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Our first anniversary

In the year since its formation, the school has started addressing sustainability challenges and contributing to a future where humans and nature thrive in concert and perpetuity. Here, we look back on our inaugural year and some of the many milestones across our community, education, research, and impact.

One year ago, on Sept. 1, 2022, the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability officially launched as the university’s first new school in 75 years. Faculty, students, staff, and alumni contributed to the vision of the school, which draws on a deep understanding of Earth, climate, and society to create solutions at a global scale.

High school student Erica Domen collecting samples
A student collects samples of tunicates, fast-growing marine invertebrates, at the Monterey Harbor and Marina near the Hopkins Marine Station. (Image credit: Andrew Brodhead)

The school drew together nearly 140 faculty from across campus and forged joint appointments with each of Stanford’s other schools. It includes academic departments spanning all areas of scholarship needed to advance the long-term sustainability of the planet; institutes that bridge disciplines and bring multiple viewpoints to bear on urgent challenges; and a Sustainability Accelerator to drive scalable solutions through a worldwide network of partners. The school also incorporates the Hopkins Marine Station, an 11-acre research facility in Monterey Bay where students can experience a deep connection with the sea, and brings together the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, the Precourt Institute for Energy, and an upcoming Sustainable Societies Institute.

Here, we look back at how the school has started addressing sustainability challenges with community, education, research, and impact that contribute to its mission of creating a future where humans and nature thrive in concert and in perpetuity.

Community

A major focus in the school’s first year has involved fostering purpose and belonging among all those involved. To help guide that process, school Dean Arun Majumdar appointed faculty as senior associate deans to focus on community building efforts, including environmental justice and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

“We will be bringing a diversity of approaches and cultures together with the new school – and they are all essential to advancing scholarship and solutions,” Majumdar said. “Through the work of these thought partners, we hope to lay the foundation for a welcoming, supportive, sustainability community.”

This community-building effort kicked off with a Dean’s Lecture Series, which included an environmental justice roundtable with experts in energy, environmental health, and Native environmental policy. Those looking for a deeper dive into environmental justice topics participated in April’s Environmental Justice and Sustainability Conference organized by Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB) and the Doerr School of Sustainability. As part of the Stanford Initiative on Business and Environmental Sustainability, it was one of the ways the two schools are bridging their communities.

Physical bridges are also approaching reality with the announcement that Studio Gang has been selected to design the Stanford Sustainability Commons. Located on the west side of campus, the commons will welcome everyone at Stanford with an interest in sustainability, regardless of their academic focus. The new buildings will eventually replace the Mitchell Earth Sciences Building and also connect with the school’s other spaces: the Green Earth Sciences Building, the Yang and Yamazaki Environment and Energy Building (Y2E2), the Braun Building (GeoCorner), and the O’Donohue Family Stanford Educational Farm.

The Sustainability Promenade provides key connections within the Sustainability Commons and across the campus, including the O'Donohue Family Stanford Educational Farm, The Arboretum, and Lake Lagunita.

“Culture doesn’t just happen; you need to nurture it from multiple different directions,” said David Lenox, university architect and executive director of campus planning and design. “One of the things we talked about is creating a welcoming environment – guests feel invited and welcome by the use of natural materials and a relaxed, intuitive, and adaptable environment.” 

At the end of autumn quarter, a DEI Town Hall provided a chance to reflect on the school’s efforts over the past year, including Respectful Community Workshops, DEI liaisons, and awards to foster individuals’ commitments to the community. Two champions in DEI, Keoni Rodriguez and Bianca Patel, were recognized during a school-wide celebration on Mitchell Patio.

“When I was asked to be the dean, I went around meeting with each of the faculty members to understand what their work is, what their values are, what are the things that they would like to emphasize, and the issue of DEI came out really strongly,” Majumdar said at the DEI Town Hall. “I felt starting the school, given the interests of the faculty and the students, this should be one of the basic principles.”

Education

The school kicked off its first academic quarter by announcing new courses created from a campus-wide call for proposals to fill known gaps in sustainability education. More than a dozen new undergraduate and graduate courses rolled out from autumn 2022 through spring 2023, with three proving so popular they filled within 24 hours and required larger rooms.

“Every day, I wake up aware that we do not yet know what we need to know to make the world sustainable,” said William Barnett, a professor in the GSB and the Doerr School of Sustainability whose co-taught course was funded by the call for proposals. “My courses are designed not to deliver solutions that we already know, but to help students design the systems that discover those solutions.”

During spring quarter, Barnett taught the new undergraduate course Environmental Sustainability: Global Predicaments and Possible Solutions to nearly 150 frosh along with Chris Field, a professor of biology and of Earth system science and director of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. The course is part of Civic, Liberal, and Global Education (COLLEGE) – Stanford’s undergraduate requirement designed to deepen students’ critical and ethical understanding about society and the world. 

The school also joined with the Graduate School of Business to launch a new Stanford Ecopreneurship program, which enables students to build public, private, and nonprofit-sector organizations that can take sustainability solutions to scale.

“I see many technologies developed in faculty labs, but only a small percentage of those technologies are translated into the real world,” said Stanford Ecopreneurship program co-director Yi Cui, who is also director of the Sustainability Accelerator and the Precourt Institute for Energy. “It’s very exciting to be linking these technologies with the students who are interested in ecopreneurship.”

Graduate waving flag at commencement ceremony at Stanford stadium.
Nicole Travis holds the school flag at Stanford Stadium. (Photo credit: Andrew Brodhead)

Next year will bring additional opportunities for students. A new PhD in Oceans is launching, and the school will start offering certificates for Stanford graduate students. Students will be able to pursue certificates in Sustainable Energy or in Climate Change. A third option, Sustainable Decision Making, will be launching soon. 

“The hope is to go beyond just understanding the science of why climate change is happening to helping students feel empowered that they can do something about it,” said Lynn Hildemann, senior associate dean for education. “Every single person can make changes that will contribute toward making our planet more sustainable, and small actions taken by many are just as impactful as large actions taken by just one or two.”

Research

Research within the school got a jump start with the announcement of new Discovery Grants that support knowledge-driven fundamental research. These supplement other grant programs within the Woods Institute for the Environment and Precourt Institute for Energy that fuel early and later stage projects on the path to impact, as well as Accelerator grants that focus on creating scalable solutions. 

In addition, the school hired six new faculty and has additional searches underway for faculty in environmental justice, China and climate, environmental behavioral sciences, and more. Altogether, as many as 60 new faculty in critical areas of research will be hired in the coming years.

These new faculty join colleagues who made groundbreaking advances this year in critical areas including understanding sea-level rise, predicting pollution from wildfire smoke, and tracking global warming. In addition, a team of engineers explored the potential for reusing discarded plastic in infrastructure applications. 

Much of the research in the school was focused on the energy transition, including studies about the health impacts of gas stoves, and finding that shifting current electric vehicle charging from home to work and night to day could cut costs and help the grid. 

Other researchers explored the meaning of home in the era of climate change, offering a blueprint for positive outcomes to managed retreat

“It would be great if people never had to move,” said Field, a study co-author. “But relocations will be necessary, and we should be doing everything we can to ensure that, when people need to move, it is to locations that are safer and lives that are better.”

Focusing on Earth and its processes, faculty found that one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded in Alberta, Canada, was likely caused by oil and gas activity, and others probed how to manage coastal cliff loss in California, and gained insights into the formation of the Himalayas

Impact

The Sustainability Accelerator is a critical part of how the school will impact the world at speed and scale, serving as a launch pad to leverage knowledge and expertise at Stanford and co-develop potentially scalable sustainability technology and policy solutions with external partners worldwide. 

The school took major steps to build out the Accelerator in the 2022-23 academic year by naming Cui to be its inaugural faculty director and announcing its first Flagship Destination, a focus on greenhouse gas removal. The goal of removing gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent from the atmosphere per year is the first of what will be many Flagship Destinations – ambitious and aspirational targets that have the potential for impactful solutions on a global scale. 

“It is critical to think about scale from the beginning so that we work on the right problems and solutions,” Majumdar said.

Arun Majumdar delivers remarks at a ceremony to sign an Education Partnership Agreement with the Naval Postgraduate School.

Another way partnerships will be amplifying impact is through a new agreement to explore and address the increasing challenges of global climate change, energy security, and sustainability in collaboration with the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. The education agreement serves as a gateway to establish cooperative education opportunities, collaborate on applied research efforts, and work together on larger strategic initiatives. In particular, the agreement leverages the newly formed Oceans Department and the facilities of nearby Hopkins Marine Station.

All of these efforts benefit from the global experience of the recently named Advisory Council, which includes global leaders who lend scientific, industry, nonprofit, entrepreneurship, and government expertise to the challenge of educating students, driving discoveries, and creating solutions at a global scale.

Faculty in the school also cultivate their own relationships to magnify impact. In collaboration with water managers, nonprofit leaders, environmental planners, and engineers, Professor Rosemary Knight is using geophysical imaging techniques to identify underground pathways of gravel and sand for replenishing depleted aquifers below. Northern Chumash Tribal leaders and marine scientists are designing a collaborative approach to monitoring marine life in a coastal area near Santa Barbara. For Gabrielle Wong-Parodi, an assistant professor in Earth system science and the school’s new social sciences division, impact involves empowering people in frontline communities to better understand and deal with wildfire smoke, extreme heat, and other hazards.

“When we launched SDSS, we committed to making a clear and measurable difference in the fight against climate change,” Majumdar said. “Our educational, research, and scholarly efforts are working to make that promise a reality."

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