The Erb Institute was created in 1996 through the generosity of Frederick A. Erb (BBA ’47) and his wife, Barbara, and is a partnership between the Stephen M. Ross School of Business and the School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE) at the University of Michigan.
The Institute fosters professional education, public outreach and scientific scholarship supportive of the transition to sustainability – that is, meeting the fundamental needs of a growing human population in an equitable manner within the means of nature.
The Work of the Institute
• Focuses on advancing understanding of the complex dynamics of coupled human and natural systems in relation to economic activity;
• Promotes an interdisciplinary approach integrating the natural, social and engineering sciences;
• Links knowledge generation with social action by connecting scholars with practitioners in the search for creative strategies and approaches to transformation; and
• Relies on a strong collaborative network, both internally and externally, to accomplish its objectives.
Mission and Vision
Our mission is to be the premier source of knowledge and leadership for the achievement of environmentally, economically and socially sustainable development and enterprise. To this end, the Institute fosters professional education, public outreach and scientific scholarship supportive of the transition to sustainability – that is, meeting the fundamental needs of a growing human population in an equitable manner within the means of nature. When the Erb Institute was founded in 1996, the University of Michigan was home to a few, small-scale activities related to sustainable enterprise. Since then, the Institute has significantly expanded and aligned research, education and outreach efforts to create powerful synergies and increase external impact. Our vision is to continually grow and integrate sustainable enterprise work at the University, with the ultimate goal of facilitating positive societal transformations through the knowledge and leaders we produce.
The core competency of the Erb Institute is the tremendous strength of our community. Our stakeholders include hundreds of faculty, staff, students, alumni, donors and organizational partners who actively contribute to the development and success of our activities. These individuals possess a wide range of expertise, which informs and guides everything we do. The devotion and commitment of these stakeholders fosters the strong community environment that propels our success.
Frederick A. and Barbara M. Erb founded the Institute in 1996 with an endowment gift of $5 million. Since then, their generous support and unwavering commitment has continued to grow. To date, they have made cumulative gifts totaling $20 million in support of the Institute.
Both Fred and Barbara were born and raised in the Detroit area. After graduating in 1941 from the Cranbrook Schools in Bloomfield Hills, Fred Erb attended Cornell University to study engineering. In 1942 he transferred to the University of Michigan and it was there he met Barbara, at a New Year's Eve celebration. With the onset of World War II, Fred joined the Army Enlisted Reserve and was called to active duty in June 1943. While he was away, Barbara worked as the secretary for the headmaster of Cranbrook Schools. After the war, Fred and Barbara were married and Fred immediately resumed his education at Michigan. Having decided that he wanted to be an entrepreneur and "control his own destiny," Fred switched from engineering to business and achieved his BBA degree with honors in August 1947.
Degree in hand, Fred seized his first entrepreneurial opportunity and bought into his uncle's lumber and coal business in Royal Oak, Michigan. At that time, the Erb Lumber Company had one store, seven employees, and revenues approaching $200,000, one third of which were generated from the sale of coal. Fred developed and expanded the enterprise and when he sold it to Carolina Builders in 1993 the Erb Lumber Company had 45 locations and approximately $300 million in sales. Fred continues to be active in real estate development and management, and in many other businesses including Edgemere Enterprises in Birmingham. Barbara was active in numerous community service organizations and served on the boards of The Music Hall of Detroit and the Michigan Art Train. She was a member of the Women’s Committee of the Cranbrook Academy of Art and the local chapter of the National Farm and Garden Club. Fred and Barbara have four children and four grandchildren.