Sustainability Research Institute

The university’s broad sustainability research portfolio centers around the Sustainability Research Institute, a lively hub of scholars and practitioners that produces new knowledge about the environment, economy, and equity to enable policies and practices that help societies thrive while ensuring that future generations will have similar opportunities and resources. The Sustainability Research Institute will collaborate with schools, departments, and institutes across GW's campus to address a wide range of issues related to sustainability. Because sustainability is a complex topic, finding solutions requires bringing a wide range of knowledge to bear. The Institute will facilitate these kinds of collaborations, making it possible for existing entities to develop their own projects while working on big picture sustainability issues as well. 

The institute integrates numerous academic disciplines and leverages partnerships across academia, industry, government, and the nonprofit sector to deliver solutions for the most urgent community-defined challenges.

The institute addresses complex social problems related to sustainability through natural science, technological solutions, social science, policy, and communication. Longstanding strengths in research on climate change, energy transitions, urban futures, communications, mobility, and the Arctic form a solid foundation for future growth and discovery. The institute builds on and amplifies the work of campus initiatives like the Global Food Institute, the Climate Health Institute, and Planet Forward.

The institute also increases the university’s capacity to develop innovative research programs and projects, to seek large multidisciplinary grants, to convene leading players in sustainability, and to integrate research, teaching, applied solutions, communications, and outreach.

Student Research

At GW, we are deeply dedicated to championing student research within our campus community. Our commitment extends to actively engaging students in all facets of the research journey – from crafting grant proposals to secure external funding, to hands-on fieldwork, and the meticulous preparation of manuscripts destined for publication in esteemed peer-reviewed journals. We believe in empowering our students to not only contribute to, but also thrive in every stage of the research process.

Arctic Research Field Work

The Sustainability Research Institute is a hub for numerous projects devoted to improving our understanding of natural and social processes taking place in the Arctic region. During the summer of 2023, GW faculty, students, and colleagues from partner universities traveled to Yellowknife, Canada to conduct research on urban sustainability. During the trip, they met with artist Beili Liu (pictured below) who trained them in using cyanotype as a way of capturing impressions of the city. 

students meet with artist Beili Liu in a classroom


Undergraduate Sustainability Research Fellows Program

The Undergraduate Sustainability Fellows are a cohort of undergraduate students from diverse academic disciplines who engage in a year-long learning, research, and action program that seeks to make measurable progress in addressing a sustainability issue on campus. The Fellows work with Robert Orttung and the Office of Sustainability to identify topics that they want to address over the course of the year. The Fellows work in teams and have the support of faculty and staff to design and implement solutions. The GW Sustainability Research Institute provides financing to support student research efforts and carry out the solutions as needed.

During the 2022-23 Academic year, Sustainability Fellows worked to increase the level of composting on campus and to improve green space on campus. Storymaps describing their experiences are here: 

During the 2023-4 academic year, Fellows are working on projects that develop the Sustainability Minor, improve energy efficiency, increase recycling, and reduce plastic waste on campus.