Mission & History


The Center for Sustainable Systems advances concepts of sustainability through interdisciplinary research and education. CSS collaborates with diverse stakeholders to develop and apply life cycle based models and sustainability metrics for systems that meet societal needs. CSS promotes tools and knowledge that support the design, evaluation, and improvement of complex systems.


The University of Michigan’s Center for Sustainable Systems at the School of Natural Resources and Environment will be a global leader in systems-based approaches to sustainability through creative and effective teaching and research.


Fundamental to the Center’s success in accomplishing its mission and realizing its vision are the values in which we believe and practice:

  • Applying systems analysis to establish metrics
  • Promoting change through education and communication
  • Restoring and enhancing ecosystem health, structure and function
  • Meeting basic needs with inter- and intra-generational equity
  • Valuing ecologically and socially sustainable systems in the marketplace
  • Using nature as a model
  • Using interdisciplinary, multi-objective approaches and multi-stakeholder participation


The Center for Sustainable Systems is an evolution of the National Pollution Prevention Center for Higher Education (NPPC), which was created in 1991 by a US EPA competitive grant between 28 colleges and universities. NPPC's primary mission was to collect, develop, and disseminate educational materials on pollution preventionClick here to watch the NPPC Overview video.

In 1997 the center's scope was broadened to focus on systems analysis and sustainability. The new name, Center for Sustainable Systems, reflected the shift in focus. Research became the primary activity, with education and outreach continuing as key goals.

Besides the growing library of research reports, journal articles and conference proceedings, our most popular publications are the Factsheets, that examine current trends of a particular system, such as Personal Transportation or Residential Buildings. Much of the research underpinning these resources is based on a methodology called Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) as a way of modeling the inputs and outputs (of materials, energy, desired product, and undesired pollution) of a system.

The Center continues to grow as it enters a third decade at the University of Michigan. More students are becoming involved through paid fellowships, Master's projects, internships, visiting scholars and volunteers.


Important Moments in CSS's History

2011 - Peter M. Wege Lecture on Sustainability becomes an endowed lectureship.

2011 - Jonathan Bulkley, co-director of CSS, retires after 43 years of teaching.

2010 - Four new SNRE faculty join CSS.

2008 - His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama gives 'Earth Day Reflections' talk to 8,000 in Crisler Arena.

2007 - Engineering Sustainable Systems (ESS) dual Master's degree program with the College of Engineering and SNRE is launched.

2006 - Michigan at a Climate Crossroads report presents the impacts of ten strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to the Michigan State Legislature and Office of the Governor.

2005 - SNRE Sustainable Systems Master's degree field of study opens for fall enrollment.

2005 - Alcoa Foundation Conservation and Sustainability Fellowship program supports six post-docs researching Enabling Technology for a Sustainable Energy Future.

2004 - Provost recognizes CSS as a permanent University Center.

2003 - CSS hosts the biennial meeting of the International Society for Industrial Ecology (ISIE).

2003 - National Science Foundation (NSF) awards CSS $1.7 million for study of sustainable concrete infrastructure (MUSES project).

2002 - A prototype University of Michigan sustainability report is released by the Center.

2001 - The first annual Peter M. Wege Lecture on Sustainability is inaugurated by CSS.

1999 - The graduate certificate Program in Industrial Ecology (PIE) is established under CSS guidance.

1999 - The Wege Foundation pledges $1.8 million in support of the CSS endowment.

1997 - The external advisory board approves transition from National Pollution Prevention Center (NPPC) to Center for Sustainable Systems (CSS).

1994 - The EPA awards $0.5 million to NPPC for the development and demonstration of the Life Cycle Design Methodology.

1992 - The NPPC external advisory board holds its first meeting.

1992 - NPPC releases its first of 16 compendia (topic based collections of bibliographies, syllabi and case studies) on pollution prevention.

1991 - An EPA grant establishes the National Pollution Prevention Center (NPPC) at the University of Michigan.