NEST's greatest strength lies in the abundance of highly qualified researchers from the social and natural sciences among its membership, who can be readily mobilized for project execution. The approach to many of the research projects has been interdisciplinary, combining scientific methods of data gathering and analysis with qualitative methods that are consultative and participatory, to ensure representativeness across disciplines, gender and geographical regions.

The earliest research efforts sought to describe the basic status of the Nigerian environment and its care, and culminated in the publication of Nigeria's Threatened Environment: A National Profile and its companion volume, The Challenge of Sustainable Development in Nigeria, by which the organization is perhaps best known. Commissioned research has included the study of land degradation in Nigeria at the instance of the Commonwealth Foundation for Technical Cooperation, a survey of NGOs in Nigeria sponsored by the Ford Foundation and a study of soil erosion in Anaocha Local Government Area of Anambra State, Nigeria, commissioned by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation Lagos.

NEST has undertaken extensive collaborative research most notably with the World Resources Institute (WRI) on resource conservation in Oboto, Ondo State, Nigeria, in the WRI From the Ground Up programme; with Friends of the Earth (Netherlands) on energy aspects of consumption and sustainable development; with the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), London, on Rural -Urban Interactions in southeastern Nigeria; with Gender and Economic Reforms in Africa (GERA) on Impact of International Trade and Multinational Corporations on the Environment and Sustainable Livelihoods of Rural Women in Akwa-Ibom State, Niger Delta, Nigeria; and lately with other RING members on multilateral environmental agreements, sustainable livelihoods and water.

Most recent studies undertaken by NEST alone, in pursuit of better understanding of livelihood and poverty alleviation strategies, have been on Urban Agriculture and Sustainable Livelihoods in Ibadan Metropolis and on Women in Natural Resources Management: Case Studies on Tin-Mining and Pottery-Making in Northeast Nigeria. RING funds supported both studies.