After several years of planning, it is launched just in time to deal with a worrying climate crisis.

Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne (center) with Ann and John Doerr, who have donated more than $1 billion to the new School for Sustainability on their behalf. (Ed Caldwell/Stanford University)

Even with the cutting-edge research and innovation that happens daily at Stanford University, it’s been nearly seven decades since it launched a new school. But that’s about to change thanks to the generous support of several philanthropists investing their capital in Stanford’s mission to fight the environment, including a transformational $1.1 billion gift from venture capitalist John Doerr and from his wife Ann Doerr, the Khan Academy channel.

Stanford’s new Doerr School for Sustainability, coming out in September, will combine the strength of its current environment and energy institutes with newly created academic departments and an accelerator to help tackle climate change through innovation and public policies. Part of the $1.7 billion in total donations will go towards the construction of two LEED Platinum facilities to form its own “Sustainability Commons” which will be paired with two existing buildings and connected by a walkway with a rooftop garden.

Climate change has become a priority for Stanford and for higher education leaders, and many have signed Second Nature’s Climate Leadership Pledge to do their part to foster sustainability. According to data from the non-profit International Rescue Committee, more than 40 million people now face hunger and 200 million could be displaced in less than 30 years due to global warming. Meanwhile, the United States has done more to harm the world with emissions than any other country, so initiatives like Stanford’s are needed and very much in the wheelhouse of an institution with broad reach and resources.

“Stanford is making a bold, achievable and enduring commitment to tackle humanity’s greatest challenge, and we are deeply confident in its ambition and capability,” the Doerrs said in a statement. “Today’s real and pressing challenges, including solving our climate crisis, require that knowledge be channeled into developing practical and workable solutions. With a strong track record of groundbreaking scholarship and impact and a critical mass of subject matter experts and innovators, Stanford is uniquely positioned to make a measurable difference in climate and sustainability challenges. This is the breakthrough decade, and we must act with full speed and scale.

Stanford plans to hire 90 additional short-term faculty members and another 60 over the next 10 years as it builds the school, supported by another donation from Yahoo! co-founder Jerry Yang and wife Akiko Yamazaki. Those who are already involved in its School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences or who work at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and the Précourt Institute for Energy will simply transfer their roles in the new school of sustainability. Officials said they were also creating a separate corporate institute that will focus on economic and political impacts.

“Growing our faculty is critical as we create entirely new departments, expand areas of research, and ensure diverse voices and experiences inform our research,” said Stanford Provost Persis Drell. “I am extremely grateful to Akiko and Jerry for allowing us to move quickly towards our ambitious recruitment goal, which will be essential to meet all the challenges related to climate and sustainability. »


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The school will be led by new dean Arun Majumdar, a professor and former co-director of the Precourt Institute who chairs the US Secretary of Energy’s advisory board and was previously vice president of energy for Google. He also did graduate work at Arizona State University, University of California-Berkeley, and University of California, Santa Barbara. Among its many goals are building partnerships, increasing research and innovation, and maintaining attention on global change. “As it is often said, we don’t inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children,” Majumdar said. “We must create a future in which humans and nature thrive together.”

Stanford is among an elite group of institutions that have dedicated major climate change initiatives, including Columbia University’s Columbia Climate School, Yale University’s School of the Environment, and Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment. Many others are tackling the subject head-on through curricula, forums or campus institutes, including the Harvard Center for the Environment and the School of Earth and Climate Sciences at the University of Maine.

Stanford’s new school will be as comprehensive and intense as possible, with the Doerrs’ donation helping to increase the number of “graduate students and postdoctoral fellows – the leading scientists, entrepreneurs, policymakers and advocates for tomorrow’s climate and sustainability” . This idea came to fruition after years of planning, including the submission of 2,800 proposals around sustainability, President Marc Tessier-Levigne and a committee recognizing the impact an autonomous school could have.