Skip to main content



What are the benefits of pursuing the ISEN Certificate?

June 1, 2021

For Hannah Hall, growing up in Southern California meant frequent backpacking and camping trips in the Sierra Nevada mountains. From an early age, she was consistently surrounded by nature, making it something she always cared deeply about.

Hall is currently a class of 2022 student pursuing a journalism major at the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications and creative writing minor in poetry, as well as the Institute for Sustainability and Energy (ISEN) Undergraduate Certificate. The ISEN Certificate provides undergraduates with an opportunity to pursue interdisciplinary instruction in the fields of sustainability and energy. The certificate is open to any undergraduate student at the university to petition and consists of seven core courses and electives that span areas such as natural science, engineering, and the social sciences.

Read more about what an ISEN certificate can do for your undergraduate studies!

New ‘Swiss Army knife’ cleans up water pollution

June 1, 2021

Phosphate pollution in rivers, lakes and other waterways has reached dangerous levels, causing algae blooms that starve fish and aquatic plants of oxygen. Meanwhile, farmers worldwide are coming to terms with a dwindling reserve of phosphate fertilizers that feed half the world’s food supply.

Inspired by Chicago’s many nearby bodies of water, a Northwestern University-led team has developed a way to repeatedly remove and reuse phosphate from polluted waters. The researchers liken the development to a “Swiss Army knife” for pollution remediation as they tailor their membrane to absorb and later release other pollutants. The research was published the week of May 31 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Read more about it here


A Day in the Life of an ISEN Researcher

May 25, 2021

Nikolai Tcyrulnikov is a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern (ISEN). His group, led by ISEN Executive Director Michael R. Wasielewski, focuses on light-driven processes in molecules, such as artificial photosynthesis and quantum information science. Tcyrulnikov is currently studying how organic molecules can be used to create quantum computers. 

“We’re on the verge of a revolution in information technology and that’s thanks to quantum computers,” said Tcyrulnikov. “Quantum computers are going to change … how we think about information and how fast it is processed.” 

Read more about this work here!

Sustainable Travel Panel Offers Industry Insights

May 24, 2021

Options for sustainable travel are more important than ever to consumers as they look to reduce their impact on the environment. The halting of much of the travel industry in the past year due to the pandemic has given companies the opportunity to be introspective, and as many anticipate a return to normalcy, appealing to new consumer preferences for sustainability is at the forefront of their agendas. 

The Institute of Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern (ISEN) and Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications co-hosted a panel on April 29 that addressed how marketing professionals and journalists are presenting sustainable travel options to consumers.

Read more about this panel and what the panelists had to say here!

Sossina Haile Awarded Ver Steeg Fellowship

May 19, 2021

Northwestern Engineering’s Sossina Haile has received the 16th annual Dorothy Ann and Clarence L. Ver Steeg Distinguished Research Fellowship Award.

Haile, of the McCormick School of Engineering, is a fuel cell pioneer whose work focuses on sustainability and social good on a global scale. Bestowed by the Office of the Provost, the Ver Steeg Fellowship supports scholarship and research by tenured Northwestern faculty whose work enhances the national and international reputation of the University. The honor includes a $40,000 award for each recipient.

Read more about this honor and Haile's work here!

Earth Month 2021 Wrap Up Note from sustainNU

May 19, 2021
Thank you for celebrating Earth Month 2021 with sustainNU! Regardless of location, members of the Northwestern community came together during the month of April to take action by participating in sustainNU’s virtual and, for the first time ever, hybrid events. Read more about the actions here!

Out of Fashion: How to Ditch Fast Fashion

May 19, 2021

Americans throw away 14 million tons of clothing annually. That is nearly double what it was 20 years ago. The increase can be partly attributed to the rise of fast fashion, which replicates and mass produces high-fashion designs and trends at low costs and with low-quality materials. The fashion industry is responsible for nearly 10% of global carbon emissions annually and is the second largest polluter of water. And the manufacture of fast fashion pieces, from synthetic fiber production to garment dyeing, has even more detrimental effects on the environment. Not to mention the ethical concerns surrounding fast fashion brands’ sources of labor, many of which have been exposed for extremely low wages and harsh working conditions. The novelty, cost, and accessibility of fast fashion are attractive to many. However, the impact the industry has on our planet and workers cannot be overstated. Luckily, there are other options.  

Read about them in this article from sustainNU!

Dean’s Seminar Series lecture focused on energy, climate, and sustainability

May 11, 2021

Arun Majumdar wishes he was currently an undergraduate student. If he were, he would have many decades to tackle some of Earth’s biggest challenges.

During the Dean’s Seminar Series lecture “Energy, Climate, and Sustainability: The Defining Issue of the 21st Century,” Majumdar, the Jay Precourt Provostial Chair Professor at Stanford University, discussed how the 20th century brought great leaps in quality of life and technology. However, that economic growth was driven largely by the use of fossil fuels and left us with greenhouse gas emissions and a planet that’s dangerously warming up. 

Read more here!

Seasonal Climate Models May Help Warn for Malaria Outbreaks in Mozambique

May 10, 2021

Applying knowledge of climate variability may be a key to predicting public health trends in Mozambique, according to Ryan Harp, a postdoctoral research fellow with the Ubben Program for Carbon and Climate Science at the Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern (ISEN). Harp studied climate and health data in Mozambique to tie patterns of climate variability to increased malaria cases. He recently presented his research at the international Planetary Health Annual Meeting. Harp and his fellow researchers believe that this research could be applied to other countries and diseases to help lengthen lead times in warning systems and allow public health officials to better distribute resources in advance of an outbreak. 

Read about these efforts here.

Tanzanian Farmers Boost Diets, Mental Health with Sustainable Methods

May 10, 2021

An innovative practice of farmers mentoring farmers on sustainable agricultural methods, nutrition and social equity has been proven beneficial in improving children’s diets and decreasing food insecurity in a region of Tanzania where nearly half of households fail to meet minimum nutrition requirements. It also reduced depression among women.

Anthropologists and nutritionists from Northwestern, Cornell University and Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology conducted a groundbreaking study that demonstrated that farmer-to-farmer training can boost nutrition and well-being.

Find out more about this study here

Panelists Discuss Importance of Sustainability in Food Packaging and Plastics

May 6, 2021

The Kellogg School of Management, with outreach support from the Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern (ISEN), hosted a virtual panel discussion on the sustainable use of plastics in food retail on April 20. 

The seminar, titled “Packaged with Care: Plastics in the world of food retail,” covered how organizations are addressing the plastics crisis through partnerships and policies. Facilitated by Kellogg professor Megan Kashner, topics included the importance of working together through partnerships to ensure that this work is done properly. 

Read more about the panel here


Three Weinberg College faculty elected to National Academy of Sciences

April 28, 2021

Three faculty members of Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern — psychologist Dedre Gentner, biological anthropologist Thomas McDade and chemist Michael R. Wasielewski — have been elected to the prestigious National Academy of Sciences. Membership in the academy is one of the highest honors given to a scientist in the United States.

Read about our outstanding faculty here!

ISEN Commends National Climate Leadership

April 22, 2021

The Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern University (ISEN) applauds the Biden Administration on its bold announcement today to cut national greenhouse gas emissions by 50-52% below 2005 emissions levels by 2030. The pledge nearly doubles the ambition of the 2015 US climate commitment to cut emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025.

Read the press release here.

McCormick Student Team Wins DOE Solar Decathlon Design Challenge

April 22, 2021

An interdisciplinary team of Northwestern Engineering students called engiNUity was named the 2021 Design Challenge Grand Winner (Residential Divisions) in the US Department of Energy (DOE) Solar Decathlon.

The Solar Decathlon is a collegiate competition that challenges the next generation of building professionals to design and construct high-performance, low-carbon buildings powered by renewable energy, while promoting student innovation, STEM education, and workforce development opportunities in the buildings industry. The competition included 72 teams from 12 countries, and engiNUity was one of 63 finalists. 

The winning NUHome concept, created by a group of 12 undergraduates at the McCormick School of Engineering, includes efficient construction, a future-proof design, and natural light. The sustainable design, which was first named the winner in the Urban Single-Family Housing division, is carbon-neutral and reduces consumption.

Read more here!

EPA recognizes Northwestern as a leader in sustainability for a second consecutive year

April 16, 2021

For the second year in a row, Northwestern University has earned the ENERGY STAR® Partner of the Year — Sustained Excellence Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE). 

The Sustained Excellence award is the highest honor bestowed by the ENERGY STAR program. The designation honors organizations making long-term commitments to climate action and energy efficiency. In 2020, Northwestern became the first university to receive the Sustained Excellence Award.

Find out more about what this means for Northwestern here

PhD Student Holly Ekas Receives Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans

April 13, 2021

Northwestern Engineering’s Holly Ekas, a PhD student studying chemical and biological engineering, has received a prestigious Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans.

Ekas is among 30 new Paul & Daisy Soros Fellows selected by the program, which recognizes the potential for immigrants or children of immigrants to make significant contributions to the United States. Chosen from a pool of 2,445 applicants — the most the program has ever received — Ekas will receive up to $90,000 in funding to support her graduate studies.

Read more about the honor here

Climate and Human Health Connections Highlighted at Global Conference

April 2, 2021

Around the world, the connection between the health of the planet and human health is becoming increasingly clear. In recent months, natural disasters fueled by climate disruption have left many without power, water, or energy sources. In other locations, daily activities are generating harmful levels of air pollution. These types of events have resulted in dramatic and immediately visible consequences for many communities.

Researchers at Northwestern University and around the globe are working to clarify such cause-and-effect relationships for the benefit of all people, and to assess the viability of proposed solutions. At the same time, students are exploring opportunities to become leaders in this critical and burgeoning field.

Read more here!

Diversity can prevent failures in large power grids

April 1, 2021

The recent power outages in Texas brought attention to its power grid being separated from the rest of the country. While it is not immediately clear whether integration with other parts of the national grid would have completely eliminated the need for rolling outages, the state’s inability to import significant amounts of electricity was decisive in the blackout.

A larger power grid has perks, but also has perils that researchers at Northwestern University are hoping to address to expedite integration and improvements to the system. 

Find out more here.


Potato Chips Inspire Novel Method for Water-Splitting

March 26, 2021

Finding clean energy sources will be a key to mitigating climate change in the 21st century. Recent work by Northwestern Engineering could be part of the solution, and the result was inspired by a lowly lunchbox treat: potato chips.

Led by Abraham Harris Professor of Materials Science and Engineering Vinayak Dravid, researchers in his VPD Group developed a new material to synthesize electrodes suitable for electrochemical water splitting. Unlike commercial hydrogen production, which is based on the petroleum industry, electrochemical water splitting is a key method for producing “clean” hydrogen with electricity, which can be obtained from environmentally friendly energy sources like solar, wind, and hydropower. 

Read more here!

Making Plastics Production More Energy Efficient

March 22, 2021

Northwestern engineering researchers have demonstrated a new approach to chemical catalysis that results in high propylene yields using less energy. The findings could support more energy-efficient production processes for many plastics.

For more on this cool research, check out this article!

New blueprint for zero-emission cement and concrete by 2050

March 16, 2021

Northwestern University researchers, in partnership with ClimateWorks Foundation, have developed a new blueprint for reducing carbon emissions in concrete, the world’s most-used building material.

The report, “Decarbonizing Concrete: Deep decarbonization pathways for the cement and concrete cycle in the United States, India and China,” was published today March 16 on ClimateWorks’ website. It highlights multiple ways — including production-size mitigation measures and demand reduction by use of lean construction and sustainable building materials — to drive the cement industry toward net-zero emissions by 2050.

Read more in this Northwestern Now article

Sustainable Energy Infrastructure for Ethiopian Education

March 5, 2021

Northwestern partners with Haile-Manas Academy on solar water heater project with $25k in support from the Resnick Family Social Impact Program. Despite abundant solar resources, Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous country, is energy impoverished. A multi-disciplinary team of Northwestern University students, advised by Walter P. Murphy Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and co-director of the Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern (ISEN) Sossina Haile, aims to model the deployment of sustainable energy technologies that can ultimately address the needs of Ethiopia’s 90+ million rural population. The initiative will leverage a unique partnership with the Haile-Manas Academy (HMA), a co-educational boarding high school in Debre Birhan, Ethiopia.

Find out more here!


Jen Drummond Presents Research on Microplastics' Impact on River Ecosystems

February 26, 2021

Jen Drummond (McCormick Ph.D. ’15) presented research findings about the impacts of microplastic pollution in rivers and freshwater ecosystems at a webinar hosted by the Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern.

Drummond focuses her research on the hyporheic zone of rivers. The hyporheic zone is made up of the top layer of sediment in riverbeds and is where many important nutrient cycling processes occur.

Microplastics, which result from plastic waste fragmenting into small pieces, can potentially persist for hundreds of years since they don’t biodegrade. Drummond’s research focuses on how these small plastic fragments enter the hyporheic zone and the impact they have on the ecosystem. She said microplastics are consumed by aquatic organisms and can become homes for pathogens, potentially threatening human health when they move downstream.

Read more about the work in this article from The Daily Northwestern.

Partnership explores legal avenues for river protection in Nepal

February 19, 2021

World Wildlife Fund (WWF), an international organization focused on protecting natural resources, wildlife, and communities, recently partnered with the Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law Environmental Advocacy Center (EAC)  to propose legal and policy strategies for protecting rivers in Nepal. 

The Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern (ISEN) leads the implementationof the alliance with WWF on behalf of the university at large. As a university-wide organization, ISEN works across academic departments and disciplines, playing an integral role in establishing the connections that make such partnerships possible for students and faculty. Paired with clients and organizations like WWF, law students provide real-world legal assistance under the tutelage of Northwestern legal experts and professors. 

Find out more here!

Electricity source determines benefits of electrifying China’s vehicles

February 16, 2021

Each year an estimated 1.2 million Chinese citizens die prematurely due to poor air quality. And public health consequences are particularly dire during extreme air quality events, such as infamous “Airpocalypse” winter haze episodes.

A team of Northwestern University researchers wondered if widespread adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) could help China avoid these deadly events. The answer? It depends.

Find out more in this article from Northwestern Now.

sustainNU releases 2019-2020 Sustainability Report

February 5, 2021

sustainNU has released its 2019-2020 annual sustainability report. This report highlights Northwestern's progress in addressing our impact on the environment and commitment to sustainability. 

Find the report here!

Exploring new policies to curb pollution in America's heartland

February 4, 2021

The Gulf of Mexico is home to over 15,000 species of animals and plants. Its warm water contains diverse habitats, nurturing high levels of biodiversity. The Gulf has other notable titles; for one, it is home to the second largest dead zone in the world. Over 2,000 square miles of the Gulf are uninhabitable due to low levels of oxygen, in large part because of the nutrient runoff from agricultural production along another water system: the Mississippi River Basin. As the second most polluted waterway in the United States, the Mississippi River Basin dumps hundreds of thousands of metric tons of pollutants into the Gulf every year. 

The Nature Conservancy (TNC), a global nonprofit focused on land and water conservation, recently partnered with the Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law as part of an experiential learning opportunity to search for policy solutions aimed at reducing nutrient run-off like nitrogen and phosphorus in the Mississippi River Basin, one of TNC’s identified priorities.

Read more about the partnership here.

NU-led team develops method to create green hydrogen from ammonia

February 4, 2021
A research team led by McCormick Prof. Sossina Haile recently discovered an environmentally friendly way to convert ammonia into pure hydrogen, which can be used as environmentally-friendly fuel for cars. Hydrogen-fueled cars have a greater range than their battery counterparts and do not need to be recharged. Read about it in this article from The Daily!


Prospects for U.S. and Global Climate Action with a Biden Administration

January 29, 2021
Many are hopeful that Joe Biden’s presidency will quickly restore federal climate change measures and catalyze substantial new efforts, such as a "green new deal." Many also hope for the United States to play a leadership role in fueling far-reaching international cooperation around climate change. Are those expectations warranted or unrealistic? What can we expect from the new administration?  A panel of Northwestern University political science, environment, and economics experts came together for a Northwestern Roberta Buffett Institute for Global Affairs webinar to discuss these questions and more. Click here to read the four big takeaways.

Welsh-Ryan Arena and Trienens Performance Center Renovations Achieve LEED Gold Certification

January 28, 2021

The Welsh-Ryan Arena and Trienens Performance Center renovation projects have achieved LEED Gold Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) on December 2nd, 2020, adding to the University’s impressive list of LEED-certified buildings. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a USGBC program that recognizes building designs that are resource-efficient and cost-effective, while providing a healthier and greener lifestyle for building occupants. The combined Welsh-Ryan Arena and Trienens Performance Center renovation project becomes the University’s 22nd LEED-certified facility. 

Read about it here!

Wildcats Choose to Reuse

January 28, 2021

If you’ve eaten in one of Northwestern’s campus dining halls lately, you are likely familiar with the reusable purple OZZI to-go container. These containers are not only a handy and secure way to transport your meal, they also help make Northwestern a little more sustainable. 

Read the story here!

Environmental Student Groups Get Creative with Virtual Engagement

January 28, 2021

As the pandemic forced Northwestern to transition to virtual instruction, student leaders of nearly 20 environmental student organizations had to figure out how to continue their activities remotely. Without in-person events to bring students together, organizations had to find new ways to foster a sense of community and engagement. 

Read about their efforts here!

Reducing Energy Consumption during COVID-19

January 28, 2021

With a reduced campus population due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Northwestern’s Facilities Management and Direct Digital Controls (DDC) team leapt into action this past spring to identify measures to reduce energy consumption across both the Evanston and Chicago campuses. “With more students, faculty, and staff working from home for extended periods of time, we saw an opportunity to rethink how we operate our facilities from a building controls perspective,” explained Chief DDC Engineer, Mike Slimp. COVID-19 energy conservation measures ranged from shutting down HVAC systems in unoccupied buildings to maximizing system capabilities that utilize demand control ventilation to adjust ventilation rates based on usage of space. 

Read more in the sustainNU article here!

Materials Flow Analysis: Supporting a Circular Plastics Economy

January 22, 2021

Plastics have become a significant material in many sectors but have contributed to a detrimental amount of environmental degradation. With current consumption patterns, continued plastic production will increase oil use. A report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation even predicts that the world’s oceans will contain more plastic than fish by 2050. Even with today’s limited recycling, plastic use has largely been unsustainable as only about 9% of plastic waste is recycled.

To find potential solutions to global use and accumulation of plastic, the Program on Plastics, Ecosystems, and Public Health (PEPH) at the Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern University (ISEN) prioritizes the examination of the entire lifecycle of plastics. PEPH also leverages research on the impact of plastic waste on ecosystems and public health and the development of environmentally benign substitute materials. As part of their initiative to explore the implications of everyday plastic use, PEPH hosts a webinar series which brings together collaborators from academic, civic, NGO, and industrial partner institutions.

Read more here!

Northwestern Teams Help the City of Chicago Plan New Equitable Electric Vehicle Infrastructure

January 18, 2021

When you hear the phrase “electric vehicle,” you might think about sustainability, or perhaps some distant future where our energy landscape looks quite different from today. Words like equity and gentrification might not jump to mind. However, when students in Northwestern University’s Master of Science in Energy and Sustainability program (MSES) were asked to consult the city of Chicago on new plans to implement better electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure, equity was one of the main points of focus.

Read more about the collaboration here!