Mission Statement

The mission of the Great Lakes Institute for Sustainable Systems at Central Michigan University is to promote academic programs, research, community outreach, and campus operations that are dedicated to the advancement of sustainable systems. The institute will promote these goals through interdisciplinary collaboration within the University and through complementary external partnerships to benefit the community, the Great Lakes region, and the world.

Enduring Principles

Our mission rests on the foundation of a systems approach to sustainability, recognizing the interconnectedness of natural and human processes. Central Michigan University will demonstrate principles of sustainability through its operations, management, teaching and research. This approach recognizes that current actions, education, research, and community activities will impact future generations.

The work of the institute will be built on four foundational pillars:

  • Promoting sustainable management of natural resources and the environment.
  • Promoting sustainable economic systems.
  • Promoting sustainable communities and societies.
  • Promoting sustainable energy systems as we transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

Defining Sustainability

While "sustainability" can be defined in many ways, the broadly accepted definition as outlined in Our Common Future, a report of the United Nations World Commission on the Environment published in 1987, is the one used by the institute. Sustainability consists of meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Sustainable systems are those w​hich foster stewardship and wise management of natural resources and energy that allow the needs of the current day to be met while ensuring that vital resources and energy supplies will be available to meet the needs of future generations. How this institute and Central Michigan University as a whole will work to meet these goals is summarized in the following narrative.


In the Spring of 2009, faculty at Central Michigan University began to review and evaluate sustainability projects on campus and saw the opportunity to create an institute that would help to promote and develop sustainability both on and off campus. The original concept envisioned a regional institute that would be focused on sustainability in the Great Lakes Basin.  This area serves as home for some fifty million North American citizens and holds twenty percent of the surface fresh water in the world. In addition, this area remains a significant manufacturing center, supports a strong agricultural base, and is a major region for tourism and recreation.

Central Michigan University is uniquely positioned to lead and promote sustainability efforts in the Great Lakes region due to its central location in the basin, a strong cohort of faculty who teach and conduct research in the subject area, and the ability to work with partners in industry, in governmental agencies and in the non-profit sector. The Great Lakes Institute for Sustainable Systems was founded in September of 2010 as a regional center promoting sustainable resource management, the development of sustainable communities, sustainable economic development, and the development of renewable energy systems as we transition from fossil fuels.


Universities are a microcosm of the larger society and can serve as a laboratory for development of innovative operations. The campus of Central Michigan University will be used to demonstrate the value of energy and water conservation programs; waste reduction, recycling, and composting projects; educational activities; and the development of a culture of sustainability on campus. Innovative academic programs focusing on sustainability will be incorporated into the curriculum. The university will form partnerships with local, regional, national and international entities to advance principles of sustainability wherever possible. The institute will help Central Michigan University "lead by example".

Natural environments are a critical component of sustainable systems. Thus, the institute acknowledges that ecosystem integrity, biodiversity, landscape fragmentation, and watershed protection, among others, as important concepts. Efforts are necessary to further public awareness and education regarding the implications of these concepts. Educating students to be future leaders in sustainable systems is also necessary to assure environmental quality, fiscal responsibility, and social equity through the implementation of targeted programs.

The development and installation of sustainable energy systems is necessary to assure future energy demands are met and that communities in the Great Lakes basin will rely increasingly on renewable energy sources. The institute will serve as a focal point for research and development activities that promote energy conservation and alternative energy solutions for the future. Interdisciplinary research and development work will be fostered by the institute.

Sustainable development will provide a framework for the majority of successful business models in the future and the institute will promote and test these systems. The Institute will test and assess current models including balanced performance measurements, as well as develop new sustainable solution portfolios. The scope of the initiatives considers the full range of for-profit business and not-for-profit value chains addressing the domains of human resources, process, product, and technology. Academic programs in international business and sustainable development will be added to the curriculum. Graduate programs in sustainability and sustainable development will be developed. The institute will serve to promote these programs and to advance the training of our students and faculty.

Internationally, many countries, particularly those in Scandinavia and northern Europe, have made advances in sustainability that could be applied in the Great Lakes basin. The institute will establish connections with international environmental organizations and serve as a repository for data and reports on successful sustainability work from Europe and other areas of the globe. It will also serve to facilitate partnerships between North American and European businesses, researchers, educators, and communities to promote technology transfer and the application of successful systems at new locations.

Surface and ground waters are critical resources not only in the Great Lakes basin, but throughout the world. These resources will require significant attention in order to manage them sustainably in the future. Central Michigan University is particularly well-positioned to support research and education in this area. The location of the institute in the center of the Great Lakes basin, home to 20% of the surface freshwater resources of the world, puts us in a position to be leaders in water research, water resource management and water conservation. Many research and teaching initiatives are underway in the sciences that involve sustainability and the institute will promote these efforts. The Michigan Water Research Center on campus will be available to perform water analyses for the community to monitor water resources. Research in water quality and fisheries ecology as well as in microbial pollution detection and heavy metal remediation are being conducted to address problems in the Great Lakes region and beyond. The institute will facilitate partnerships between CMU and private industry to conduct research and pilot programs involving water resources.

Sustainable communities engage their citizens to protect and enhance the community's natural and human resources for present and future generations. To reach this goal, the institute utilizes partnerships, outreach endeavors, and solution-focused research projects to foster quality of life and facilitate corporate social responsibility efforts in organizations, communities, and citizens of the Great Lakes region. These efforts allow for a greater understanding of how assets and resources can be managed in sustainable ways.