A School for the Future

With the creation of the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability, the university confronts the greatest issue of the 21st century.

July 2022

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Portrait of Marc Tessier-Lavigne

Photo: Toni Bird

From extreme weather to the smoky skies we often experience in California in the fall, our world is increasingly showing the effects of climate change. As we’ve considered how Stanford can help tackle the climate crisis, one thing has been clear—the scale of our effort must match the magnitude of the challenge. For that reason, this fall, we’ll launch Stanford’s first new school in more than 70 years, the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability.

During Stanford’s long-range planning process, faculty, students, staff and alumni shared ideas for how the university can have greater impact in sustainability. Faculty committees considered their suggestions and developed plans for better organizing our climate and sustainability scholarship. In May 2020, Provost Persis Drell and I accepted the structural committee’s recommendation to create the new school. 

The school is designed to have impact in three broad areas: earth, climate and society. It builds on Stanford’s strong tradition of scholarship about our planet, currently focused in the School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences as well as the department of civil and environmental engineering, Hopkins Marine Station, and the Woods and Precourt institutes. These organizations will come together as part of the new school. 

The school has a three-part structure. First, traditional departments, both existing and new, will advance understanding on sustainability issues across academic disciplines. Second, the school will incorporate the Woods Institute for the Environment and the Precourt Institute for Energy, as well as a new institute focused on sustainable societies. These institutes will bring scholars together to engage in cross-disciplinary work.

Third, the school will include a Sustainability Accelerator, aimed at creating technology and policy solutions. The accelerator will connect scholars with funding, infrastructure, technological resources and external partners so that discoveries made on campus can become solutions with broad and meaningful impact. 

The school will educate a new generation of leaders who are deeply committed to setting our world on a better path.

Together, these structures will amplify the work of our scholars—everything from clean energy technologies to the effects of climate change on human health to infrastructure resilience and more. We are now working to bring many more talented scholars to campus, and they will help open new pathways to discovery and solutions. Leading the school will be its inaugural dean, Arun Majumdar, an expert in energy solutions and policies who has deep experience in academia, government and industry.

The school will educate a new generation of leaders who are deeply committed to setting our world on a better path. It will equip our students with the skills and knowledge they need to contribute solutions in the decades to come. 

We are fortunate to have found natural partners in John and Ann Doerr, who gave a transformative gift to open the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability, which was augmented by other generous donors. The Doerrs have a deep focus in this area—Ann is a former board member and current advisory board member of the Environmental Defense Fund, and John wrote an important book called Speed and Scale: An Action Plan for Solving Our Climate Crisis Now. They saw Stanford’s strong tradition in this space and recognized how our approach aligns with their own. I am deeply grateful to them.

The creation of this new school is a historic moment for Stanford, but it’s also deeply rooted in the university’s mission and traditions. Jane and Leland Stanford established the university as a place where students and scholars would pursue knowledge not just as an end in itself but for the sake of humanity. With this new school, we aim to do just that—and, with the school’s three-part structure, to provide a new model for how research universities can multiply their beneficial impact on the world.

Marc Tessier-Lavigne is the president of Stanford University.

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