University of South Carolina

USC to focus on sustainability research

The University of South Carolina will make sustainability research one of its top target areas as part of a new initiative to identify, unite and promote research across the university.

Sustainability is the first in a series of research initiatives that USC will identify, said Stephen Kresovich, vice president of research and graduate education at USC. The rapidly expanding field encompasses many areas, including biology, public health, business and economics, architecture, civil and environmental engineering, earth and ocean science, physical and human geography and law.

“In practical terms, the field recognizes that in a world of limited capital and resources, creative solutions to pressing environmental issues are key, but so are economic and societal realities,” Kresovich said. ”Sustainability science is a forward-thinking approach that seeks real-world solutions to real-world problems by bringing together participants who otherwise would seldom communicate with each other.”

Dr. Brian Helmuth, a professor of biological sciences, will be the special adviser for the sustainability research initiative at USC and work with faculty across campus to advance sustainability research.

“We have real-world problems that have to be solved: we need to create jobs, we need clean sources of power and we need to feed our nation,” Helmuth said. “However, that doesn't mean we have to address these issues at the expense of our children and grandchildren by depleting our resources or destroying our environment. Sustainability research searches for new ways of thinking that are both economically sound and environmentally sensible that will allow us to address the demands of the present without sacrificing the needs of the future.”

The focus on sustainability is a natural for USC, which has already earned recognition for its efforts in sustainable management on campus. President Harris Pastides has made sustainability one of USC’s seven major academic initiatives, directing the university to address campus issues related to energy and resource use and climate impacts and to develop a plan to help USC reach carbon neutrality. The university’s Green Quad is internationally recognized as an example of sustainable living on campus.

Faculty across campus are already involved in sustainability research, including the areas of alternative energy and fuel cells, complex integrated environmental processes and climate change impacts, risk assessment and management, along with other areas.

“We have a huge amount of sustainability research on campus already,” Helmuth said. “The Darla Moore School is strong in this area. The School of the Environment is a focal point for sustainability research and teaching. A lot of it is going unrecognized. If, as a university, we can pull all these disparate groups together and recognize and build on what we’ve already been doing, we’ll be known as an international leader in this area,” Helmuth said.

Kresovich said a faculty committee will develop an inventory of sustainability research, identify any obstacles to collaborations, explore the potential for interdisciplinary programs and mechanisms for funding these initiatives, recommend ways to best promote sustainability research on campus, study approaches used at other schools and promote existing strengths on campus.

“While there is significant talent across campus in sustainability research, many of these efforts remain isolated or unrecognized, reducing the potential for integrated efforts and synergetic impact,” Kresovich said. “Furthermore, we do not have an effective inventory of those strengths, making it impossible to formulate an action plan for how to capitalize on those strengths, especially for pursuing large-scale research funding and education opportunities.”

Sustainability has also been identified as an area of importance by federal funding agencies. For example, the National Science Foundation’s strategic plan for 2006 - 11 includes sustainability research as one of the agency’s five investment priorities. NSF also recently announced the Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability NSF-wide Investment Area, a multi-year effort.

Further information on this and future initiatives can be found on the Office of Research and Graduate Education website,

By Office of Media Relations

Posted: 01/14/11 @ 10:30 AM | Updated: 01/14/11 @ 1:28 PM | Permalink