energy Systems,” can be found here. You can find out more about microgrids on our microgrid resource page.

SWIM Schematic and Phases

What will come after PG&E? Sixty-six million years ago, an 8-mile wide asteroid slammed into the Gulf of Mexico, near Chicxulub in the Yucatan. That impact abruptly ended the 180 million year-long Age of Reptiles, forever eliminating dinosaurs from the Earth. Today, large electric utilities are the dinosaurs, and an asteroid is coming. Extinction is driven by instability and obsolescence.

First, as the cascading impacts of climate change grow, adverse weather events, combined with decades of fire suppression policies. will increase the frequency of deadly conflagrations. With utility insistence on increasing shareholder dividends rather than maintaining a safe power system, those risks can only grow. Moreover, given the size and scale of PG&E’s service territory and the complexity of its distribution network, even intentional cutoffs will not prevent failures in vulnerable parts of its system.

Rather than trying to save a broken system, there is a solution that will cost less, be more reliable, and do more to reduce carbon emissions: community­ based, renewable energy microgrids. These are generation and distribution systems that serve localities but can also connect with other microgrids to provide power across the state. As the cost of renewable electricity, especially from solar photovoltaics, rapidly declines, we no longer need to rely on large, far away, mostly carbon-powered generating plants. In place of a monolithic, top-down utility linked microgrids offer a bottom-up solution that is far more stable, resilient, and compatible with widespread development of renewable energy resources.

Sustainability Education

Sustainability Studies: Ronnie Lipschutz was the creator of the Sustainability Studies minor at UC Santa Cruz’s Rachel Carson College. He was one of the original designers of an introductory course in “Sustainable Engineering and Practice” and with Kevin Bell and others developed a two quarter advanced sequence of classes on sustainability analysis and project design. SSRF staff are available to consult with interested educators, parents and students in designing a sustainability studies curriculum tailored to specific needs, working with teachers and faculty and offering lectures in classes. Please visit this page or contact us for more information

Sustainability Project Design & Proposal Writing: SSRF offers workshops targeted to students and members of the public interested in launching green projects and social enterprises.  These events help participants to conceptualize a project and its goals and objectives; identify a constituency; assess project feasibility;  develop a business plan and project management infrastructure; develop funding and logistical project support; and implement project performance metrics.  SSRF staff are available to offer classes, workshops and consultation to assist in designing sustainability projects and finding funding to support them. More information is available here.

The Green Economy is Coming!

Green Incubator: SSRF makes workspace spaces available to local students and community members seeking advice and support in creating and launching green projects and enterprises. Through contacts and collaborations with other agencies, businesses and organizations, the Green Incubator provides intellectual, technical and development assistance and contacts to foster a successful launch. You can find out more about the Green Incubator here.

Other activities

Solar Equipment Program: The City of Santa Cruz has generously donated hundreds of solar panels and dozens of inverters to SSRF. These panels previously powered the Santa Cruz Street Maintenance building. The city has decided to replace them with newer, more efficient models, but this equipment is still in great working condition. In partnership with local solar installers, we are offering this equipment to community members. All are welcome to apply, but we are currently prioritizing those who wish to use the equipment for charitable, educational, social business, or research purposes.

Consulting: SSRF also offers below-market consulting services on a number of topics and issues. If you are interested in commissioning such work, please contact us (see below).


If you would like to schedule a project design and proposal writing session, visit our office, or inquire about solar and hydroponic equipment, please contact us at sustainablesystemsresearch@gmail.com or call 831-708-5836.