Resilience and Sustainability Collaboratory

Accelerating our capacity to generate and sustain viable futures

Providing a place for peace and serenity for Winship at Midtown patients


The Resilience and Sustainability Collaboratory (RSC) is a think and do tank that brings together the collective expertise of thought leaders from corporate, community, non-governmental, governmental, and academic groups from Emory and elsewhere to address complex challenges at the nexus of the environment and society. The RSC will generate epistemic, actionable projects and provide innovative solutions for issues of sustainability through a resilience lens. We define resilience not as recovery to what was before but as a capacity to embrace the complexity of intertwined human and natural systems to transform in new and positive ways. As a US-based anchor to the International Resilience Alliance, the RSC will partner with the best minds to develop, implement, and scale new approaches that embrace the complexity and uncertainty in the dynamic systems of people and nature to meet our current and future global challenges. The RSC will provide community-accessible space in the heart of downtown Atlanta.


Within One Year

Become a trustworthy resource center on resilience and sustainability, focused on systems change

Convene best-in-class corporate sustainability executives, academic resources, subject-matter experts, local & national government agencies, and non-profit leaders to achieve significant global impact

Generate innovative scalable local projects that support global transformation and sustainable, just, and prosperous futures worldwide

Within Five Years

Develop learning approaches for understanding and managing complex issues of humans and environment

Generate novel approaches to complex issues facing leaders in industry, government, organizations, and communities

Address cross-disciplinary issues of environmental change, human health, and justice through open platforms for sharing data and results

Serve as a recognized leader for innovation and training, using resilience thinking to address pressing issues of climate, health, and social justice


For over forty years, scholars and practitioners in theories of resilience have developed concepts or principles for enhancing the adaptive capacity of social ecological systems. These include:

Learning to live with change and uncertainty

Encouraging new foundations for renewal that build and sustain the capacity of people, economies, and the environment to deal with change

Nurturing diversity for renewal and reorganization

Combining different types of knowledge for learning to preserve accumulated experience and wisdom on which change is based

Stimulating innovation through a variety of low cost, safe to fail experiments designed to discover sustainable outcomes


“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive, but those who can best manage and adapt to change” —Charles Darwin


Over the past 150 years, the city of Atlanta and its residents have demonstrated a remarkable capacity to adapt to and recover from natural disasters, economic shocks, and civil disturbances. Indeed, the motto of Atlanta is ‘Resurgens’ — to rise again. The current paradox of the metro region (and others) is that with the growth of wealth and structure, it is increasingly vulnerable to a wide range of foreseeable disturbances. Yet as indicated by our current year (2020), we can no longer pretend that such shocks, either from long-standing racial tensions, ongoing climate change, or economic inequities—can be treated as isolated, manageable events from which we recover or rebound to a new condition of normality.


As Atlanta’s largest employer and Georgia’s largest comprehensive health care system, Emory can convene thought leaders and implement innovations in resilience, such as the award-winning WaterHub which uses biomimetic design to reclaim wastewater.


The RSC’s cutting-edge and actionable project work is designed to create innovative solutions to pressing issues related to environmental change, human health, and social justice. First tested locally, RSC projects will ultimately be scaled and implemented at the regional, national, and global levels.

The RSC Clinic

Climate change has been called the greatest global health challenge and opportunity of the 21st century. Health-related consequences of climate change can be lifelong and irreversible, and children are projected to bear 88 percent of the burden of those consequences. Children in low-income communities are disproportionately affected.

Through the RSC Clinic, we will:

Strengthen community engagement with the RSC by ensuring a service component that addresses the needs of the community

Provide a setting to assess and address climate-related health stressors and environmental determinants of health

Create, model, and share best practices in the provision of green, disaster-prepared health care

Train future pediatricians and health professionals to provide greener health care

Our clinical care will improve the resilience of families in our community and of Georgia’s health system while making Emory a leader in the biggest health opportunity of our time.

Soil Testing and Community-Engaged Remediation in West Atlanta

Exposure to heavy metals and metalloids (HMM) can cause serious health consequences and even death. Soil contaminated with HMMs is a major public health concern that has been linked to elevated levels of lead in children’s blood and adverse learning and behavioral outcomes. We partnered with Historic Westside Gardens Atlanta Inc., Environmental Protection Agency Region 4, and the Georgia Department of Public Health to test soil in Atlanta’s Westside neighborhood for HMM contaminants.

Our findings:

Slag dumps and high levels of HMM in soil

Limited community awareness of the risks of contaminated soil and remediation sources

Limited information on the effects of exposure

Limited testing of soil and children’s blood lead levels

As a result of our study, the EPA began investigation in the West Atlanta neighborhood and began excavating the soil in early 2020. A systematic approach to testing and community-engaged remediation can be replicated in other vulnerable markets. These efforts are essential for creating a more equitable and healthy society.

The Working Farms Fund

Many small to mid-sized farms surrounding metro areas are at risk of being lost to development. Through the Conservation Fund, the Working Farms Fund acquires farmland within 100 miles of Atlanta and places conservation easements on the land to permanently protect it from development and harmful practices. The fund then leases the land to farmers with a five-to-10-year path to ownership, unity, and engagement with the RSC by ensuring a service component that addresses the needs of the community.

To support the Working Farms Fund, Emory University made a commitment to purchase food grown by these farmers. Our partnership provides the stability farmers need to produce a resilient local food supply, and helps Emory meet its goal of procuring 75 percent of food served on campus from local or sustainably grown sources by 2025. Our agreement also affords Emory faculty and students the opportunity to conduct research on Working Farms Fund land.

Urban Anaerobic Digestion Prototype

To support the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2030 goal of cutting food waste by 50% in the United States, Emory and the RSC are seeking to establish an on-campus prototype for anaerobic digestion that reduces food waste and produces renewable biogas and healthy soil amendments. Working alongside the City of Atlanta, this new endeavor will demonstrate how to implement anaerobic digestion that addresses and mitigates environmental justice concerns in metropolitan areas. Leveraging the RSC’s capabilities, Emory will harness the strength of its student body, interdisciplinary faculty, and expertise in sustainability to achieve the following outcomes:

Increase Emory’s and ultimately the City’s ability to divert food waste on campus, while also creating renewable biogas and healthy soil amendments

Eliminate existing barriers (i.e. technical and economic challenges) that prevent widespread use of anaerobic digestion in urban areas

Create a model that can be implemented and scaled at other universities and cities across the United States

Enhance environmental education and community awareness around the benefits of anaerobic digestion (training future generations of students)


The RSC’s interdisciplinary focus is reflected in our faculty advisory group, which includes representatives from departments across the university. Many of them are involved in the Piedmont Project—the longest running program in the country focused on integrating sustainability into curriculum.



The RSC will become a home for best-in-class corporate sustainability executives and thought leaders from across the world. Corporate partners will play an integral role in the development of the RSC and join Emory’s mission to create meaningful, global change. In addition, corporate partners will be able to present challenges that are unique to their organization and co-create solutions that positively impact their business.

Corporate Partner Benefits

Business Opportunities and Networking

Seat on the RSC Advisory Board

Inclusion in periodic summits and calls with like-minded corporate entities, Emory personnel, and other RSC stakeholders

Support RSC project development – opportunity to discuss and explore relevant sustainability issues through the Emory RSC

Engage in applied research and collaborate with faculty members through the Emory RSC

Provide opportunities for employee volunteerism and participation in project work (at the discretion of corporate supporter)

Engage talented student population for recruitment

Critical Research

Collaborate on applied research through the Emory RSC

Pilot and implement existing (and potentially new) research methods and discoveries


Founding member of a resilience center that serves as the US-based anchor to the international Resilience Alliance

Placement of logo and link to corporate sustainability page on RSC website

Features in periodic communications highlighting participation in the RSC

For more information:

Lance Gunderson
Chair, Department of Environmental Sciences

Ciannat Howett
Associate Vice President for Resilience, Sustainability and Economic Inclusion