The Center for the Environment is proposed to have the four interconnected initial research themes noted below and one cross-cutting theme.  The most complex environmental challenges and the most exciting research needs are at the intersections of these themes.  

Planetary Health

Research on planetary health advanced by the Center for the Environment is guided by its definition as “global environmental change and its health impacts” provided by the Planetary Health Alliance, a consortium of more than 340 research and practice institutions. At Washington University in St. Louis, the theme will be broadened to reflect reciprocity in the human health-environment relationship. Themes of research advanced by the Center for the Environment will include environmental health, global health, sustainable urban design, sustainable healthy food systems, nourishing biomes, and the connection between environmental change and infectious disease.  Research advances will benefit from a convergent approach that draws on expertise from public health, engineering, ecology, natural and social sciences, and architecture and urban design.

Environmental Justice

Environmental Justice is defined by the Environmental Protection Agency as the equitable and ethical engagement of communities in planning, designing and implementing evidence-based policies and practices for the well-being of human and natural ecosystems and in addressing the impacts of new and existing policies across all social structures. In addition to pursuing scholarly research in environmental justice, the Center for the Environment will apply environmental justice as a guiding principle for research in the other themes.  The applied nature of environmental justice requires close community engagement and transdisciplinary partnerships. These partnerships span local, national, and global contexts. With existing cross school and interdisciplinary strengths in air pollution, public health, social work, social systems and advocacy, the Center for the Environment will build upon, advance and expand existing research and collaborations.

Environmental Solutions

Environmental solutions encompasses scientific, technological, and policy approaches to address environmental threats to human and ecosystem health.  These solutions will also chart a pathway towards a sustainable and equitable future.  The Center for the Environment will promote environmental solutions research in air and water quality, biotechnology, agricultural practices, the built environment, and decarbonization of energy and industrial systems.  Environmental solutions will emerge from diverse fields, including but not limited to engineering, natural and social sciences, social work and policy, and architecture and design.  The Center will examine environmental solutions across timescales and in systems spanning natural, managed, and engineered environments.


Biodiversity is the variety and variability of all living organisms on earth, from the smallest genes to organisms to ecosystems.  It refers to the variation of life at different organizational levels, from individual genes to whole ecosystems.  Biodiversity research supported by the Center for the Environment will enlighten our understanding of the origin, composition, function, and evolution of the biological world. The Center for the Environment will enable research that investigates the interactions between natural and human systems, the effects of climate change on biodiversity, and what can be done to ameliorate the negative consequences of this change on people and the environment.

Earth Systems and Climate Change

Earth Systems consist of the Geosphere together with the Atmosphere, Biosphere, Cryosphere, and Hydrosphere. Together these five systems interact to produce the environments that surround us. Knowledge of the interactions and dynamics within Earth Systems is fundamental to the understanding and characterization of the environment. As a result, Earth Systems and Climate Change will serve as an underlying foundation and cross-cutting theme for research fostered by the Center for the Environment. Climate change exacerbates threats to biodiversity, planetary health, and environmental justice that will require new research and solutions. The Center will also promote collaborative research into the operation of environmental systems today, reconstructions of their past function, and predictions of their anticipated behavior in light of a changing climate.