Institute Mission

Sustainability Science

By structure, method, and content, sustainability science differs from most sciences as we know them. Approaches to developing and testing hypotheses are inadequate because of nonlinearity, complexity, and long time lags between action and consequences. Additional complications arise from the recognition that humans cannot stand outside the nature-society system. The common sequential analytical phases of scientific inquiry such as conceptualizing the problem, collecting data, developing theories, and applying the results will become parallel functions of social learning, which incorporates the elements of action, adaptive management, and policy as experiment. Sustainability science will therefore need to employ new methodologies that generate the semi-quantitative models of qualitative data, build upon lessons of case studies, and extract inverse approaches that work backwards from undesirable consequences to identify pathways that can avoid such outcomes. Scientists and practitioners will need to work together with the public at large to produce trustworthy knowledge and judgment that is scientifically sound and rooted in social understanding.

-Friibergh 2000


Using sustainability science to better understand multiple interactive stresses on the coupled human-natural environment. The urban environment of the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area presents MSU with unique opportunities to grow the sustainability science agenda.


Integrating individual disciplinary education and training opportunities into new transdisciplinary curricula that includes the consideration of humans in the landscape and the interactions between humans and their environment, the interactions that mold the ecosystems we live in.


Serving as a platform and forum to air sustainability issues addressing current and future conflicts facing the region’s economic and ecosystem health.

Serving as a valuable resource for local stakeholders, coastal managers, municipalities, state resource agencies, legislators, businesses, and the public.

Promoting social learning, recognizing that the transition to sustainability will be vested in the slow, interactive accumulation of scientific knowledge, technical capacity, management institutions, and public concern over extended periods (generations); societies must understand the long-term, large-scale trends and transitions that have shaped past and present interactions of environment and development. Choosing among alternative scenarios will require new and/or enhanced skills in conflict resolution and consensus building.

Technology Transfer

Facilitate technology transfer from new findings to practical uses. Basically, can new products and processes that result in less environmental harm be designed by the technological system? Clearly, the concept is expressed in today’s “green wave” of new: products, infrastructure, energy use, training of a workforce and day-to-day sustainable living.