Entry Date:
September 9, 2015

MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative

Principal Investigator John Fernandez

Co-investigator Christopher Noble


MIT has a long history of advancing important societal priorities by doing the best research, providing the most rigorous education, and collaborating to make a better world.

Global society finds itself at a technological and societal inflection point. We now face challenges of a +400 ppm carbon-loaded atmosphere and the specter of known and unknown environmental transformations. We are also witnessing the possibility of new global resolve on two prominent fronts: reducing carbon emissions with the COP 21 agreement crafted in Paris, and addressing critical environmental concerns and development priorities with the adoption of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The dominant message now coming from every sector of society – government, civil society, industry – is that we need to work together to have any real prospect of forging a promising future.

MIT is a catalyst for game changers, from fundamental scientific breakthroughs to engineering and design innovations to launching companies and entire industries, to calling for humane and lasting societal change. On our campus and in our culture, the boundaries between disciplines are porous. Advancing our understanding of the drivers of and remedies to environmental issues requires contributions not only from science, engineering and technological innovation, but from the full range of fields represented at MIT: the humanities, arts, economics, history, urban planning, management, policy, and more. It is only through a broad perspective that truly effective improvements in our relation with the environment may be achieved. MIT’s exceptional strength in all of these areas is matched by our proficiency, born of long experience, in bridging them.

The Environmental Solutions Initiative (ESI) channels this unique culture and enormous capacity from across the Institute to create solutions to today’s environmental challenges through diverse activities in education, research, and convening.

IT is already a powerhouse of environmentally-oriented research, education, and innovation. ESI builds on this vibrant foundation using seed grants to encourage new, cross-disciplinary research partnerships that advance progress and solutions on issues of environmental significance to humanity.

Earth is a supremely complex system, and our understanding of the underlying forces that support human life is incomplete in many key respects. Investments in environmental sciences are required both to improve our baseline knowledge of how these systems function and interact, and to improve our understanding of how humans are affecting and disrupting the intricately interconnected systems and cycles of life on earth. Novel analyses can improve the temporal and spatial resolution, as well as the certainty, of our understanding of human impact on the planet.

Insightful characterization of the problems we face is essential to recognize the nature and scope of environmental risks, and is the first step on the path toward solutions. ESI will expand and accelerate research toward environmental solutions within and beyond the MIT community.

ESI launched its Seed Grant Program in 2015 with a set of 9 funded, multi-investigator projects in Sustainability, Metals and Mining, Healthy Cities, and Climate/Risk/Mitigation. Moving forward, ESI will expand its resources to provide full grants that engage MIT researchers for 3 to 5 year periods in areas that directly contribute to pathways for mitigating carbon emissions and adapting to climate change as well as improving society’s response to a wide range of environmental challenges.

ESI’s Seed Grant program brings together faculty from all five schools at MIT for transformative research in the environment. A total of 59 teams of faculty, research staff and students responded to the first call for proposals, from which nine winners were announced on March 13, 2015.