Center for Sustainable Systems celebrates 30th Anniversary
Accelerating energy transitions and climate solutions
SEAS is proud to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Center for Sustainable Systems (CSS) and honors the Center’s ground-breaking research across the spectrum of global sustainability challenges. By pioneering new methods in life cycle analysis, design, and optimization, CSS researchers have made real impacts on the future of alternative vehicle technology, renewable energy systems, buildings and infrastructure, information technology, food and agricultural systems, and packaging alternatives.
In recognition of their three-decade milestone, CSS created 30 Years of Impact. The new site documents the breadth of CSS achievements—and features a timeline that highlights the key moments in the Center’s history.
Those less familiar with the work CSS researchers have accomplished will learn a great deal on the site about the many “firsts” that emerged at the Center—including the coining of the term “sustainable systems” in 1997. Of significant note, CSS researchers produced the first comprehensive life cycle assessments of an automobile, house, photovoltaic, willow biomass energy, wireless charging, and an autonomous vehicle. Examples of other pioneering work include: embodied emissions in trade; circular economy analysis such as plastic waste, diapers, peecycling, packaging, automobiles, green infrastructure tools such as GIS Spatial Planning (GISP) model; green principles of vehicle lightweighting mobile/stationary; energy storage; energy justice models and policy for energy efficiency, clean energy access and equity such as E3B interactive map; and Great Lakes water level variability and impact of climate change models.
In addition to the nearly 300 research projects it has led, CSS contributes to interdisciplinary education at undergraduate, graduate, and professional levels at the University of Michigan through curriculum development, internships, and research opportunities. Established in 2006, the Sustainable Systems specialization at SEAS has been one of the top choices for students, as has Engineering Sustainable Systems, a dual MS/MSE degree established the following year. Alumni from both of these programs have gone on to make a real difference in the sustainable fields throughout their careers.
Professor Greg Keoleian is the director and co-founder of CSS.
“Jonathan Bulkley and I launched the Center in 1991 through a three-year competitive grant from the U.S. EPA,” said Keoleian. “Through endowment support, particularly from the Wege Foundation, we have become a permanent and leading sustainability Center at U-M. We are especially proud of the many achievements of our students, staff and faculty and the impact they’ve had at Michigan and throughout their careers as professors, industry and national lab researchers, and with start-ups, Fortune 500 companies, consulting firms, NGOs, and government agencies. With eight amazing core faculty (professors Jose Alfaro, Michael Craig, Drew Gronewold, Shelie Miller, Josh Newell, Tony Reames, Parth Vaishnav, and Ming Xu), our dedicated core staff (Mary Braun, Helaine Hunscher, Geoffrey Lewis, and Max Woody), along with SEAS support staff and our many talented students, postdocs, and lecturers, the future is very bright at CSS!”
The 30 Years of Impact site also highlights the “Enduring Creations” of CSS, including the Peter M. Wege Sustainability Lecture Series which features internationally recognized sustainability leaders at its annual premiere event. Also widely respected as an enduring legacy is Sustainability Without Borders, the student organization that has worked with international communities, governments, and aid organizations in successfully developing and implementing projects to address resource scarcity in areas of water, energy, food and waste.
Today, CSS continues to evolve with new ways to share knowledge across populations and age groups. Just recently, CSS developed curated collections of K-12 teaching resources in 15 subject areas. These new online educational resources include approximately 200 videos, podcasts, games and activities. Explore them at Sustainability Resources for Teachers.
CSS program coordinator Helaine Hunscher explained that the new teaching resources complement the Center’s “Factsheets,” initially developed in 2001. The Factsheets—compilations of valuable information designed to inform policymakers, business professionals, students and teachers—are peer-reviewed and updated annually, and cover topics such as energy, water, food, waste, buildings, materials, and transportation systems. Each factsheet presents important patterns of use, life cycle impacts and sustainable solutions. Hunscher invites you to explore the 2021 edition—that contains more than 2,226 facts and 135 graphics compiled from 995 sources.
“When Helaine joined CSS 20 years ago, we started with three factsheets on personal transportation, residential buildings and food systems,” said Keoleian. “The collection has grown since to 29, covering topics from carbon footprints and environmental justice to wind energy, autonomous vehicles and energy storage. With over half a million virtual visits a year, CSS Factsheets have become a key resource serving a broad audience worldwide from industry and government analysts to teachers, reporters and others searching for specific sustainability information and data.”
To learn more about the research, leadership and legacy of CSS, please visit 30 Years of Impact.
For additional reading about CSS ongoing work and insights in the field of transportation, visit the recent story “Driving the Future of Sustainable Mobility,” published in the Fall 2021 issue of Stewards, the magazine for SEAS alumni and friends.