The Center for Environmental Systems Research was founded 1994 as an interdisciplinary research unit of the University of Kassel. The Center is organizationally independent of the University's faculties; however, close relationships exist, especially through the three professorships at the Center with numerous research domains of the University as well as other German research institutions, such as the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy.

The Center is led by Executive Director Prof. Dr. Stefan Bringezu and Deputy Executive Director Prof. Andreas Ernst. Decision making is entrusted to a Executive Board and the Center’s Scientific Advisory Board (Beirat) which critically reviews its work each year.