Vanderbilt creates Center for Sustainability, Energy and Climate

Water in a stream

Vanderbilt University will harness its global expertise in scientific discovery, technological innovation, public policy, law and education to launch the Vanderbilt Center for Sustainability, Energy and Climate (VSEC).

The multimillion-dollar investment follows a recommendation by an interdisciplinary working group to address the crucial societal challenge of ensuring a sustainable world. It is the latest center to be launched through Discovery Vanderbilt, an initiative of the Office of the Provost and one of three pathways in the university’s Dare to Grow campaign to support and extend the resources underpinning Vanderbilt’s most innovative research and education.

Previously announced centers include the Vanderbilt Center for Addiction Research, the Vanderbilt Policy Accelerator, and the Vanderbilt Center for Research on Inequality and Health.

“One of the defining hallmarks of Vanderbilt is our spirit of ‘radical collaboration’ where researchers across a wide range of disciplines join together with local and global partners to tackle some the most urgent issues of our time,” Provost C. Cybele Raver said. “VSEC exemplifies this spirit, where this group of brilliant faculty members are taking on and solving complex and pressing challenges for climate, energy, and sustainability. It makes me so proud to see Vanderbilt so powerfully positioned to make tremendous contributions in these areas.”

Raver added that the university is embarking on a global search for an accomplished researcher and administrative leader to direct the center.

VSEC’s primary mission will focus on advancing multidisciplinary research that includes partnerships with communities, government, industry, national laboratories and other research universities. The center will also engage Vanderbilt’s world-class engineering, science, law, policy and education expertise to investigate areas such as:

  • Energy Integration
  • Resource Sustainability
  • Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation
  • Systems Risk, Reliability, and Resilience

“Vanderbilt’s School of Engineering is the ideal setting for this forward-thinking cross-disciplinary center,” said Krishnendu Roy, Bruce and Bridgitt Dean and University Distinguished Professor. “We must make sure that our future generations inherit a world that is sustainable and resilient. We must also develop intelligent infrastructure, long-term energy solutions, and address our changing climate and its impact on the society and health. The uniqueness of VSEC lies in the partnership between engineers, data scientists, policy experts, legal scholars, and workforce experts—none of us alone can address the grand challenges of sustainability, energy, and climate. But together we can make transformative progress.”

Hiba Baroud, who co-led the strategic planning committee that recommended the creation of VSEC and who is serving as its interim director, said the center is unique because it tackles complex challenges that require advances in basic science as well as broad interdisciplinary applied research.

“We are taking a holistic approach to achieve sustainable development by examining how different aspects of climate change mitigation and adaptation affect each other,” said Baroud, who is the A. James and Alice B. Clark Foundation Faculty Fellow and Associate Chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “We envision the center doing this not just in terms of making advances in different focus areas, but by pairing scientific discoveries and transformative technologies with implementation and policy adoption.”

Jonathan Gilligan, who was vice chair of the strategic planning committee and is director of the Vanderbilt Climate and Society Grand Challenge Initiative, said it is imperative for VSEC to view sustainability solutions through a wide lens, engaging all the schools and disciplines of the university on equal footing, as well as connecting with community, industry, and government partners.

“VSEC’s success will be measured by how deeply it engages the expertise of the entire university, including engineering, natural and social sciences, humanities, and professional disciplines such as law, management, and healthcare,” said Gilligan, professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences whose work explores the intersection of the natural sciences, social sciences, engineering, and public policy. “Its success will not be measured solely by the number of academic papers published or the amount of grant money it attracts, but on its ability to draw upon Vanderbilt’s distinctive strengths in trans-institutional and trans-disciplinary collaboration in order to advance the frontiers of transdisciplinary research on sustainability, to provide students with a world-class holistic education on climate change and environmental sustainability, and to apply the results of its research to delivering tangible benefits to society.”

Already, the center’s strategic planning committee has identified opportunities to perform rigorous testing of novel concepts and technologies by leveraging existing testbeds at Vanderbilt and developing new ones that address sustainable transportation, materials science, microgrid energy development and biomanufacturing.

The university seeks to hire a permanent director. Interested candidates should contact