Sustainability Praxis in the Built and Natural Environment: 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.

Our curriculum learning objectives are:

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.

You can find a sample course curriculum here.


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 instruction and consulting in project design and proposal writing, 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. You can find a curriculum sample here.

The Green Incubator: For many decades, promises of an impending Green Economy have been made, yet even in 2020, when the need for economic 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). Please contact us for more information or if you would like to discuss a startup project.

Please contact us if you are interested in creating, launching and/or teaching about sustainability.