Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment
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The Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment serves as Stanford University’s hub for faculty from all seven schools to pursue environmental solutions. An interdisciplinary research lab, the Woods community encompasses more than 50 senior fellows and 150 affiliated faculty as well as researchers, postdoctoral scholars and students collaborating on sustainability research around the globe. Woods pursues its mission to “protect and nurture our planet so it can meet the vital needs of people today and of generations to come” through research by Stanford's exceptional faculty and students, convening global experts, developing leaders and linking knowledge to action. The Stanford Woods Institute supports and advances research in seven focal areas: climate, ecosystem services and conservation, food security, freshwater, oceans, public health, and sustainable development. It provides millions of dollars in seed funding to catalyze environmental research through its Environmental Ventures Projects (EVP) program in addition to supporting seven research centers, leadership programs and a series of workshops, salons and dialogues for scholars, decision-makers and other stakeholders on- and off-campus.
In October 2000 John L. Hennessy was inaugurated as Stanford’s 10th president. Shortly thereafter, he announced a plan to rethink Stanford’s 21st century priorities. That same year, the Provost's Committee on the Environment produced a report highlighting the need for Stanford to become “a national leader in providing solutions for environmental problems.”  As an outgrowth of these events, President Hennessy in 2003 worked with the university’s Provost’s Committee on the Environment to launch a campus-wide Initiative on the Environment and Sustainability. The following year he created the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment to serve as the initiative’s centerpiece and focal point. Envisioned as a hub for Stanford’s environmental researchers, the Institute brought together experts from across the university’s seven schools to pursue interdisciplinary, solutions-oriented research addressing the planet’s most complex environmental challenges while preparing the next generation of environmental leaders.
Enthusiasm and broad-based support for the institute led to fast growth. Since its founding, the Woods community has grown from a handful of committed faculty to more than 150 fellows, affiliated scholars and researchers representing all of Stanford’s seven schools. Research sponsored by Woods has led to innovations including solar pumps used to water thirsty crops in the developing world, new technology that removes pathogens from wastewater and the introduction of government policies for drinking water access in sub-Saharan Africa.
In 2006 the Institute was formally renamed for Stanford trustee Ward W. Woods, '64, and his wife, Priscilla, whose significant contribution supports innovative environmental programs and collaborative research.
Environmental Venture Projects (EVPs)
Every year, the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment chooses several high-risk projects that have the “potential to develop solutions to major environmental challenges” (Woods, 2013). Each Environmental Venture Project (EVP) receives up to $100,000 per year for one to two years (Woods, 2013). In order to be chosen, a project must:
- Involve interdisciplinary collaboration among Stanford faculty members who have never worked together
- Be focused on challenges relating to the environment and/or one of Woods’ seven focal areas (climate, ecosystem services and conservation, food security, freshwater, oceans, public health, and sustainable development)
- Seek advancement in complex, cross-cutting issues such as environmental ethics, incentive systems, risk perception, and analysis and valuation of natural systems
Since its founding in 2004, Woods has awarded $8.5 million to more than 50 projects in 24 countries. EVP recipients have also received $39 million in follow-on grants from outside sources (Woods, 2013). Some notable projects include:
- Low-cost mobile toilets: With help from an EVP, Stanford researchers have developed a project called "SOIL" (Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods), aimed at producing portable, low-cost toilets to help improve sanitation conditions in parts of Haiti with no sewers or running water while also improving the quality of agriculture land.
- Biodegradable plastic: Another team used its EVP to develop a synthetic wood substitute made from hemp fibers and a biodegradable plastic resin called polyhydroxybutyrate. This wood-and-plastic substitute has the potential to save trees, reduce greenhouse gases and shrink landfills.
- Pumping water with sunlight: Stanford Professor Rosamond Naylor and her team monitored a solar-powered drip-irrigation system put in place in two rural villages in northern Benin by Solar Electric Light Fund. As a result of these solar irrigation pumps, incomes in the two villages shot up, as did nutrition levels.
- Leopold Leadership Program: This program trains academic researchers to take new and different approaches to learning, as well as teaching them to effectively communicate their work to businesses, political leaders and students.
- Mel Lane Student Grants: These are grants of between $500 and $3,000 awarded to Stanford students who wish to work on environmental solutions in addition to their required coursework.
- Rising Environmental Leaders Program: This is a one-week “boot camp” that takes place in Washington, D.C. Participants learn about policy development, partnership building and public service careers at a national level.
- Mentoring Undergraduates in Interdisciplinary Research (MUIR): MUIR provides a stipend to Stanford undergraduate students conducting interdisciplinary research who are also enrolled part or full-time in summer school. Students need to work closely with a Stanford faculty member who is willing to apply on their behalf.
- Stanford Interdisciplinary Graduate Fellowships (SIGF): SIGF is a competitive Stanford-wide award for a three-year fellowship. It is given to outstanding doctoral students who work on interdisciplinary research involving the humanities, the natural world and social sciences.
- Young Environmental Scholars (YES) conference: YES is a conference organized by Stanford graduate students and postdoctoral scholars aimed at bringing environmental researchers from all seven of Stanford’s schools together to create a dialogue about environmental policy, behavior and norms research.
- Goldman Honors Program: Stanford students accepted into the Goldman Honors Program must study environmental science, technology and policy, with a concentration in one of these disciplines. During their senior year, the students are asked to create and implement a project that addresses an environmental challenge.
- Convenings: In addition, the Stanford Woods Institute convenes academic and political leaders on a regular basis to advance environmental solutions in the outside world.
- Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment (2013). Environmental Venture Projects. [Brochure]. Stanford, CA: Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment