About Us

The world is changing at a rate and scale unprecedented in human history. How can we meet humanity’s needs in just and innovative ways while protecting the environment on which life depends? The Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies is confronting this challenge through imaginative research that transcends disciplinary boundaries; through hands-on educational initiatives that bridge classrooms and communities; and through public programs that foster environmental conversations among people from business, government, academia and advocacy.

The Nelson Institute is home to four interdisciplinary research centers that serve as laboratories and incubators for solutions to the world’s most critical environmental challenges.

In addition, the Nelson Institute offers educational opportunities for undergraduates through a major or certificate in environmental studies. Graduate students can pursue degrees in Environmental Conservation, Environment and Resources, or Water Resources Management, and certificates in Culture, History and Environment; Energy Analysis and Policy; Humans and the Global Environment; and Transportation Management and Policy.

The Nelson Institute’s interdisciplinary education and research is helping to solve today’s most challenging environmental issues and train tomorrow’s leaders and innovators, but it is built upon a powerful historical legacy. The institute was established in 1970 and renamed in 2002 for former Wisconsin governor and U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson, the author of landmark environmental legislation and the founder of Earth Day. His commitment to environmental protection and social justice inspire our work — more critical now than ever before on a rapidly changing planet.

Mission, Vision, and Core Values


We build partnerships to synergize and sustain excellence in the interdisciplinary research, teaching, and service that make the University of Wisconsin-Madison a world leader in addressing environmental challenges.


We strive to create sustainable communities across complex institutional landscapes for enhancing the quality of life and the environment in Wisconsin and the world.

Core Values

The Nelson Institute:

  • Facilitates and promotes interdisciplinary scholarship that aims to understand and address societal problems related to environment and sustainability
  • Values and is committed to a liberal arts and professional education, built on the premise that complex environmental issues can best be understood through familiarity with diverse perspectives, and integration of the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities
  • Values and is committed to fostering and sustaining community partnerships in education, research, and service at the local to international levels
  • Acts as a catalyst and model for interdisciplinary collaboration on environmental initiatives across departments, schools, and colleges, and including governmental, private, and non-profit entities