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Sustainability Research

Princeton defines sustainability research as scholarship that seeks to investigate and understand the environmental, economic, social, and cultural impacts of natural resource use, and to develop practices that conserve these resources when pursued over generations.

Princeton faculty are leading the way in the development of solutions to global environmental issues that confront humanity including the accumulation of fossil fuels in the atmosphere, the depletion of natural resources and ecosystems services, the loss of biodiversity, and the spread of infectious disease.

Research projects in laboratories and at field sites on campus and around the globe are advancing knowledge pertaining to the causes and consequences of environmental degradation while contributing to sustainable solutions for global, regional, and local implementation.

Research Centers

PEI’s research enterprise includes several major research centers including the Carbon Mitigation Initiative, PEI’s Energy Systems Analysis Group, the Cooperative Institute for Climate Science, and the Center for Biocomplexity.

Through the Grand Challenges Program – an integrated research and teaching program - faculty and students investigate the central themes of sustainability by tackling some of the world's most pressing environmental issues in the areas of climate and energy, sustainable development, and global health and infectious disease.

Research and Campus Sustainability

PEI faculty, researchers, and students are active in projects leading to sustainability improvements on the Princeton campus and work collaboratively with the Office of Sustainability, the University Architect, Dining Services, Facilities, and other departments to introduce innovations that conserve energy, reduce waste, and embrace sustainability. Sustainability research takes shape through faculty research, coursework, and independent work with implications for improving Princeton’s environmental footprint. 

  • An Environmental Audit of the Princeton campus conducted in 2000 by students in the Program in Environmental Studies established important benchmarks for campus environmental health.
  • Undergraduate students participating in Environmental Studies seminar course Towards an Ethical CO2 Emissions Trajectory for Princeton conducted individual research projects to quantify dimensions of the University’s carbon footprint.
  • Students enrolled in introductory laboratory courses for the Program in Environmental Studies regularly contribute to multi-year benchmarking studies that monitor water quality in Carnegies Lake and the Washington Rd. Stream corridor.
  • PEI faculty and students actively monitor readings from instrumentation installed on the Butler College green roofs to measure storm water runoff and heat flux with implications for future campus planning and building design.
  • PEI sponsored interns, working with dining services, are helping to establish and quantify purchasing metrics for sustainable food purchases.

High Meadows Sustainability Fund

Several PEI faculty have received support from the High Meadows Sustainability Fund for sustainability projects with benefit to the Princeton community.

Eileen Zerba, Director of PEI’s Undergraduate Lab Program, is completing water depth and chemical and biological profiles on Lake Carnegie. Data gathered as part of this study will be compiled into a computer database and will inform analysis of levels of pollutants in this most prominent body of water and landscape feature. Dr. Zerba is also conducting a study that seeks to determine the impact of water runoff from campus on the water quality in Carnegie Lake. This study of campus land use and sustainable practices on the regional watershed involves an in-depth comparative study of the renovated Butler College complex including both green roofs and conventional roofs

Denise Mauzerall is examining the influence of present and potential future emissions of air pollutants on global air quality, human health and climate change. Her project also explores possible policy mechanisms for mitigating harmful emissions.

Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Elie Bou-Zeid has deployed a wireless environmental sensor network over the Princeton campus and is developing a new generation of trace gas sensors. The devices provide information about environmental conditions over the monitored area, including building energy use, water flux, and surface flux of carbon dioxide.