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UC Davis Research Related to Sustainability 

Sustainability-Related Research

UC Davis research may start in the laboratory or field, but its impacts are felt around the world. Whether it is national leadership in plug-in hybrid electric vehicle research, real-world demonstrations of new lighting technology or re-calculating livestock contributions to global warming — our research is making a difference and making headlines.

UC Davis Employees and Departments Conducting Sustainability Research 

As of June 2023

  % Employee researchers engaged in Sustainability research % Departments that conduct Sustainability research
2020-2022 50% 62%
2016-2019  35% 56%
2010-2013  13% 44% 

Source: UC Davis Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS) Reports 


Our Research: External Partnerships 

To advance research on a diverse range of sustainability issues, UC Davis partners with philanthropic organizations, industry, government agencies and other groups. Our collaborations involve energy efficiency, agriculture, transportation, water and air quality among many areas of research. To view specific partnerships, visit the UC Davis Research Partners page. 

Our Research: Research Groups 

UC Davis is a global leader in sustainability-related research, applied technology and transformative projects that advance knowledge and serve as models for the world. Campus institutes, centers and other research groups help focus multidisciplinary research on critical topics of sustainability. 


Agricultural Sustainability Institute 

The Agricultural Sustainability Institute at UC Davis provides a hub that links research initiatives and education in sustainable agriculture and food systems throughout the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, the University of California and the state. 

University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program - The UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SAREP) is a statewide program that provides leadership and support for scientific research and education in agricultural and food systems that are economically viable, conserve natural resources and biodiversity, and enhance the quality of life in the state's communities. SAREP serves farmers, farmworkers, ranchers, researchers, educators, regulators, policymakers, industry professionals, consumers and community organizations across the state. 

Long Term Research on Agricultural Systems - UC Davis’ Long Term Research on Agricultural Systems (LTRAS) project has been evaluating the sustainability and environmental impact of conventional and alternative agriculture since 1993. The 100-year main experiment and various shorter experiments are focused on improving the sustainability and environmental impact of agriculture. In 2003 the Sustainable Agriculture Farming Systems project, established at UC Davis in 1988 to study the transition from conventional to low-input or organic farm management in the Sacramento Valley, joined LTRAS. Close ties to the agricultural community keep the farming philosophy realistic and the focus on meaningful research questions. 


Air Quality Research Center 

Air pollution research and education at the Air Quality Research Center focuses on urban and regional smog, indoor air quality, global climate change, health and environmental effects, and intermedia transfers of contaminants into water, soil and organisms. Many departments, laboratories, faculty, staff and students are engaged in solving these air pollution problems in the service of industry, governments and nonprofit organizations. 


California Environmental Law and Policy Center 

Part of the UC Davis School of Law, the California Environmental Law and Policy Center participates in interdisciplinary environmental research and policy initiatives, and focuses on translating its environmental scholarship into effective public policy at the regional, state, national and international levels.  


Center for Regional Change 

The Center for Regional Change brings together faculty and regional stakeholders for solutions-oriented research on community development dimensions of sustainability including affordable housing, youth development and environmental health. 


Energy and Efficiency Institute 

The Energy and Efficiency Institute focuses and coordinates energy and energy efficiency research and education across the campus and partners with other campus, state, national, and international centers and institutes in fostering new innovations, expanding public service, and informing decision making in government, industry, and other sectors.  

California Lighting Technology Center - The center helps industry and government apply energy-efficient lighting ideas through technology development and demonstrations, as well as outreach and education activities in partnership with electric utilities, lighting manufacturers, lighting professionals and governmental agencies. 

Western Cooling Efficiency Center - The center's mission is to partner with stakeholders to identify technologies, disseminate information and implement programs that reduce cooling systems' electrical demand and energy consumption in the western United States. 

Center for Water-Energy Efficiency - The collaborative focuses on integrating principles and technologies and the mutual benefits of building-, community- or utility-scale programs. 

Policy Institute for Energy, Environment and the Economy (Policy Institute) - The institute leverages world-class university expertise and engages directly with decision-makers to deliver credible, relevant, and timely information and analysis to inform better energy and environmental policy. It is a bold initiative that supports collaborative engagement at a critical time for decision makers. 

Program for International Energy Technologies - The Program for International Energy Technologies accelerates the development and commercialization of low-cost, clean and efficient energy technologies in the markets of developing countries. Interdisciplinary student teams work with mentors and partners around the world.  


Institute for Transportation Studies 

The Institute for Transportation Studies brings together engineers, social scientists and ecologists to create knowledge and technology that lead to better investments and smarter policy. 

Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle Research Center - The center’s goals are to provide technology and policy guidance to the state, help solve research questions and address commercialization issues for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. 

Urban Land Use and Transportation Center - The center aims to support the design and implementation of new land use and vehicle demand policies through research, education, and public outreach. Models and methods developed at the center will support the development of policies that encourage sustainable cities and regions. 

National Center for Sustainable Transportation - The center helps federal, state, regional, and local agencies reduce the greenhouse-gas emissions from passenger and freight travel that contribute to climate change. The goal of the National Center is to enhance the environmental sustainability of the United States’ transportation system through reduction in fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. 

China Center for Energy and Transportation - The center studies Chinese motorization and transportation energy systems, and teaches American and Chinese graduate students. The center collaborates with senior Chinese transportation scholars at State Council’s Development Research Center, Tsinghua University, Shanghai Tongji University, and Beijing Jiaotong University. 


Institute of the Environment 

The Institute of the Environment  champions science and technological innovation, provides campuswide leadership, hosts centers and projects, and seeds research and educational initiatives to solve real-world environmental problems. The institute links science and technology to policy by providing the intellectual setting for interactions between researchers, regulatory agencies, policymakers and the public. 

Center for Watershed Sciences - The center is dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of critical issues in watershed science — with a focus on the sustainable and cost-effective restoration and management of stream, lake and estuarine ecosystems. 

UC Davis Natural Reserve System - Six reserves are administered by the Davis campus: Bodega Marine Reserve, Eagle Lake Field Station, Jepson Prairie Reserve, Donald and Sylvia McLaughlin Reserve, Quail Ridge Reserve and Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve. These reserves provide secure sites for long-term environmental research, education and public outreach. 

Tahoe Environmental Research Center - The center is dedicated to research, education and public outreach on lakes and their surrounding environments. Lake ecosystems include the physical, biogeochemical and human environments, and the interactions among them. The center is committed to providing objective scientific information for restoration and sustainable use of the Lake Tahoe basin. 

Center for Health and the Environment - The center initiates and fosters interdisciplinary research programs in the areas of environmental health and toxicology that cross the traditional boundaries of medicine, engineering, agriculture and the sciences. 

Road Ecology Center - The center integrates the dispersed disciplines of road ecology on campus to build a coherent state-of-the-science body of principles useful to transportation planning; disseminates this information broadly to the professional communities, to students and environmental scientists, to agencies and to public interest groups; and creates analytical methods, professional practices and institutional processes to support sustainable transportation. 

Forest Biology Research Center - The center fosters research and graduate education in forest biology, with research areas in genetics, physiology, ecology, pathology, entomology and silviculture. 

Environmental Policy and Management Program - The Environmental Policy and Management Program is a graduate program that provides progressive training in applying environmental science to a political and economic framework.  

USGS Western Ecological Research Station - Research at the UC Davis Field Station of the USGS-WERC examines the physiologic and metabolic effects of stressors on organisms and how subsequent vulnerabilities translate into population and ecosystem health. 


Department of Environmental Science and Policy 

In the Department of Environmental Science and Policy's (DESP) teaching and research plays a unique role in bringing together the natural sciences and social sciences, the two essential components of sustainable solutions to these challenges. DESP's researchers are helping to improve environmental policies, protect biodiversity, understand ecological processes, and foster an interdisciplinary perspective on environmental and natural resource issues.  

Information Center for the Environment - Information Center for the Environment is an environmental information brokerage and research laboratory in the Department of Environmental Science & Policy at the University of California, Davis. The center specializes in the development and dissemination of geospatial data and technologies; the development of robust data architectures dedicated to the cataloging of global environmental information; and the creation of decision support systems geared toward improving the capabilities of resource managers in a variety of sectors. 

Center for Environmental Policy and Behavior - The mission of the Center for Environmental Policy and Behavior (CEPB) is scientific analysis of the interactions among policy institutions, human behavior, and political decisions in the context of environmental and natural resource conflicts. Through developing and testing theoretical models from social science, CEPB seeks to derive practical lessons that can be used to improve environmental policy. 

Conservation Management Program - The Conservation Management Program is a graduate program that provides rigorous training in aspects of conservation management that typically lies outside the routine of a strictly research-based doctorate in the sciences. 


Historical List of Sustainability Related Research Groups 

The following is a list of historical research groups that no longer exist or have evolved and now go by another name at UC Davis. 

Sustainable Transportation Center: The center’s scope was defined by three areas of emphasis: regional transportation planning, environmental planning and review, and energy policy. Within each area, the center supported behavioral research, systems analysis and planning, and policy tools. 

Integrated Renewable Energy Systems Collaborative: The collaborative focuses on integrating principles and technologies and the mutual benefits of building-, community- or utility-scale programs. 

Environmental Humanities Supercluster, Davis Humanities Institute: The UC Davis Humanities Institute’s Environmental Humanities supercluster is a multi-disciplinary research group designed to facilitate faculty study of complex envirocultural problems, support graduate students and postdoctoral scholars working in the field, and collaborate with communities affected by environmental challenges. 

California Renewable Energy Center: The California Renewable Energy Center (CREC) provided a unique statewide forum among government, industry, educational, and non-profit organizations for integrated renewable energy research, education, outreach, and policy. Originally formed as a multi-sector collaborative, the Center was established under grants from the California Energy Commission Public Interest Energy Research (PIER) program, and was administered through the UC Davis Energy Institute. The Center was formerly comprised of six member programs:  California Biomass Collaborative (CBC)California Geothermal Energy Collaborative (CGEC)California Small Hydro Collaborative (CSHC), California Solar Energy Collaborative (CSEC), and California Wind Energy Collaborative (CWEC). The Center has since transitioned into an institute called the Energy and Efficiency Institute. 

Energy Institute: A special program within the UC Davis Office of Research, the Institute focuses and coordinates energy research and education across the campus and partners with other campus, state, national, and international centers and institutes in fostering new innovations, expanding public service, and informing decision making in government, industry, and other sectors. The Energy Institute has since transitioned into the Energy and Efficiency Institute.  

Next Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways program (NextSTEPS): NextSTEPS is a four-year (through 2014) multidisciplinary research consortium focused on the future roles of alternative fuels and vehicles.  Its goals are to generate new insights about the transitions to a sustainable transportation energy future, and disseminate that knowledge to decision-makers in the private sector and governmental agencies so that they can make informed technology, investment, and policy choices. 

Public Service Research Program: The program addresses environmental issues at the interface of research and scholarly outreach. The program also focuses within UC Davis to increase the capacity of university members to conduct environmental outreach or engagement; to collaborate with communities, public entities, and policymakers for improved decision making; and to practice scholarly and civic engagement. 

Center for Affordable Technology for Small Water Systems: The Center for Affordable Technology for Small Water Systems (CATSWS) provides technical assistance to help small, public water systems comply with minimum drinking water regulations, thereby increasing the availability of safe water for all Californians. 

Environmental Justice Project: The project's mission is to encourage and develop interdisciplinary research on environmental justice. 

Sustainable AgTech Innovation Center: Formerly a center under the Graduate School of Management, the Sustainable AgTech Innovation Center (SATIC) supported the commercialization of clean ag technologies by identifying and accelerating new ventures that promote sustainability in the agricultural field—including new agricultural practices, water and energy efficiency in production and food processing, advances in nutrition, food quality and safety, and new food products. 


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