Report Sheds Light on Successes, Challenges of Interdisciplinary Sustainability Institutes

June 7, 2017

In early 2017, E²SHI participated in a study conducted by the University of Michigan on the structure, activities, challenges and opportunities of sustainability institutes at 18 research-focused universities across the United States. The report, “Examining Interdisciplinary Sustainability Institutes at Major Research Universities: Innovation in Cross Campus and Cross Disciplinary Models,” outlines the findings from the study.

The report offers valuable insights on the successes and challenges of sustainability institutes, and can also be relevant for other institutes focused on other topical areas looking for innovations in cross-campus and cross-disciplinary models.

Five themes emerged from the study:

  1. The institutes can be provocative as some perceive them to be competing for resources, most notably money and students.
  2. The way to overcome such tensions is to complement and not “compete with academic departments” by adopting a service mindset.
  3. A key success factor is broad participation, engagement and relationship building across a wide array of stakeholders in the university.
  4. Be sure to communicate widely and often the value proposition you provide to the university and your constituencies.
  5. An important success factor is to “be configured to earn your way” by securing steady, reliable, diverse and long-term funding.

The study was supported by the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation. 


The study web page

Article about the study featured in Education Dive, "Interdisciplinary systems promote sustainability in higher ed."

We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.
— Chief Seattle