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Michael R. Wasielewski

Collaborating Across Disciplines for a Sustainable Future

We are living in a moment when our actions to live and work more sustainably will have a lasting impact.”

This April marks the 52nd anniversary of Earth Month — a time when the warmer weather draws us outdoors to enjoy the changing season. It is also an ideal time to consider the role each of us plays in the future of our planet. At Northwestern, we are working together to build a more sustainable future through climate and energy transition and the development of resilient communities.

The Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern (ISEN) is the University’s hub for research, education and engagement in these areas.

As the executive director of ISEN, I know we cannot eliminate all the impacts from ongoing climate change. However, we are living in a moment when our actions to live and work more sustainably will have a lasting impact. Indeed, this is a window of time of both significant challenge and significant opportunity, and Northwestern has a responsibility to model positive change on our campuses while helping pave the way for vital advancements at home and around the world.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — the international body that assesses science related to climate change — prompt actions that limit global warming to close to 1.5°C will reduce damage to human and natural communities. This is an area where we can and must make a difference, as researchers, students, alumni and community members.

Since ISEN’s founding in 2008, we have made great progress in our mission to advance global sustainability and energy solutions through transformational research, interdisciplinary education and public engagement. ISEN has been host to discovery science and academic exchanges that have influenced global advancements in fields essential to a sustainable future, such as renewable energy and sustainable infrastructure. We are dedicated to building on our past successes and finding new ways to collaborate, locally and globally, to build a more resilient and equitable future for all.

Northwestern research across disciplines has also propelled sustainable innovation, such as climate models that help policymakers grapple with complex decisions, as well as sustainable materials with applications for carbon capture, catalysis and quantum energy. For example:

  • Research funded in part by ISEN’s Ubben Program on Climate Change and led by Assistant Professor Daniel E. Horton is helping the world better understand the relationship between air quality and pollution as it relates to combustion-engine or electric vehicles. This research was cited in the April release of the IPCC Sixth Assessment report. Horton’s team has also studied the connections between the environment and human health. Horton is a member of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences.
  • Collaborative research toward the development of new sustainable polymers, recycling methods and environmental impact assessment tools is being led by ISEN’s Program on Plastics, Ecosystems, and Public Health (PEPH) researcher Linda Broadbelt, who is the Sarah Rebecca Roland Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering as well as associate dean for graduate education and research at the McCormick School of Engineering.

Year-round, we celebrate the continuing contributions of Northwestern alumni serving in sustainability and leadership roles across the world.

We also prepare for the future by offering current students unprecedented opportunity to study a range of subjects relating to sustainability. Undergraduates can earn a certificate in sustainability and energy, while graduate students can pursue our Master of Science in Energy and Sustainability (MSES). These emerging leaders are making a quick impact in their careers from sustainable finance to energy management.

Student start-ups, bolstered by funding from the Resnick Family Social Impact Program at ISEN, have gone on to launch successful entrepreneurship and social impact initiatives, addressing some of the most critical issues in climate and community resilience.

At Northwestern, we are building on our renowned history of achievement to set the stage for future success, despite the mounting challenge of climate change. We welcome partnerships that will amplify our work, such as our longstanding collaborations with The Nature Conservancy and World Wildlife Fund. As a founding member of the U7+ Alliance, Northwestern has broadly pledged to protect our planet, taking extra care to live our values by greening our campus and campus operations.

I invite you to visit ISEN’s interactive 2021-2025 Strategic Plan. There you can learn how to support our work — whether as a student, faculty member, alum or community partner. In the strategic plan, ISEN articulates a vision and commitment to accelerating the speed, broadening the scale and deepening the impact of solutions worldwide.

We’re excited for all that we will accomplish together in the near future. We invite you to join your fellow Wildcats, united in purpose for the benefit of all.