The Center - formerly named the Public Policy Research Institute - was created in 1987 by the Board of Regents to examine social and economic issues related to development. In 1990, the Board of Regents expanded the scope of the Institute to include environmental issues, recognizing the growing importance of the relationships among social, economic, and environmental issues. In political and academic circles, these links are best captured today by the terms "sustainable development" or "sustainability," often defined as "Development that meets human needs while conserving earth's life support system."
In the fall of 2002, faculty and deans from the School of Law, College of Forestry and Conservation, and the College of Arts and Sciences, as well as senior staff in the President's Office, the Center for the Rocky Mountain West, and the Montana Consensus Council began to explore how the university can more effectively provide resources to help citizens and leaders shape public policy to sustain communities and landscapes. After thorough discussions, the President of The University of Montana decided to re-energize the Public Policy Research Institute.
The organization was renamed in 2009 to better reflect the nature and scope of our work.