Monday, November 12, 2007

Clark University advances environmental sustainability…

The cover article of the Fall 2007 issue of the Clark University magazine notes that the university and its faculty, students, and alumni have long been at the forefront in examining the drivers of environmental sustainability.

A Clark University Environmental Sustainability task force is examining environmental issues on campus to help Clark move into the next decade with a greener profile. Task force initiatives include an annual report card on environmental sustainability and urging the university to join the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment.

Other initiatives include Campus Sustainability Day and a student campaign to invest in wind power to offset the amount of “dirty” electricity they use, writes Tammy Griffin-Kumpey in “The Sustainable University.” A Clark Energy Awareness Program was founded to educate the campus about energy conservation and begin a dialogue about energy conservation. In addition, the Lasry Center for Bioscience received a Gold Leadership in Energy and Design certification and the new student residence Blackstone Hall is in the process of LEED certification.

The article interviews several faculty members working in the field of environmental sustainability, including Jennie Stephens (see photo by Rob Carlin) who teaches a course that challenges students to think about sustainability in the context of the university as an agent of change. Campus greening is a hot topic, she says, and there’s a push for campus communities to demonstrate good sustainability practices and integrate them into the curriculum and across disciplines, and also to reach out to facilitate societal change.

Stephens researches carbon capture and storage technologies that remove carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants before it’s emitted into the atmosphere, and she notes that climate change is an urgent sustainability issue. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing as a direct result of human burning of fossil fuels and deforestation, which in turn leads to increasing global average temperatures, rising sea levels, and more frequent extreme weather events, writes Griffin-Kumpey.

Another profile features geographer B.L. Turner II, who teaches “The Earth Transformed by Human Action,” which considers the increasing capacity of humankind to manipulate the structure and function of the Earth’s system. Turner has been involved with a project in Yucat√°n, examining this coupled system in a tropical forest and how it relates to deforestation. “When the use and cover of some segment of the Earth is changing, it has social and environmental implications,” explains Turner.

Management professor Joe Sarkis says businesses face pressure to be environmentally responsible from government, competitors, consumers, and employees. There are a lot of reasons why businesses would want to be greener, but there debates as to whether or not good environmental responsibility relates to good financial performance. “Companies that are spending a lot to be environmentally sound may not realize the returns for many years, but part of that return is that they exist many years down the line. Companies that look for the easy buck in the short term might lose out in the end,” he says.

Finally, the cover article includes sidebar stories about Clark alumni who are working in the field of environmental sustainability. Colleen Mullaney profiles my work with Armenia Tree Project, Angela Mwandia’s work with the Africa Stockpiles Program of the World Wildlife Fund, which cleans up obsolete pesticides, and Sharon Rowe’s innovative company EcoBags.