The Advancing Sustainable Systems through low-impact Energy Technologies (ASSET) Lab contributes to achieving a sustainable and equitable world through system-driven interdisciplinary research and education.

The Sustainable Future Hub supports sustainability decision-making on campus and beyond. How we view the present and envision the future informs solutions. In a time of rapid societal and environmental change, the ability to harness technology to analyze and interact with data and environments is critical to anticipating the most pressing sustainability problems. 

The FUEL Lab focuses on how natural resource reliance influences the well-being of human populations in developing countries. Rigorous research is conducted for the academic and policy communities in three thematic areas: environment and livelihoods; natural resource governance; and energy poverty. Members of the FUEL Lab combine research design and methods from applied economics, institutional analysis, environmental science, and policy analysis to address questions surrounding these three research themes.

The Blesh Soil and Agroecosystems Lab explores food system sustainability in both domestic and international contexts in order to understand how different agricultural production systems affect ecological and social outcomes. Their biophysical research focuses on soil nitrogen and carbon cycles and agroecosystem nutrient management, with particular attention to the role of legume nitrogen sources, cover crops, and perennials for improving ecosystem efficiency and sustainability. Their mixed-methods research seeks to identify leverage points for food system transformation toward sustainability, including understanding sociopolitical and economic factors at multiple scales that support transitions toward ecologically-based management.

Sustainability Themes

Sustainability Themes cut across all specializations—and give students, faculty, and partners a chance to dig deeper into a particular area of impact and interest. Themes are also used as rallying points for cross-campus research, teaching and civic engagement collaborations.

Research highlights

Understanding tropical biology is important for solving complex problems such as climate change, biodiversity loss, and zoonotic pandemics, but biology curricula view research mostly via a temperate-zone lens. Integrating tropical research into biology education is urgently needed to tackle these issues.

Do energy transitions co-evolve with urbanization? We examine energy access in rapidly urbanizing Yangon, Myanmar using a two-wave mixed-method observational study design involving households (N = 600) situated along a rural to urban gradient. Heterogeneity in urbanicity allows us to substitute space for time to understand energy transitions. We examine factors associated with access and reliability of grid infrastructure, and use of clean fuels. Qualitative interviews (N = 20) with urban households explore drivers and barriers of transitions to modern energy.

Electrification of delivery vehicles will play an important role in decarbonizing the transportation sector. As electricity-generating technologies vary regionally and temporally, where electric vehicles are deployed and when they are charged will determine the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and cost consequences of delivery vehicle electrification. We couple a vehicle charging model with a dataset that provides hourly projections of marginal electricity cost and marginal emissions factors across 134 electricity balancing areas in the United States.

Fisheries managers have increasingly adopted rights-based management (i.e., “catch shares” or “individual transferable quotas” [ITQs]) to address economic and biological management challenges under prior governance regimes. Despite their ability to resolve some of the symptoms of the tragedy of the commons and improve economic efficiency, catch shares remain controversial for their potentially disruptive social effects.

Environmental footprint analyses for China have gained sustained attention in the literature, which rely on quality EEIO databases based on benchmark input-output (IO) tables. The Chinese environmentally extended input-output (CEEIO) database series provide publically available EEIO databases for China for 1992, 1997, 2002, 2007, and 2012 with consistent and transparent data sources and database structure.

Increased e-commerce and demand for contactless delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic have fueled interest in robotic package delivery. This paper evaluates life cycle greenhouse gas emissions for automated suburban ground delivery systems consisting of a vehicle (last-mile) and a robot (final-50-feet). 

India relies on groundwater irrigation to produce staple grain crops that provide over half of the calories consumed by its over 1.3 billion people. While groundwater has helped India achieve grain self-sufficiency, aquifers have been overexploited across much of the country and its implications for crop production are unclear.

The United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a framework for national and international efforts to further economic development, end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure peace and prosperity for all people by 2030.

The extent of artificial night light and anthropogenic noise (i.e., “light” and “noise”) impacts is global and has the capacity to threaten species across diverse ecosystems. Existing research involving impacts of light or noise has primarily focused on noise or light alone and single species; however, these stimuli often co-occur and little is known about how co-exposure influences wildlife and if and why species may vary in their responses.

A hallmark of the Anthropocene is the global expansion of pollution stemming from electric lighting. This evolutionarily novel phenomenon has left few spaces on Earth where natural light cycles remain unaltered. Assessing the exposure of species to light pollution is critical for developing conservation plans that address this expanding sensory pollutant.

The human footprint index (HFI) is an extensively used tool for interpreting the accelerating pressure of humanity on Earth. Up to now, the process of creating the HFI has required significant data and modeling, and updated versions of the index often lag the present day by many years. Here we introduce a near-present, global-scale machine learning-based HFI (ml-HFI) which is capable of routine update using satellite imagery alone. We present the most up-to-date map of the HFI, and document changes in human pressure during the past 20 years (2000–2019).

Spatially explicit urban air quality information is important for developing effective air quality control measures. Traditionally, urban air quality is measured by networks of stationary monitors that are not universally available and sparsely sited. Mobile air quality monitoring using equipped vehicles is a promising alternative but has focused on vehicle-level experiments and lacks fleet-level demonstration.

Conservation of predators—especially large carnivores and those that potentially pose threats to humans—can be controversial among stakeholders who must coexist with them. What is often overlooked, however, are the direct and indirect ecosystem services and disservices predators provide as a result of consumption of herbivores ("predation services"). We used a theoretical predator-prey-economic model to examine when predators are likely to provide a net service to society, by comparing services/disservices to a predator-free counterfactual scenario.

Complexity and contingency frame much of current thinking in population and community ecology. The coffee pest, Leucoptera coffeella, is particularly problematical in Puerto Rico, but is usually held under control in Mexico. A variety of arboreal ants are effective predators in Mexico, but are limited in an indirect fashion by the common aggressive arboreal ant, Azteca sericeasur. In Puerto Rico this species does not occur, suggesting that the small arboreal ants might be more effective predators there than in Mexico.