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Research and Education


A central goal of Princeton's sustainability curriculum is to foster an interdisciplinary approach to problem-solving on pressing global issues. Princeton attempts to connect the undergraduate academic experience to the inner-workings of the campus and to ongoing sustainability research. One of the highest priorities for Aspire, the University's $1.75 billion five-year campaign, is to raise funds for teaching and research to address urgent environmental issues.

Figure 6: Number of ENV Certificate Students Represented by Home Discipline
Click to enlarge
The number of students who have received the environmental studies certificate and their majors from 2002 to 2009.

Goals & Progress

  1. Goal: Broaden interdisciplinary participation.

    • There has been more than a 150 percent increase in students receiving environmental studies certificates since 2002. They major primarily in social science and in science, but also increasingly concentrate in engineering and the humanities (see Figure 6).
    • Among a broad pool of environmental course offerings, more than 50 address sustainability by exploring some aspect of the intersection between the environment, economics and society (see Figure 7).
  2. Goal: Increase research opportunities on sustainability issues.

    • The energy company BP extended its commitment in 2008 to 2015 to a joint research partnership with Princeton that identifies ways of tackling the world's climate problem; the grant reflects the success of the Carbon Mitigation Initiative, which has had a significant impact on the climate change/energy future debate.
    • Princeton scientists devised the "Princeton Plan," a new way of dividing responsibility for carbon emissions among countries; the story released in July 2009 ran in more than 30 major media outlets in one week; the plan is being actively considered for use at the December 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.
    • Beginning in 2009, Princeton received stimulus funding for sustainability-related research, such as a $3 million grant from the Air Force to study how fuel additives can help make diesel engines cleaner and more efficient.
    • More than 40 internships specifically related to sustainability were funded by the Princeton Environmental Institute and other programs in summer 2009; 10 focused on the campus environment and another four focused on central New Jersey.
    • Supported by the High Meadows Sustainability Fund, a number of faculty and students are investigating sustainability solutions using the campus as a laboratory. Topics range from campus outdoor lighting efficiency and Carnegie Lake water quality to the performance of green roofs versus conventional roofs.
  3. Goal: Instill awareness in students regarding their responsibilities as global citizens.

    • Of the 40-plus summer internships supported by various programs in summer 2009, 14 focused on international sustainability problems, such as water availability in Ethiopia and sustainable development in India.
    • Through a gift from Currie and Thomas A. Barron, a 1974 alumnus, the Princeton Environmental Institute has established the T.A. Barron Prize for Environmental Leadership. It is awarded annually to a graduating senior who has distinguished himself or herself by showing exceptional dedication to environmental concerns, not only in formal classes and independent academic work, but also by leading and encouraging other activities among fellow students and in the community at large.
    • Sponsored lectures and conferences bring noted sustainability experts to campus each year; 2009 events included the Ethics and Climate Change Lecture Series, the Bert G. Kerstetter '66 Ethics and the Environment Lecture Series, the Taplin Environmental Lecture Series, the Oil, Energy and the Middle East Series, and a speech by Lisa Jackson, Environmental Protection Agency administrator and Princeton graduate alumna.

What's Next

  • Expand opportunities in sustainability research through federal grants, stimulus funding, High Meadows Foundation support and other sources of funding.
  • Continue to offer public conferences and events to build awareness.
  • Work with faculty to identify learning outcomes in sustainability courses.
  • Investigate metrics to track the broad influence of Princeton faculty research on societal-scale sustainability progress.
Jackson at Princeton

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson called for a change in course in the American environmental movement in an address at Princeton. Jackson, a Princeton graduate alumna, was among several noted experts in the fields of sustainability and the environment who spoke on campus last year.


Figure 7: Distribution of Sustainability Courses

Engineering: 18%, Humanities: 18%, Social Sciences: 19%, Science: 45%
At Princeton, there are more than 50 courses, among four academic areas, with significant sustainability components. This graph represents the relative distribution of those courses among academic disciplines.

Weisman in Ethiopia

Ben Weisman, a member of the class of 2011 who is majoring in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, spent the summer of 2009 completing an internship with the International Water Management Institute in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Weisman, who learned about water management, also is pursuing certificates in African studies and environmental studies.