Sustainability Studies & Green Education at SSRF

Among the most critical societal challenges of the next 50 years are the rapidly-growing and linked ecological and social crises arising from stresses on supplies of energy, water and food.  These crises are not simply about the adequacy of supply relative to demand, however; they are also the result of the complex social relations within and among societies, in the past, present and future. Dealing with such wicked socio-ecological problems therefore requires robust interdisciplinary collaborations among engineers, social scientists and natural scientists. In today’s rapidly-changing economy, it is important to be flexible and adaptable, able to learn new knowledge and skills rapidly, and cognizant of the complex organization of society and technology. 

The pedagogical underpinnings of our program are premised on relationships between classroom learning, service learning, and research and application. Broad interdisciplinarity and individual facility in both STEM and social sciences are critical. Our pedagogy is structured to (i) facilitate interdisciplinary academic and research collaborations among the many stakeholders faced with particular issues; (ii) teaching and training learners in the ecology and sustainability of design and application in the built and natural environments, and (iii) bringing to learners a sensibility of the relationships among the human and natural world.

Here are our learning objectives:

a) Learners will understand the causes, features, data, complexities, policies and practices giving rise to and needed to address the contemporary global socioecological crisis; the role of production, consumption, politics, policies, markets and behavior in this crisis; and options and alternatives for moving toward and achieving sustainability.

b) Learners will learn basic applied STEM skills needed for dealing with real-world applications including assessments, measurements, technologies, behavior and other factors related to objective a.

c) Learners will become cognizant of appropriate social science knowledge and methods needed to design and implement social enterprise and service learning projects in sustainability and ecological design and practice.

d) Learners will design and conduct interdisciplinary research projects in issues and topics that are related to sustainability, including energy, food, water, the built environment, life-cycle analysis, waste disposal and recycling.

Educational Resources for a Green Economy

Sustainability Studies: Ronnie Lipschutz and Kevin Bell were two creators of the Sustainability Studies minor at UC Santa Cruz’s Rachel Carson College. They later developed a two quarter advanced sequence of classes (Introduction to Sustainability Studies; Project Design and Proposal Writing) on sustainability analysis and project design.  We have also developed a suite of professionalization tutorials designed for interns and college students. These syllabi are open for use by anyone, with appropriate citations.

Sustainability Project Design & Proposal Writing:  One of the greatest challenges to launching a sustainability project is finding funding. Most new efforts begin with few or no resources, and it is especially difficult to devote the time required for a successful launch, especially if those involved do not have sources of income. New ideas are not always feasible or practical and they do not automatically succeed, however good they are. One of the most daunting challenges faced by startups is identifying the need and a target audience. The funding environment is a complicated and highly competitive one, and proposals need to be written to pique the interests and satisfy the demands of funders.

SSRF offers workshops and skills 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. 

The Green Incubator: For many decades, promises have been made of an impending Green Economy yet. even today, when the need for sustainability is greater than ever, many yearn for a return to “business-as-usual.” The “Green New Deal” stands as a model for how a sustainable economy might look, but the details need to be filled in. Whether or not the GND comes to pass, the need and demand for sustainability will only grow over the coming years. SSRF offers advice, assistance and workspace in our Wrigley Building office for students and community members who have an idea or project they would like to design, develop and launch. Staff are available to discuss the ins and outs of successful project design and to work collaboratively in seeking funding (unfortunately, SSRF cannot currently provide any seed funding to support new projects). 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. Please contact us for more information or if you would like to discuss a startup project.

 Advising and collaboration. 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.  SSRF staff are available to offer classes, workshops and consultation to assist in designing sustainability projects and finding funding to support them,  based on the staff’s many years of experience and success in launching projects and writing successful grants. We encourage projects with social well-being in mind, but can also teach and advise on new sustainability startups.

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).

For more information about our education and training work, please contact us at or call 831-708-5836.