Health of the Planet

MIT pioneered environmentally responsible approaches to monitor and preserve the health of the planet with the launch of our Environmental Solutions Initiative. Uniting faculty and students from all MIT schools, the Institute created a framework to support our faculty and students as they pursue transformative, cross-disciplinary research addressing environmental challenges.

At MIT’s School of Management, our definition of sustainability is a comprehensive one, extending beyond strictly environmental concerns to consider the important societal and economic issues faced by our global community. This multifaceted approach both springs from and benefits from the School’s deep and rigorous research in system dynamics, applied economics, and organizational design. Faculty members from these disciplines frequently work closely together on sustainability projects, pursuing solutions that are grounded in research, driven by science, and meaningful to the health of the planet.

Sustainability Initiative

Imagine a world where farms and factories are run with zero waste—no waste in energy, no waste in material, no waste in human vitality. A world where our purchases and policies reward those type of businesses that create a better world. A world where the measure of good businesses is the number of good jobs they create and the lasting impact on the environment and communities. A world where the technologies and business models that create a better world get the capital they need to test, deploy, and scale. This is the vision of the future of the Sustainability Initiative. Led by Executive Director Jason Jay and Co-Directors John Sterman and Roberto Rigobon, the Initiative’s ultimate mission is to deliver the best education, apply academic rigor to real-world problems, and empower leaders everywhere to take action, professionally and personally, so that humans and nature can thrive for generations to come.

For decades, MIT and MIT Sloan have been leading the way in the field of sustainability, fostering productive debate and disruptive innovation through systems modeling, entrepreneurship, and cross-sector collaboration. The formation of the MIT Sloan Sustainability Initiative was driven by faculty and researchers seeking to connect these ideas in a holistic approach. We engage and educate our community in new and meaningful ways through degree coursework, executive education, and innovative projects. We operate within a rich ecosystem comprising students, faculty, industry, government, NGOs, and hybrid organizations. These relationships allow us to broaden the scope of our impact, create market opportunities, and make meaningful progress towards creating a just and sustainable world.

Through rigorous research and novel approaches to existing data, the MIT Sloan Sustainability Initiative can share knowledge and tools to make the invisible visible, expand people’s mental models, support change in policy and decision-making on critical issues, and help real organizations to advance innovations for sustainability.

Climate CoLab

Wikipedia, Linux, FoldIt, and reCaptcha—new online technologies have made it possible for millions of people around the world to effectively work together toward a common goal. Could this same approach be used to help solve the world’s most difficult societal problems—even problems as complex as climate change?

To answer this question, MIT Sloan faculty member Thomas Malone, director of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence, founded the Climate CoLab, an online platform where a growing community of experts and non-experts collaborates on developing and evaluating proposals for what to do about global climate change.

How can we mobilize individuals to shift behaviors in order to address climate change? How can we significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector? What can be done to prepare for and adapt to the impacts of climate change? These are a few of the dozens of contests run on the platform each year, and all are invited to submit, comment on, and vote for the most promising submissions. Contest winners have included university professors, economists, entrepreneurs, nonprofit founders, policymakers, even a high school student, from over 20 countries.

Now Climate CoLab seeks to help countries achieve their climate goals with the help of their community of more than 100,000 members.

MIT Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research (CEEPR)

Since 1977, Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research (CEEPR) has been a hub for research on energy and environmental policy at MIT. Jointly sponsored by MIT Sloan, the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI), and the Department of Economics, the Center promotes rigorous, objective research for improved decision-making in government and the private sector. The Center ensures the relevance of its work through close cooperation with industry partners from around the globe. Christopher Knittel, CEEPR’s faculty director, is a professor of energy economics at MIT Sloan. He and his colleagues, among them faculty members Valerie Karplus, John Parsons, Georgia Perakis and others, are asking important questions about energy supply, energy demand, and related environmental impacts.

CEEPR is harnessing this critical research to provide much-needed insight and guidance on a wide range of policy issues related to energy and the environment. The Center has contributed original and balanced insights to the global energy discussion, leaving a distinct mark on energy and environmental policies both domestically and abroad.

Like much of the environmental and sustainability-oriented work at MIT Sloan, CEEPR is holistic in its approach, promoting research that ranges from energy economics and finance to climate change and human welfare.

MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change

What are the effects of emission policy change on agriculture? How does a mitigation measure implemented in one country affect air quality in another country? MIT’s Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change has developed an Integrated Global System Model that provides a quantitative analysis of global environmental changes. The research of the Joint Program is based on collaboration between natural and social scientists through an integrative process that takes into account groundbreaking science. The Joint Program is MIT’s response to the research, analysis, and communication challenges of global environmental change.

Co-directed by Ronald Prinn, TEPCO Professor of Atmospheric Science, and John Reilly, Senior Lecturer at MIT Sloan, the work of the Joint Program requires a broad view and deep knowledge of Earth and human systems. The Joint Program engages scientists from all of MIT’s schools—Management, Engineering, Science, Humanities, and Urban Studies—to work side-by-side and offer their research strengths to the goal of providing analytical evaluations that are grounded in the same modeling framework, providing a broad picture of global change. This research and analysis will aid decision-makers as they confront the interconnected challenges of global change that will affect the future of our food, water, climate, and air pollution. Through extensive outreach measures, the Joint Program is providing decision-makers with unbiased assessments of the risks and impacts of global change while creating a community of researchers with the skills to tackle new challenges yet to be seen.