Sustainable Systems

Depletion of fossil fuels. Global warming. Water scarcity. Loss of biodiversity. Modern environmental challenges like these impact both developed and developing nations, and they are compounded by increasing consumption pressures and a growing global population. The world needs innovative leaders who can help solve these complex problems and address basic human needs such as mobility, shelter, water, food, and communication, in a more sustainable manner.

SEAS Sustainable Systems graduates are equipped to become these leaders through an interdisciplinary curriculum that focuses on systems thinking, as well as a sound understanding of ecological principles, the capabilities of technology, and the mechanisms that reshape economic and social progress. The curriculum draws on courses from SEAS and across the University of Michigan, many of which are cross-listed with the Stephen M. Ross School of Business and the College of Engineering for a truly collaborative educational experience. The Sustainable Systems program is led by a diverse team of faculty with expertise ranging from urban infrastructure ecology to renewable electricity and corporate environmental strategy. Much of our research is done in tandem with the Center for Sustainable Systems and the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise.

Many Sustainable Systems students enroll in dual degree programs with units across campus including the Ross School of Business, the College of Engineering (Engineering Sustainable Systems), Urban Planning, the Ford School of Public Policy, and the Law School. Sustainable Systems students participate in diverse activities outside the classroom ranging from the Ross Energy Club and Auto Club to Sustainability Without Borders. Each year new Sustainable Systems students develop and update the Sustainability Factsheet collection which includes over 1600 facts on a wide range of topics from wind turbines and autonomous vehicles to the US food system, water treatment, and residential buildings. Check them out!

“The best thing about the Sustainable Systems track is the flexibility to study the specific system you are most passionate about changing. For me, that is the energy sector. At SEAS, I am taking classes in multiple disciplines across campus, giving me a well-rounded understanding on technical, financial, and policy levels.”

—Shreyas Vangala, Sustainable Systems student track leader


You will gain expertise in systems-analysis techniques with a wide range of applications, including renewable energy, water infrastructure, green construction, sustainable mobility, and food systems. In your coursework, you will examine sustainability by studying global and regional environmental impacts, materials and energy flows, social values and equity issues, consumption patterns, and key policy mechanisms.

You also will develop the critical skills of systems thinking and systems-dynamics modeling and apply them to the challenges of global environmental and social change. Lifecycle assessment, risk analysis, multi-objective analysis and optimization, environmental economics, energy analysis, design for environment, carbon-emissions modeling, and spatial analysis are among the analytical tools and skills taught.

Management training in environmental strategy, decision analysis, organizational change and conflict resolution, ethics, stakeholder engagement, and scenario analysis round out your skill set. For example, you will deepen your understanding of institutions that govern energy use and explore ways in which government and industry policy have succeeded - or failed - in order to transform energy systems and influence consumer choices, and ultimately to reduce carbon emissions. 

The curriculum is organized into three areas: systems analysis, sustainable design and technology, and sustainable decision-making and enterprise. These core areas provide the knowledge and tools for evaluating and transforming systems to enhance sustainability. The overall goal is to train future leaders with the expertise to create and implement sustainable solutions across the key systems for meeting societal needs: built environment, energy, food, mobility, and water.

Systems analysis
These courses cover analytical tools and methods for assessing and improving the sustainability of systems for meeting societal needs. Topics include the circular economy, life cycle assessment, environmental systems analysis, environmental economics, GIS, system thinking and multi-objective analysis.

Sustainable design and technology
These courses focus on technology assessment, design analysis and planning of systems (e.g., built environment, energy systems, mobility) for enhancing their sustainability performance. Topics include green development, energy systems analysis, renewable energy modeling, GHG emissions and carbon footprint analysis, market-based sustainable product design, and urban sustainability.

Sustainable decision-making and enterprise:
These courses focus on leadership skills and transformation processes used by private and public sector organizations to create and implement sustainable systems. Topics include decision analysis, the triple bottom line, sustainability strategies, organizational change and conflict resolution, market and policy analysis, financing, entrepreneurship, stakeholder engagement, and ethics.

Course Sampling

Examples of student projects


Sustainability Systems graduates pursue careers in the government, private, and nonprofit sectors, often obtaining leadership roles in engineering and product development, management consulting, and strategic and sustainability planning. They work toward systems improvements including transportation efficiency, green buildings, supply chain management, public utility analysis and regulation, and renewable energy. The following are select employers of Sustainable Systems graduates:

 Top Sustainable Systems employers

For more information on Sustainable Systems, contact