Key Industry

Industry profile: Sustainability

“Sustainability” is more than a buzzword. It means finding ways to meet today’s economic and health needs while protecting our environmental future. It means decarbonizing our energy system, reducing waste and pollution, and managing our natural resources to ensure that future generations can live and thrive on a healthy planet. These are significant challenges—but the myriad technologies and talents required to build a sustainable future represent significant economic opportunity for present-day innovators.

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How we are addressing sustainability for our industry partners and Michigan's economy:

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Harnessing the sun

A clean energy revolution

"By taking action, we're making Michigan a national leader in clean energy."

- Gov. Gretchen Whitmer


Top talent

URC schools have one of the most robust and diverse sustainability talent pipelines in the world, graduates leave our universities with degrees in fields that allow them tackle modern-day and future environmental issues from a lab, field, or health care perspective:
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URC schools graduated 1,000 students in sustainability-related majors8 during the 2021-2022 school year.9 10 11

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Wayne State designated a United Nations Regional Centre of Expertise (RCE) on Sustainable Development in partnership with the University of Windsor. Just one of 11 in the U.S. and 188 globally, this unique international alliance will uphold and expand upon the principles championed in Wayne State’s Transformative Research in Sustainability Training, a multidisciplinary graduate program that connects students with local communities, businesses, industries, scientists and policymakers to understand and address challenges in urban sustainability.

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The University of Michigan and Michigan State University rank among the Top 50 universities in the world for environment/ecology studies, according to U.S. News and World Report.

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The University of Michigan School of Environment and Sustainability (SEAS) has more than 12,600 alumni, the largest graduate population of any environmental degree program in the United States.

MSU’s Knight Center for Environmental Journalism was founded in 1994 through the creation of the nation’s first endowed chair in environmental journalism. For 30 years, the Knight Center has taught thousands of undergraduate and graduate students how to better report on environmental issues.14

Wayne State and Great Lakes Water Authority to create workforce and laboratory center of the future: A three-year long project will focus on developing the existing Waterworks Park Pilot Plant facility (a 12,000 to 1 scale model of the full treatment system) to perform applied research, testing and evaluation, and workforce development for new and emerging technologies.12

Sustainability is the fastest growing area of concentration at the MSU School of Packaging, the number one packaging programs in the United States according to

8Majors counted include: Environmental Design/Architecture; Environmental Biology; Environmental Toxicology; Environmental/Environmental Health Engineering; Packaging Science; Sustainability Studies; Environmental Science; Environmental Studies; Environmental/Natural Resource Economics; Environmental/Natural Resource Recreation and Tourism; Environmental/Natural Resources Management and Policy, General; Forestry, General; Forestry, Other; Wildlife, Fish and Wildlands Science and Management; Parks, Recreation, and Leisure Facilities Management, General; Environmental Health; Natural Resources/Conservation, General.




Impactful research

The URC schools spent $35 million dollars on natural resources and conservation R&D in FY2022, nearly as much as North Carolina’s Research Triangle and the Texas Research University Network combined ($38 million).15
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MSU Department of Supply Chain Management (SCM) is the number one SCM program in the United States, according to US News and World Report. It also produces the most publications in empirically focused journals, according to the Supply Chain Management Journal List. One of the school’s primary research areas is supply chain sustainability.

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U-M’s Electric Vehicle Center – Driving EV Tech & Talent through education, innovation and engagement.   Fueled by a $130 million investment from the state of Michigan’s Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO), we drive EV tech and talent by uniting researchers, educators and industry leaders to tackle challenges and expand opportunities in transitioning to vehicle electrification.16

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VentureWell and Wayne State TechTown’s Ascend program receives $500,000 grant from the U.S. DOE to support energy entrepreneurship. The program was one of four incubators to win the grant during the second round of the Energy Program for Innovation Clusters (EPIC) Prize program. It trained its first class of 10 startup teams in 2023.25

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Center for Complex Particle Systems (COMPASS), led by U-M Chemical Engineering faculty, is a collaborative home for theoretical, experimental, and computational researchers who are developing a systems-level approach to particle-based matter for sustainable energy-efficient manufacturing.19
MSU W.K. Kellogg Biological Station (KBC) works to increase understanding of natural and managed ecosystems and their linkages to society by conducting and supporting research in ecology, evolutionary biology, agriculture, and conservation biology across the continuum of basic to applied research. KBS is a premier site for field experimental research in aquatic and terrestrial ecology that takes advantage of the diverse managed and unmanaged ecosystems on our property and in the local area.20
Healthy Urban Waters (HUW) is a program at Wayne State University that promotes and delivers research, education, technology development and public engagement on water resources in the urban environment. The focus area is the Huron to Erie corridor, although WSU’s expertise and application extends throughout the Great Lakes watershed.22

U-M Global CO2 Initiative is at the forefront of research, development, market introduction, and broad-scale deployment of carbon capture and conversion technologies.18

MSU AgBioResearch conducts leading-edge research that combines scientific expertise with practical applications to advance agriculture, sustain natural resources, generate economic prosperity, and enhance the quality of life in Michigan and worldwide. Approximately 300 AgBioResearch researchers received nearly $90 million in federal, state, and private grants between June 2022 and June 2023.21

Wayne State University is home to the Center for Leadership in Environmental Awareness and Research (CLEAR), a National Institutes of Health-funded Superfund Research Program dedicated to understanding and mitigating adverse birth outcomes and serious developmental health problems that have been associated with exposure to volatile organic chemicals, especially in post-industrial cities like Detroit. CLEAR provides new methods for assessment, testing and mitigation to help reduce toxic exposures and improve health outcomes.23

Researchers at the U-M Center for Sustainable Systems (CSS) have conducted 300 research projects generating over 900 publications. The CSS Sustainability Factsheet Collection has over half a million visits a year and includes 32 factsheets spanning from wind energy to food systems.17

MSU Department of Supply Chain Management (SCM) is the number one SCM program in the United States, according to US News and World Report. It also produces the most publications in empirically focused journals, according to the Supply Chain Management Journal List. One of the school’s primary research areas is supply chain sustainability.

Wayne State University Center for Urban Response to Environmental Stressors (CURES) is one of a few select environmental health sciences core centers in the nation funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. CURES works to understand how human exposures to chemical and non-chemical stressors in the urban environment can influence the development of environmentally linked disease.24

The MSU Water Alliance brings together experts across the University to push the boundaries of discovery and find solutions to water-related challenges through research, education, and engagement with communities and industries. It is led by MSU’s Office of Research and Innovation in partnership with MSU AgBioResearch, MSU Extension, and the Homer Nowlin Endowment.26

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the State of Michigan announced a collective award of cash incentives and grants totaling $75 million to build workforce development for Nel Hydrogen’s new factory to be built in Plymouth, Michigan, that will enable the creation of more than 500 high-tech jobs. The electrolyser production facility will make a significant contribution to energy transition that will stimulate a clean energy economy. Wayne State’s College of Engineering will play a major role by providing hands-on experiences to high school students and establishing robust workforce training in hydrogen and fuel cell technologies.15

Successful commercialization



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Licensing Revenue 27


Start-Ups 27


Patents awarded 27


Invention disclosures 27

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The Accelerate Blue Fund (ABF) at U-M is an early-stage venture fund investing in U-M licensed startups. In fiscal year 2023, ABF invested in 9 new portfolio companies, bringing the portfolio to 14 U-M startups and $15.1M under management. ABF funds companies like NX Fuels, which provides cost-effective solutions for production of green fuels from CO2 and water using only renewable solar energy, and Zakuro, an energy storage company developing energy-dense solid-state batteries for Li-ion replacement.29

MSU Research Foundation, through its early-stage venture investment organization Red Cedar Ventures, supports high-tech startups at MSU and beyond. Since 2014, RCV has deployed nearly $30 million in funds, attracted $1 billion in co-investment, and resulted in 159 active companies and 22 exits. RCV has funded companies like Accelerated Filtration, which provides water recovery technology to reduce water scarcity, and JustAir, which provides local air pollution monitoring solutions to cities to bring greater transparency to the disparities of air quality between communities.28

The James and Patricia Anderson Engineering Ventures Institute was established with a $25 million gift in 2014 to support innovation and entrepreneurship. Embedded within the college, the institute fosters a culture of entrepreneurship among the faculty envisioning commercial applications for new technology, securing patents and establishing start-up companies while providing opportunities for students to learn best practices in applied research, technology commercialization and business creation.30

The University of Michigan’s Innovation Partnerships was awarded $5 million dollars by MEDC to establish the Michigan University Innovation Capital Fund and the Michigan University Innovation Capital Consortium. This is a partnership among U-M, Michigan State University, Michigan State University Research Foundation, Wayne State University, Western Michigan University and Michigan Technological University.

Powerful partnerships

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Partnership highlights

URC universities are key participants in the federally funded Global Epicenter for Mobility’s (GEM’s) Mobility Acceleration Innovation Network (MAIN). GEM is designed to create a smart, secure, sustainable and inclusive advanced mobility industry in Southeast Michigan, made possible by a four-year U.S. Economic Development Administration Build Back Better Regional Challenge grant award. MSU Research Foundation, U-M Innovation Partnerships and Wayne State’s TechTown are engaged in MAIN to accelerate the growth of mobility startups that drive innovation and fill gaps in the mobility value chain.

U-M and WSU are members of Great Lakes ReNEW, a consortium of Great Lakes-area universities and tech companies developing ways to extract harmful substances from wastewater. In January 2024, the consortium received a $15 million Innovation Engine grant from the National Science Foundation under the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022.

MSU and U-M collaborate on programs like Michigan Sea Grants to generate $1.36 million dollars in economic benefits. The program also created or sustained 170 Michigan businesses from its activities.31


The state of Michigan is a leader in sustainability

Michigan—a state renowned for its environmental stewardship and technological ingenuity—offers unparalleled possibilities. The University Research Corridor (URC), an alliance of the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, and Wayne State University, serves as the nucleus of Michigan’s transformative landscape, driving collaborative research, talent development, and industry partnerships. Through a convergence of academic excellence, strategic resources, and a rich legacy of innovation, Michigan and its URC member institutions present an exceptional platform for sustainability-focused companies to not only locate but thrive, catalyzing sustainable growth and global economic impact.

Favorable policies

The 2022 MI Healthy Climate Plan set forth an ambitious pathway for Michigan to reach 100 percent carbon neutrality by 2050. According to Resources for the Future, a nonpartisan research organization, the plan put Michigan “at the vanguard not just of state clean-energy policy but of global clean energy policy.”1
In 2023, Michigan enacted the Clean Energy & Jobs Act to establish a 100 percent clean energy standard and create 160,000 good-paying jobs by 2040. The law also streamlined the permitting process for utility-scale clean energy projects.
The state’s commitment to green energy practices and social responsibility has been affirmed by Site Selection’s Sustainability Rankings. In 2021, Michigan was ranked by the magazine as the No. 3 state for sustainable development, and Grand Rapids and Lansing were ranked the nation’s No. 2 and No. 6 metros, respectively, on the list.2



Vibrant and growing workforce

Michigan leads the Midwest in the number of clean energy workers. Clean energy businesses in Michigan added more than 5,400 workers in 2022 and now employ 123,983 clean energy employees statewide.3 Michigan employed 118,993 people in the outdoor recreation industry in 2022.4 Michigan employed 4,570 people working in natural resource conservation in 2022.5




Culture of innovation

The city of Detroit—Michigan’s largest city and the home of WSU—is the number one emerging startup ecosystem in North America, according to Startup Genome. The publication cited “the funding, local business network, and support resources” for transforming Detroit into “one of the country’s most promising innovation and startup hubs.”6
Michigan’s venture capital industry grew to historic highs in 2022, with a total deal value of $1.2 billion. According to the Michigan Venture Capital Association, key emerging segments with top fundraising companies include cleantech, mobility, and artificial intelligence.
Michigan-based venture capital firms like Huron River Ventures have funded impactful sustainability-focused firms like Ann Arbor-based SkySpecs, a global wind turbine technology company, and Ambiq, a global semiconductor technology firm focused on ultra-low power, energy efficient chips.

Climate resilience

Michigan is strategically located in a region that will be resilient to environmental shocks imposed by climate change. With access to a fifth of the world’s surface fresh water, Michigan has the third lowest risk of water stress nationally.7

Strategic location and strong infrastructure

Michigan’s strategic location and extensive transportation infrastructure provide unrivaled connectivity. The state boasts the busiest North American crossing (Detroit-Windsor port of entry) and plans to enhance cross-border trade with the Gordie Howe International Bridge. The Detroit region boasts seven interstates, four railroads, seven ports, and 15 airports, including the award-winning Detroit Metropolitan Airport, offering global flight connections.
7Source: World Resources Institute n.d. Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas. Accessed January 7, 2024.

“Our work is to bring together community partners, address activities related to sustainable development challenges, [and] work toward enhancing the economy to meet the sustainable era.”

- Prof. Donna Kashian, Wayne State University

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Working Together

For Michigan’s furture

Success Stories