Integrating sustainability science into grantmaking

In the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation’s (CMGF) inaugural blog post on January 14, 2014, we described George P. Mitchell’s role in launching the field of sustainability science. Inspired by George’s leadership in this endeavor and to honor his legacy, concepts of sustainability science inform the design of CGMF’s Sustainability Program, including our work in Clean Energy, Water, Shale Sustainability, and Sustainability Education.

In this latest initiative, the Foundation is pleased to highlight the work of many of our grantees—partners who are essential to achieving sustainability goals in the state of Texas.

A fundamental shift is underway in the use of science for environmental protection. As explained by the National Academy of Sciences and leading thinkers on sustainability science, modern environmental and social sustainability problems are becoming more complex. Climate change, megacities, shale development, and ocean acidification are examples of these multifaceted issues that cannot be solved with traditional scientific or policy approaches. Today there is a call for more “use-inspired research,” science and research in support of advocacy, decision-making, and social learning.

The goal of use-inspired research is to link users (the public, advocates, and policymakers) with scientists to create knowledge that informs effective decision-making. This is the essence of sustainability science.

Sustainability science calls for research (the knowing) and advocacy (the doing) that includes these key elements: (1) works on a regional scale, (2) is place-based, and (3) is cross-disciplinary and integrative. Use-inspired research is iterative in its knowledge development thus facilitating social learning and a process for adaptive management.

Society is in desperate need for a new approach to solving highly complex environmental and social issues. These are not problems we see emerging far into the future. They are present now in Texas. Examples include the current drought, issues of shale development and its impacts, the profound loss of biodiversity and habitat, the mismanagement of surface water supplies, inadequate governance of groundwater, and a lack of robust market tools to drive clean and water-lean electricity demand in Texas.

An authentic niche for the Foundation, driven by the true vision of Cynthia and George Mitchell, is to build a robust, long-term, strategic organization with a prominent focus on sustainability science and with the goal of addressing and solving critical, relevant, and timely problems.

Integrating a sustainability science perspective into a grantmaking program is a unique, paradigm-shifting philanthropic endeavor. CGMF’s strategic grantmaking process involves several related activities, beginning with identifying the major challenges to sustainability in Texas. We then quantify the nature of these challenges, including scope, magnitude and scale, geographic dimensions, and gaps in information. Finally, we identify the most effective policy levers to address the challenges. Our grantee network is necessarily cross-disciplinary, incorporating engineering, natural sciences and social sciences.

CGMF grants are awarded to scientists, advocates, and consultants in innovative ways to make critical progress on sustainability challenges in Texas.

Our current Shale, Clean Energy, Water, and Sustainability Education programs provide these types of strategic grants and encompass grantee activities that include (1) scientific research and analysis of sustainability challenges and solutions; (2) coalition and network building; (3) communicating research results, policy analysis, and polling data; and (4) educating community leaders and decision-makers.

CGMF is honored to work with the outstanding grantees that comprise our current portfolio. We are inspired by their scientific integrity, tenacity, and acuity. We hope that you enjoy learning more about their important contributions to creating a sustainable Texas.


Editor's note: This is the first in a series of posts from the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation's blogging initiative, "Achieving a Sustainable Texas." For additional information, visit For updates, follow the Foundation on Twitter @MitchFound

The views expressed by contributors to the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation's blogging initiative, "Achieving a Sustainable Texas," are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the foundation. 


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