Sustainability without Borders

Sustainability Without Borders (SWB) started as an interdisciplinary student organization, and has transformed into a potential captsone option for master's students at the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability. Its mission is to create a network of sustainability practitioners who develop and implement environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable projects. The Center for Sustainable Systems provides ongoing financial support for Sustainability without Borders master's projects.

Since 2011, SWB has worked with communities, government, and aid organizations in successfully developing and implementing projects to address resource scarcity in areas of water, energy, food and waste. Sustainability is most successful when communities are involved. Therefore, we use practical methods and local resources to plan, construct and maintain projects.


SustainEd: An interactive after-school program run in partnership with Henry Ford Academy: Elementary School in Detroit to develop and implement a series of modules focused on Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics (STEAM). The program incorporates project-based learning with various experiments, activities and field trips to highlight important sustainability issues and culminated with a solar-powered aquaponics system that is currently housed at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens. SWB plans to add two additional groups to the program over the coming academic year.

Public Health and Sanitation in Peru

SWB and Fundacion Comunidad are working together to address community needs within the Paccha Valley, located in the highlands of Peru. A group with varying backgrounds in economics, engineering, public health, and environmental psychology have been engaged with the Chakiqpampa community for the past 2 years. So far, the SWB has collaborated with Chakiqpampa residents on a drinking water project, deployed a pilot aquaponics project, and performed health surveys. SWB has established a four year partnership with the community. This year, the team will focus on improvements to the aquaponics design, continue performing yearly health surveys and define the next projects the community wishes to start with us.

Christian Revival Church Association, Liberia

SWB has been engaged with partners in Liberia since 2014. The ebola outbreak of 2014-2015 made travel to Liberia difficult, but we are now restarting our engagement in the projects we have there. Currently, we are working with the Christian Revival Church Association (CRCA) in implementing a series of sustainable agriculture and energy projects. During summer 2016, the SWB team and CRCA fixed the aquaponics system installed by SWB in 2014 and built a biodigester in one of CRCA's farms. Plans for the upcoming year include developing an irrigation system for the farm. Following principles of industrial ecology and sustainable systems, this partnership seeks to help CRCA grow food and generate fuel to cover their cooking needs at the farm and the school located next to it.

Biosand Filters for Water Filtration in China

As several rural villages and millions of people in China face the hardships of drinking water contaminated with high levels of metals and pathogens, RISE (Rural International Student Exchange), a student-run organization at Tsinghua University, aims to educate, produce, and disseminate the use of bio sand filters (BSFs). BSFs offer a cheap alternative to expensive water filtering technology that has hindered rural villages from access to clean water. After successful initial pilot projects, RISE aims to recruit SWB’s help in researching the demand for BSFs, how to better and more efficiently produce BSFs, how to educate the communities in building their own BSFs, and finally, how to promote the general use of BSFs country-wide. We aim to develop this partnership and begin initial research and production of BSFs, and determine appropriate ways to market and disseminate their technical knowledge. An SWB team traveled to China in the summer 2015. Currently, the team is hoping to form an interdisciplinary team in order to tackle the broad spectrum of angles this project takes, thus all disciplines are welcome to join!

Aquaponics at CRCA (2013): In the summer of 2013, SWB members from Michigan and Liberia designed and installed a solar-powered aquaponics system at the Christian Revival Church Association guest compound. Originally intended to serve as a prototype to be moved to another location, the CRCA Director immediately saw the promise of this system to alleviate some of the many challenges Liberians currently face and urged SWB to make this particular system a ‘model’ that could be replicated across the country.

EHELD Summer Camp (2011-2013): Curriculum development and teaching summer camps for young Liberian students interested in pursuing education and professional careers in Agriculture and Engineering. SWB partners with the USAID program, Excellence in Higher Education for Liberian Development (EHELD) and the University of Michigan College of Engineering.

Kpondeh Town Sustainable Farm (2011 – 2012): UNDP has sponsored a grant for our partners CRCA to work alongside SWB in creating a sustainable farm. The farm includes livestock, vegetables, and appropriate technologies for irrigation and an anaerobic digestion of wastes. The project is ongoing and will interface with an elementary school which will benefit from clean cooking facilities powered by the gas created from the waste.

Liberian Agricultural Company (LAC): Working with LAC, the second largest rubber plantation in Liberia, SWB is developing projects to bring sustainable solutions to the water and energy needs of the people living and working on the plantation. In July 2014, SWB installed a solar power water pumping system to deliver flowing water to the homes of a small community on the plantation. In addition to the installation, local residents were trained on maintenance and performance monitoring of the system to ensure its long term operation. Future projects with LAC will include solar electricity system design, biomass gasification projects, and community need assessment surveys.

Merry-Go-Round Electricity Generator and Playground (2011): In the town of Konia, an 8-hour drive from Monrovia, SWB implemented a full playground for CRCA’s school. The playground includes a jungle gym, slides, and an electricity generating merry-go-round!

Paccha Valley Discovery Trip: With the support of a Minneapolis-based NGO, Comunidad, SWB will be traveling to the indigenous highlands of Peru to an area called Paccha Valley. During this ‘discovery trip’, SWB members and external partners will meet with community members, lead focus groups, and visit schools and health facilities to assess the community’s water and sanitation needs. After the trip, the group will make recommendations for projects that may include waste-to-energy, bioremediation, and appropriate technology principles, and partner with Comunidad to implement those that are feasible from a social, economic and environmental standpoint.

Solar-Battery Charging Booth: In the summer of 2013, SWB members designed, built, and implemented a solar-powered cell phone charging booth as an income generating system for the organization More Than Me (MTM). More Than Me is a non-profit organization seeking to educate and empower young girls at risk for prostitution in one of the world’s worst slums in West Point, Liberia. The solar-battery charging booth serves as a small business to create funds for the individual operating it and/or their parent organization. As of December 2013, our partner in Liberia has generated $70USD by operating the cart and charging phones of nearby residents. SWB is collecting data on optimal battery capacity, monetary rate of charging, and other metrics to enhance the business case for this innovative, off-grid income source.

Urban School Landscape Design: This project seeks to create an interactive and sustainable space for the More-Than-Me girls academy in Monrovia, Liberia. Students, faculty, and staff work with SWB members to design and implement a landscape design for the school yard. The design includes areas for playing, learning, and self-reflection, integrated to renewable energy, water sanitation and harvesting, and urban farming components that help the school defray its operational costs.


SWB is sponsored by the Center for Sustainable Systems (CSS) at the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability. SWB meets with the CSS External Advisory Board each semester to review progress. The Board provides guidance in planning, and identifies new areas of research or resources we can utilize for our projects.

More Than Me (MTM) is a non-profit organization seeking to educate and empower young girls at risk for prostitution in one of the world’s worst slums in West Point, Liberia. SWB and MTM pursue joint sustainability projects such as a solar charging station and anaerobic digester for the current MTM locations in West Point.

Christian Revival Church Association (CRCA) is our main partner in Liberia. This Christian NGO has been working in Liberia since the war. Without their support, we would have never been able to do all we have in Liberia.

Liberian Agricultural Company (LAC) is a rubber plantation in the central coastal region of Liberia. This partnership was formed to assist LAC to make their operations and communities more environmentally sustainable.

Comunidad is a nonprofit organization that works with indigenous people in the Peruvian highlands, whose lives and communities were decimated by the Shining Path terrorist group in the 1980s and 90s. Their projects are focused on education and health.

SWB has partnered with the USAID program, Excellence in Higher Education for Liberian Development (EHELD) to develop curriculum and teach summer camps for young Liberian students interested in Agriculture and Engineering. We have designed computer labs and many of our members double as EHELD staff.

African Studies Center, part of the University of Michigan’s International Institute, funded our kickoff program. They continually encourage us and keep us abreast of events, conferences, and partnership opportunities at UM and Africa.

Matthaei Botanical Gardens, a forest-reserve and conservatory, and the home of the University of Michigan Campus farm, houses the aquaponics system that was designed for the SustainEd afterschool program. SWB will continue to work with MBG to integrate the system into their own educational programs.

Better Living Using Engineering (BLUE) Lab is an undergraduate engineering organization at the University of Michigan. They have been partnering with us to help with design and community assessments. They do great work!

Clemson University’s Engineers Without Borders (EWB) has been there from the start. They were our first ambassador group in doing implementations in Konia and Kpondeh Town. We collaborate very closely with this great organization.

Our friends at Brookwood Church in Simpsonville, South Carolina funded the first implementation project in Konia. They have been a great resource and they continue to support us whenever they can.