Building Sustainable Communities


People are at the center of environmental challenges and solutions. By considering linked needs for society to achieve resilience and sustainability, the cross-college, multi-disciplinary Building Sustainable Communities Signature Research Area identifies equitable and effective solutions for addressing global environmental change.

Our mission is to connect scholars working on social, ecological, and technical systems to address how to create more just and sustainable futures. We focus on five overlapping areas:

  1. Decision making and governance
  2. Human behavior, values and cultural norms
  3. Critical infrastructure systems
  4. Complex social-ecological systems and dynamics
  5. Participatory research designs.

In all of these areas, we identify new strategies for recentering people in environmental research to create not only effective but also just social-ecological projects, policy solutions, and infrastructure designs. Key questions include:

  • How can we build policies that are resilient to short-term political and economic pressures as well as changing environmental conditions?
  • What are the distributive, procedural, and recognitional justice implications of proposed social, political, economic, and engineered solutions to environmental change?
  • How do cultural norms, ethics, and moral behaviors shape and respond to changing environmental conditions?
  • What are the ways in which policy-makers and citizens imagine new futures and engage with scientific knowledge to create such futures?
  • How can we identify and maintain resilient resource management systems?
  • How can we build and support diverse environmental research teams?

In sum, how can we better understand how human beliefs, decision, and actions affect a wide range of environmental challenges and solutions across complex systems?

Building sustainable communities infographic

Click on the image to view in full resolution

Purdue’s Approach

Leveraging a multi-year cluster hire of seven new faculty members across seven departments, this initiative is promoting interdisciplinary and systems approaches to understanding and addressing these challenges.  The initiative is focused on three overlapping areas: informal institutions and decision making, critical infrastructure systems, and resilience in social, engineered, and ecological systems. Rather than addressing problems such as natural disaster preparedness and response, or climate change mitigation and adaptation, as primarily engineering or institutional design problems, this initiative investigates good design principles for both complex social and engineered systems, as well as their networked interactions.


UNSA NEXUS: Equitable Co-existence of Agriculture, Mining, and Regional Development in Arequipa: Realities, Barriers, and Opportunities

PI: Zhao Ma
Funding: Universidad Nacional de San Agustín de Arequipa


Natural Hazards Engineering Research Infrastructure: Network Coordination Office

PI: David Johnson
Funding: NSF, CMMI


CRISP Type 2/Collaborative Research: Critical Transitions in the Resilience and Recovery of Interdependent Social and Physical Networks

PI: Satish Ukkusuri
Funding: NSF, CMMI


Identifying Sustainability Solutions through Global-Local-Global Analysis of a Coupled Water-Agriculture-Bioenergy System

PI: David Johnson
Funding: NSF, INFEWS


Collaborative Research: Cross-Scale Interactions & the Design of Adaptive Reservoir Operations

PI: David J. Yu
Funding: NSF, CMMI

Sociotechnical Systems to Enable Smart and Connected Energy-Aware Residential Communities

PI: Leigh Raymond
Funding: NSF, SCC-IRG


Affiliated Faculty

Jonathan Bauchet

Consumer Science
Jonathan Bauchet profile picture

Taylor Davis

Taylor Davis profile picture

Jonathon Day

Hospitality and Tourism Management
Jonathon Day profile picture

Andrew Flachs

Anthropology Department
Andrew Flachs profile picture

Tara Grillos

Political Science
Tara Grillos profile picture

Erin Hennes

Erin Hennes profile picture

David Johnson

Industrial Engineering and Political Science
David Johnson profile picture

Jennifer Johnson

Jennifer Johnson profile picture

Daniel Kelly

Daniel Kelly profile picture

Zhao Ma

Forestry and Natural Resources
Zhao Ma profile picture

Manjana Milkoreit

Political Science
Manjana Milkoreit profile picture

Roshanak Nateghi

Industrial Engineering and Environmental and Ecological Engineering
Roshanak Nateghi profile picture

Linda Prokopy

Forestry and Natural Resources
Linda Prokopy profile picture

P. Suresh Rao

Civil Engineering and Agronomy
P. Suresh Rao profile picture

Leigh Raymond

Political Science
Leigh Raymond profile picture

Satish Ukkusuri

Civil Engineering
Satish Ukkusuri profile picture

Jae Hoon David Yu

Civil Engineering
Jae Hoon David Yu profile picture

Laura Zanotti

Anthropology Department
Laura Zanotti profile picture