IGEL at the COP22

By Eleanor Mitch, CEO and Founder of EM Strategy Consulting, Wharton alumna

The swift approval and ratification of the Paris Agreement[1] (104 countries of the 197, or 58%, have ratified the agreement!) was nothing short of “miraculous” in CIDCE[2] president Michel Prieur[3]’s words. Never before had an international agreement been so rapidly approved and adopted by so many nations in such a short span of time (approximately 1 year). Indeed, Prieur, one of the “fathers” of the principle of non-regression in environmental law, was instrumental in ensuring the addition of “this momentum is irreversible” in para.4 of the Marrakech Action Proclamation[4]. He has participated in the drafting of many international conventions since the 1970s and sees great hope in the rapid action even though we and future generations will still have to face the grave effects of climate change.

As part of this historic movement of awakening to the realities of the changes climate change must bring about, Wharton IGEL was represented with a presentation in absentia[5] by Eric Orts[6] on the implications for business of the Paris Agreement. Indeed, one of the key sectors that will be facing changes is the business sector. While markets have already chosen more sustainable energy sources in some areas (investments in wind and solar power, and Morocco boasts the world’s largest solar power plant, which just went live in 2016[7]), much more needs to be done, all throughout the supply chain, especially in Operations.

For the first time ever at a United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties (UNFCCC-COP), an event uniting the ITC[8], IFAD[9], WTO[10], UNCTAD[11], UNFCCC[12] and UNFCCC Subsidiary Body for Implementation[13] was held to discuss how to move forward with business and trade on the Paris Agreement. During the event, Wharton IGEL Alumni Eleanor Mitch raised the point of the role of business schools, and especially IGEL’s, in leading the way to new business opportunities and innovation in sustainability. Given that Wharton graduates and those of other business schools will become business leaders, it is important to strengthen ties with the international law-making, enforcing bodies and business schools to prepare graduates to provide services and products for the challenges the world faces: environmentally displaced persons, sea-level rising, sustainable energy and consumption among others. Innovation and creativity-driven prosperity can come hand-in-hand with sustainable development.

 

[1] https://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/cop21/eng/l09.pdf

[2] http://cidce.org/

[3] http://cidce.org/structures-institutional/

[4] http://unfccc.int/files/meetings/marrakech_nov_2016/application/pdf/marrakech_action_proclamation.pdf

[5] Eleanor Mitch, presented for Eric Orts

[6] http://cidce.org/presentations-cop-22-cop-22-presentations/

[7] http://www.greenprophet.com/2016/02/worlds-largest-solar-power-plant-goes-live-in-morocco/

[8] http://www.intracen.org/

[9] https://www.ifad.org/

[10] https://www.wto.org/

[11] http://unctad.org/en/Pages/Home.aspx

[12] unfccc.int

[13] http://unfccc.int/bodies/body/6406/php/view/reports.php#c

PSR Presents: The Business of Sustainability

By Samantha Freeman

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On Saturday, November 19th, my Management 100 team hosted a conference in John H. Huntsman Hall on behalf of Penn Sustainability Review. This conference, The Business of Sustainability, explored the intersection between business and sustainability. Our keynote speaker was David Cohen, Chairman of the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania and an Executive Vice President of Comcast Corporation. Our panel included Morgan Berman, CEO and Co-Founder of MilkCrate; Melissa Lee, CEO and Founder of The GREEN Program; Jason Halpern, CEO and Co-Founder of Gridless Power; and Emily Schapira, Campaign Director for the Philadelphia Energy Authority (PEA). Together, these speakers and panelists answered the long-standing question: How can the sustainability efforts of businesses both small and large lead to significant change?

My team, Flight Club, kept two main goals in mind when planning this conference. We wanted to 1) promote the discussion of sustainability issues among the Penn population, and 2) increase name recognition and interest in PSR. With over 130 Penn students in attendance, the conference successfully raised awareness for the academic discourse community PSR has created. Furthermore, the dozens of questions received for the panel and several students’ newfound interest in writing articles post-conference revealed that sustainability is a topic that truly sparks the curiosity of the Penn population. We are so excited to see how PSR will keep bringing this enthusiasm to new heights over the next few years.

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Around 1 pm on Saturday, students began entering F85. They happily stacked their plates with Chipotle burritos and Zesto’s Pizza, then found a seat and waited for introductions from Lori Rosenkopf, Vice Dean of the Wharton Undergraduate Program, and Julianne Goodman, Editor-In-Chief of PSR. Following these introductions, David Cohen spoke for twenty minutes on Comcast’s commitment to sustainability and future of sustainable investments for businesses. Comcast’s LEED-certified buildings were one point of focus. Comcast Center, in downtown Philadelphia, utilizes high-performance glass and sunscreens and water-saving fixtures to reduce expenses and energy consumption. As Comcast builds more structures like these, the corporation remains committed to delivering its services in a manner that lessons its environmental footprint.

Around 1:50 pm, the panel began its discussion, moderated by Penn graduate student Emily Newton. As the panelists shared the stories behind their businesses and how they got involved with sustainability, one thing became clear: All a person needs to start building an idea is a personal commitment to the issue at hand. For Morgan Berman and Melissa Lee especially, an independent goal to live more sustainably blossomed into a plan for a company that would allow others to do the same. Following the initial round of questions, audience members were welcome to ask their own. Several students were interested in hearing the answer to this question: What small things can I do? As they learned from the panelists, regardless of how miniscule the activity may be (for example, carrying a reusable water bottle over a plastic one), anything counts, and every great decision can have an even more substantial impact.

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My team thoroughly enjoyed working with PSR over the course of the semester, and we hope everyone who attended our conference found the experience to be as enjoyable and rewarding as we did. If you are interested in learning more about the featured businesses or want to know what you can do to promote sustainability, please reach out to our panelists, whose contact information is listed below. We’d like to extend a huge thank you to Julianne Goodman, Hersh Solanski, and Elena Rohner for their guidance, and we thank you all for flying with us.

 

Panelists’ Contact Information:

Morgan Berman: Morgan@mymilkcrate.com

Jason Halpern: Halpern@gridless.com

Melissa Lee: Melissa@theGREENprogram.com

Emily Schapira: eschapira@philaenergy.org

Upcoming IGEL Event: Bridging the Gap Between Public Health, Energy Efficiency & Poverty

By Shaunak Kulkarni

On November 30th, IGEL will be sponsoring a networking and education event hosted by the Philadelphia Energy Authority (PEA), in conjunction with the students in Wharton’s MGMT 100 course. The event is meant to explore the intersection of public health and the energy efficiency/clean energy industries as well as bring together a broad coalition of community and national voices from non-profit, public, and private sectors across these industries. The Philadelphia Energy Authority is an organization created by Mayor Nutter and City Council in 2010 with the goals of improving energy affordability and sustainability for the City, holding long-term energy contracts, and educating consumers.

In February 2016, PEA launched the Philadelphia Energy Campaign, an initiative to invest in clean energy and energy efficiency in key sectors: city buildings, the school district of Philadelphia, and low-income residential housing. Philly is the poorest big city in the nation and has one of the highest rates of home ownership, with an extraordinary number of low-income homeowners. Philadelphians also have a very high energy cost burden compared to other cities, increasing rates of chronic childhood asthma and lead poisoning, and are often in serious need of major home repairs or maintenance. This event will spotlight programs and organizations that engage at the intersection of energy and health and highlight specific initiatives that address poverty, healthy homes, housing preservation and household expense reduction.

This week’s event will be hosted at the PECO Energy Hall on November 30th, starting at 11:30am. IGEL is the generous sponsor of the event, providing lunch box catering. Three speakers will present in a TED-talk fashion and host a small Q&A panel session afterwards. Students from Wharton’s MGMT 100 course helped coordinate and organize the event. PEA hopes that this event will foster conversation and influence change regarding the intersection of energy and public health in Philadelphia.

Human Health Sustainability

By Neelam Ferrari, Moravian Academy Student

What is sustainability in health care?

As I am graduating high school this year, I thought it would be interesting to think more closely about how sustainability can be incorporated into the healthcare industry.  And I do not mean the manufacturing aspect, dealing with circular economy components related to material use and the manufacturing process.  While the production process is certainly important, I am referring to the concept of incorporating elements of sustainability into sustainable health.

If we try to find a definition of sustainability, one common theme takes an ecological approach, discussing the ability of a system to be diverse and also productive, where each member of the system has a job, and contributes to the health of the entire system.  When we apply this to environmental issues, we can think about manufacturing products that only use the materials that are needed, and the ‘waste’ can become part of another system.   A healthy manufacturing system will find a use for all of the materials, while minimizing waste.  An additional component of sustainable industrial activity focuses on preserving resources for future generations.  This way, the industrial process acts like a natural ecosystem, where everything is used.  Applying sustainability directly to human health is a little more difficult, but it is important as the population continues to increase.

When thinking about ‘human health sustainability’, if we relate to the environmental sustainability examples, we can think about human health as a platform for:

  • Maintaining and improving health throughout the lifespan
  • Incorporating new tools and technologies to improve nutrition
  • Not only look at how improved healthcare for the individual but also for larger populations
  • Identifying business opportunities where human and environmental health intersect.  This can be in preventative health, food and nutrition, and treatment.

With an emphasis on health sustainability, it will be important for healthcare related companies to think about how they can contribute to sustainable health, as well as how they can build their business around the idea.  Most companies have some sort of employee wellness programs, which encourage workers to participate in activities that encourage better health and disease prevention.  Examples might include onsite gyms, fitness competitions to encourage participation, and financial incentives for active employees.  Their thought is that healthy workers are more productive workers, and in the process, there is less lost time due to sick days, and other health related reasons.  This first way, any type of company can contribute to sustainability goals, regardless of the type of business.

A second way for companies to contribute to health sustainability is more focused, primarily on companies that operate in the healthcare space.  But this is still a very broad group, ranging from pharmaceutical companies to food companies. As consumers around the world are becoming more conscious about what they are eating and drinking, food companies can continue to offer products that have higher nutritional value, and fewer ‘empty calories’.  They can also work to make these healthier products more affordable for a larger portion of the population.  Many food companies, including PepsiCo, Campbell’s and McDonald’s, which are traditionally not known for healthy consumption, are starting to make this shift, and they are making it a core part of their business. This is a step in the right direction.

The principles of environmental and health sustainability support one another.  As sustainability with regards to a growing population becomes a bigger issue in the coming decades, companies that embrace a philosophy that contributes to both can set an example for other companies to follow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Environmental Catastrophes: The Buck Stops in the C-Suite!

By Lawrence B. Cahill, CPEA, Wharton IGEL Alumni Advisory Group

Introduction

Corporate environmental, health and safety (EHS) programs require a substantial commitment on the part of executive management in order to be successful.  Programs, policies, and procedures must be defined and implemented, resources committed, audits assessing performance conducted, deficiencies corrected, and improvements made.  If all goes well, there is a presumption that unwanted surprises and incidents will be rare, resulting in fewer management headaches and no material adverse personal consequences for senior managers.  Truly a win-win for both the company and its executives.

Sadly, it is not always the case that senior corporate executives participate actively in EHS programs.  A passive approach is much more common as EHS compliance and performance is often deemed to be the sole responsibility of EHS and Sustainability Managers in the organization.  This passive approach can be perilous for both the individual executive and the company.  Senior executives should be involved actively and there are ways to test whether this involvement is real or not.  What follows is a discussion of why participation and commitment are important and a way to test whether it is truly happening in a given organization.

Why Commitment is Important to the Executive

Some believe that environmental incidents and catastrophes will have an impact on a company’s reputation but will not directly affect senior corporate executives.  For example, a recent column in the on-line Environmental Leader was entitled “No Reputational Penalty for CEOs on Environmental Lawsuits.”[1]  The column refers to a study published in the Journal of Contemporary Accounting & Economics entitled “Corporate litigation and changes in CEO reputation: Guidance from U.S. Federal Court lawsuits”.[2]  This study, based on almost 10,000 cases filed in U.S. federal court over an eight-year period from 2000-2007, concluded that there was:

“…no evidence of any reputational penalty for CEOs following environmental allegations against their companies,” [University of Adelaide, South Australia] business school lecturer Dr. Chelsea Liu told Environmental Leader. “This means that the executive labor market, driven by the collective actions of corporations in the marketplace, is not inclined to ‘shun’ those CEOs whose firms are accused of environmental violations. This is very different from how the market reacts to allegations of financial fraud —prior research shows that CEOs whose firms are accused of financial fraud do experience significant reputational damage.”

Yet, actual notable cases in recent history would appear to contradict the study’s conclusions.  There are any number of instances where very senior executives, including several CEOs, have had their reputations permanently sullied and some have even been sentenced to prison for negligence with respect to EHS mismanagement.  These include the following five cases:

  • Union Carbide Corporation (UCC). Warren Anderson, the then CEO of UCC, and seven other employees were sentenced to 2 years in prison in June 2010 for negligence (the maximum allowed by Indian Law) as a result to the December 1984 Methyl Isocyanate release in Bhopal, India, which killed an estimated 4,000 people and injured another 500,000.  Anderson died in Florida in 2014 at the age of 92 and served no prison time in India as he was not extradited.  Interestingly, “Bhopal protestors” picket the Dow Chemical Headquarters in Midland, MI every year at the annual shareholders meeting.  Dow purchased the assets of UCC in 2001, a full 17 years after the incident.  Should the Dow/DuPont merger announced in December 2015 go through one wonders if the protesters will picket in Wilmington, DE as well, the historical headquarters of DuPont.  Not something that executives in either company presumably relish.
  • BP. After a 28-year career with BP, Tony Hayward, the now ex-CEO, was forced to resign on October 1, 2010 as a result of the April 20, 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  Ironically, Mr. Hayward had replaced Lord John Browne as CEO in 2007 who resigned partly as a result of the BP Texas City Refinery fire that killed 15 people in 2005.
  • Massey Energy. Don Blankenship, the now ex-CEO of Massey Energy, was forced to resign on December 3, 2010 after the April 5, 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia, which killed 29 miners.  On April 6, 2016, Mr. Blankenship was sentenced to one year in prison for “conspiracy to willfully violate mine health and safety standards.”
  • Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO). Three former TEPCO executives were indicted for negligence on February 29, 2016 as a result of the Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown caused by a March 2011 tsunami.  In March 2015, a Japanese National Police Agency report confirmed 15,894 deaths, 6,152 injuries and 2,562 people missing as a result of the tsunami.
  • Volkswagen. The now ex-CEO of Volkswagen, Martin Winterkorn, was forced to resign on September 23, 2015 as a result of the 2015 “Clean Diesel Scandal” in the U.S.  Winterkorn accepted responsibility for the scandal while asserting that he was “not aware of any wrongdoing on my part.”  Volkswagen and its executives face possible criminal enforcement action from the U.S. Department of Justice and over 25 State Attorneys General.

It is pretty clear then that there are indeed personal consequences for senior executives when significant EHS incidents occur.  Any individual sitting in one of the chairs in the C-Suite would do themselves a favor by becoming more involved in the company’s EHS management.  And in fact, senior management reviews are a mandatory requirement of ISO 9000 (Quality), ISO 14000 (Environment) and OSHA 18000 (Health and Safety) management system standards often adopted by organizations to better govern operations.  For example, ISO 14000 requires the following: “Top management shall review the organization’s environmental management system, at planned intervals, to ensure its continuing suitability, adequacy and effectiveness.”[3]  And indeed, there are companies, such as Occidental Petroleum, where members of the Audit Committee of the Board of Directors regularly review actual site EHS audit reports.  Although this particular activity should not be relied upon exclusively for assurance purposes, it does provide valuable information on both leading and lagging EHS compliance and performance indicators.

Evaluating Executives’ Commitment

How then does one test whether key executives have an understanding of the implementation and results (and potential consequences) of the company’s EHS management and programs?  One way is to interview these key executives as part of an annual review of EHS program performance.  This annual review can be conducted internally or through a third party.  The evaluation should involve a detailed review of policies and procedures, interviews with a sample of executives at various levels of the organization, and testing the implementation of the EHS program at the site level through assessments or audits at a sample of operating facilities.

The interviewing of key executives is, then, a key component of an EHS program evaluation. In conducting these interviews any interviewer must be diligent, thorough but also respectful of the executive’s time. They are very busy people.  The questions provided below in Table 1 can be used to address and test an individual executive’s involvement and commitment.  It’s important to note that each executive must tailor his or her involvement to best support the organization as effectively as possible.  So, the interviewer should not assume that any given executive should be involved in all the aspects suggested by the questions.  For example, one executive might be involved in the setting of corporate EHS policy and sustainability goals, while another might be responsible for implementing programs within his or her division to achieve those goals, while still others might actually visit plants in their business units periodically to assess site-level performance and gather feedback on the challenges the site management experiences in meeting the goals.

Based on actual experience the questions can be covered in 30-45 minutes. Face-to-face interviews are preferred but a phone interview or video conference can be used as well with comparable results.  Note that the questions are designed to elicit more than a yes/no response.  The interviewer might also discover that the executive will request to see the questions in advance.  That is perfectly acceptable and might actually produce a more productive session as there is a good chance that the executive will have given the questions considerable thought in advance.  In some cases, they will have actually written-out their answers which can enhance the face-to-face discussion.

TABLE 1: Ten Questions to Test an Executive’s Involvement in a Corporate EHS Program

Area of Inquiry Question
1. Personal Involvement What has been your involvement with the corporate EHS program to date?
2. Program Objectives Do you understand the objectives of the program? What are they? Do you believe the objectives are being met? Why or why not?
3. Program Effectiveness Do you believe the program is effective, adequately resourced, and adds value? Specifically, why or why not?
4. Organizational Setting Do you believe that the program is positioned within the organization so as to achieve the appropriate independence and authority? If not, what could or should be done?
5. Stakeholder Involvement Are the concerns of all stakeholders’ (e.g., management, employees, stockholders, regulators, NGO’s, communities) being considered appropriately? Any stakeholders’ interests that are under-represented?
6. Management of Change Is management of change a key component of the program?  If so, how do you know?  If not, why not?
7. Risk Identification Does the program adequately identify and define the key EHS risks faced by the company?  In your estimation, what are the top three risks?
8. Program Outputs Do you see what you need to see with regards to the outputs of the program? If not, what would you like to see that you don’t see now?
9. Corrective Actions Is there sufficient management attention given to correcting identified program deficiencies and needed improvements in a timely fashion? How do you know?
10. Improvements What is the EHS program doing well and should continue to do? If you could change or add one thing to the program to make it better what would that be?

Note that the very last question is extremely important. So, the interviewer has to be careful to manage the interview process so that there will be time for it to be asked and answered.  Executives are very smart and savvy people.  Asking them to identify one thing they might change or add to the EHS program to make it better will often elicit some sage advice and maybe even some “out of the box” thinking.

Closure

Executive participation in and commitment to EHS performance is one key to assuring company-wide compliance and potentially avoiding catastrophes. Experience shows that there is no guarantee that executive participation will be a ‘fail-safe” measure but rigorous management support throughout the organization can be extremely valuable.  Involving executives in an active way can help bolster the program and provide the support necessary to accomplish goals, achieve compliance and minimize (but sadly not eliminate) the potential for disasters.

[1] Hardcastle, Jessica Lyons, “No Reputational Penalty for CEOs on Environmental Lawsuits,” Environmental Leader, March 7, 2016

[2] Liu, Chelsea, et.al., “Corporate litigation and changes in CEO reputation: Guidance from U.S. Federal Court lawsuits,” Journal of Contemporary Accounting & Economics, Volume 12, Issue 1, April 2016, Pages 15–34.

[3] International Organization for Standardization (ISO), “Environmental management systems – Requirements for guidance and use,” ISO14001:2015, Third Edition, Section 9.3, September 15, 2015

Sustainable or Not Sustainable? That is the Question!

By Lawrence B. Cahill, CPEA, Wharton IGEL Alumni Advisory Group

Today there are many economic and social drivers for companies to move towards being more sustainable, green, compliant, and safe in the workplace. One of these drivers is being recognized by credible third parties for exceptional performance. For example, being listed on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) or having one or more sites as members of U.S. OSHA’s Voluntary Protection “Star” Program are noble corporate goals and can enhance a company’s reputation. However, some recent events suggest that these recognition programs should be viewed with perhaps some skepticism. Case in point – BP, Tokyo Electric Power, and VW were all DJSI-listed companies prior to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon, 2011 Japanese Tsunami, and 2015 Clean Diesel incidents. All three companies were removed from the DJSI list within a month of the incidents, suffered significant hits to their stock prices, and had CEO’s and other executives forced to resign. One has to ask the question then: What might this say about formal sustainability recognition programs. This link to an EHS Journal article in 2015 explores this issue in more detail.

Who Are Change Agents of Sustainability?

By David Mazzocco, LEED AP, Associate Director of Sustainability and Projects, The Wharton School

The University of Pennsylvania becomes the first Ivy League school to commit to the American College and University Presidential Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) with President Amy Gutmann’s signature in 2007. A grassroots citizens group implements a municipal climate action plan and achieves their goals ahead of schedule while saving taxpayer money. A corporation meets its promise to eliminate any negative impact on the environment while transforming the marketplace and increasing their profit. These are great successes, but underlying this success is creating and maintaining the momentum for a successful environmental movement.

Who does this? Are they business owners, citizens, employees, presidents? In many ways, yes. More succinctly, they are change agents who act as a catalyst for change. A “change agent” can take many forms. It is not necessarily a singular person, authority figure or entity, but it does, however, require a clear vision and an ability to clearly communicate the vision with others. A change agent invariably involves many traits: passion, networker, driven, communicator, leader. Change agents are willing to be patient, yet persistent, ask the tough questions, be knowledgeable, lead by example and develop strong relationships built on trust. When furthering sustainability initiatives, we are all instrumental in implementing change and achieving a goal. However, recognizing and working with all change agents is critical to the success of any sustainability mission.

The success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts, but also the culture and time in which they exist. They are able to see and define the issue but also have the vision and ability towards a solution while inspiring others to support the mission. The change agent is also willing to step out of their comfort zone, taking risk to create reward and creating behavior that brings the future to the present by envisioning the possible and persuading others to help make it a reality.

These are all questions and characteristics we must identify and support as we build a better environmental future. The best leaders may have all of these qualities but they also empower others to be those “change agents.” When you effectively leverage the natural strengths of your team, we achieve greater successes.

After Fossil Fuels: The Next Economy

By Eric W. Orts, Guardsmark Professor of Legal Studies and Business Ethics, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania; Faculty Director, Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership

October 10, 2016

David Orr asked me to serve as a rapporteur for the conference that he organized (with a little help from his friends) at Oberlin College and was held from October 5-7, 2016, and I happily agreed. Wharton’s Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership was one of the first of a number of other organizations to agree to co-sponsor this conference, but the work of attracting a remarkable group of leading experts fell mostly to David and his staff. And what an impressive group they assembled! I have gone to conferences relating to the topic of climate change for more than twenty years, and this was by far the most impressive group of its kind. Headline keynotes were given by celebrity “top influencers” including Bill McKibben, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Tom Steyer. In addition, the top executives of organizations including the Sierra Club ad CERES attended, as well as such other well-known names as Gar Alperovitz, Robert Kuttner, Hunter Lovins, and Bill Ritter.

My charge here is to attempt to review the overall course of the conference and to distill some of the major themes. My apologies in advance to anyone at the conference who may feel that I give them short shrift. Inevitably, my own intellectual bias will intrude in selecting the most important themes, but I hope to be as objective as possible in my reporting role. I will also try to be brief.

The conference divided roughly into three parts which were addressed on each day. Of course, different speakers crossed over into different areas, but in general there was an attempt to follow an agenda of organization that would lead to cumulative learning and engagement. Day 1 was devoted to a series of presentations on “theory.” Day 2 focused on elements of the post-carbon “next economy.” Day 3 considered “politics.” This report will follow this division, with transitional keynotes discussed as bridges between the categories.

Day 1: Theory

Elements of the theory needed to make progress on addressing the very large problem of global climate change were addressed by various presentations. These elements included the following.

Vision of sustainability. One must have a working definition of the goal one seeks to accomplish, and perhaps the best reference one can give here is to David Orr’s most recent book, Dangerous Years: Climate Change, the Long Emergency, and the Way Forward (2016). Both economics and politics are necessary to engage, as well as the science providing a background understanding of the challenge. A social transformation is needed to wean human civilization from the destructive use of fossil fuels—namely, coal, oil, and natural gas—and to replace them with renewable energy—such as solar, thermal, wind, and others. Making progress in greater efficiency and conservation in the use of energy is another imperative.

Systems approach. The study of interactions between the natural environment and social behavior and organizations requires a theoretical orientation appreciative of systems, rather than a reductive focus on linear processes. The “next economy” requires innovative new design and reform at both micro (local) and macro (global) levels.

Ethics and values. A general theoretical challenge is to incorporate a new sense of sustainable values and ethics into the social processes of business, work, capital markets, politics, and government. Views of business and markets as concerned strictly with “profit maximization” are inconsistent with this moral requirement. Seeing government as only a game used by people to gain power and influence is similarly impoverished.

Optimistic narratives and stories.   We know from studies in psychology that “optimism is functional” (see Martin Seligman’s work), and a general prescription from the conference seems to be that an optimistic attitude is best even when dealing with the very hard facts of current and impending climate change, including the relentless rise in global concentrations of greenhouse gases, and the fact that average global temperatures continue to set new records. Several presenters noted that 2014, 2015, and 2016 have been progressively the warmest years on record. Fourteen of the last fifteen years have been the hottest ever recorded. Nevertheless, theoretical attitudes toward solving the problem cannot succeed if they fall victim to pessimistic despondency and inaction. New language, metaphors, and concepts are needed. My own view, for example, is that rethinking the purpose and design of business firms is needed as one part of the larger solution (see Orts, Business Persons (2015)). Various presenters focused also on a need to rethink traditional concepts such as “capital” and “eco-system services.” The meanings of “sustainability” itself and somewhat newer ideas of “resilience” are also evolving.

Measurement and accountability. Scientific assessment of progress at all levels is needed as part of the theoretical background. Progress cannot be assumed, and the Paris Agreement opens the door toward better international accounting and verification of greenhouse gas emissions and various mitigation or adaptation strategies adopted by and within nation-states. Other large institutions, such as business corporations and nonprofits, should also install reliable internal accounting standards and practices, following the well-known mantra that “you manage what you measure.” Questions were raised about whether older measures of economic progress such as gross domestic product (GDP) continue to be useful—or whether it would be better to develop and follow new measures of well-being, sustainability, happiness, and freedom from hunger and homelessness.

Fairness and justice. Other key principles—emphasized, for example, by Nikki Silvestri—are fairness and justice, including especially racial justice. The phenomenon of Trump indicates also that many poor and working class whites in the United States have been hurt by current status quo policies. Everyone should be considered when making proposals for change, reform, and reinvention. Progress on climate change will not occur unless all citizens and consumers are respected and included.

McKibben Keynote

Bill McKibben provided a keynote in Finney Chapel at the end of the first day, and as a leading environmental activist (and indeed perhaps the best known activist who led the fight that shut down the Keystone Pipeline) his discussion focused on the need for a citizens’ movement to counteract the inertia and special interests supporting the status quo. McKibben struck three main themes.

Time.   First, climate change is unlike other social problems because incremental, slow progress will not be enough. Adverse effects from global warming are occurring faster than had been predicted twenty years ago. Arctic ice has melted. Ocean have acidified. Very soon, vast amounts of methane may release into the atmosphere from northern tundra landscapes. “If we do not solve [the problem] fast,” said McKibben, “we will not solve it.”

Stop fossil fuels now. According to one recent report, coal, oil, and natural gas companies own reserves that amount to four to five times the amount of carbon that can be safely emitted without blowing through the two degree Celsius average global temperature ceiling agreed as a target in the recent Paris Agreement. Another more recent report has found that current resources already being tapped by these companies will be enough to push the world past two degrees. For McKibben, and for some other environmentalists at the conference, such as the Sierra Club, this means that all expansions of fossil fuel production and distribution should be opposed and, if possible, immediately halted.

Force the change. McKibben sees the status quo, as represented by big fossil fuel companies such as ExxonMobil and their political influence, as the primary obstacle to positive change. Citizens coming together in a broad-based movement is the only way to counter the political influence of big oil and other large energy companies. A “Keystone-ization” needs to spread to other controversies, such as the current standoff at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation to block the Dakota Access pipeline. There has been a long string of recent victories, and McKibben makes a strong argument that these should continue. Politics at the national level also matters, and McKibben opposes Trump on grounds that his campaign denies climate science and threatens to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

Day 2: The Next Economy

                  Day 2 was devoted mostly to what the “next economy” in a post-carbon world would look like. Some participants, such as Gar Alperovitz, focused on the need for new local initiatives that break with the standard model of capitalist financing and management. Many examples of creative grassroots economic development were given, and a key lesson from many presentations is that good jobs are necessary for any environmental reform to succeed. The next economy must provide for secure and well-paid new jobs, because otherwise there will be no political will to make the change from business-as-usual. At the same time, other participants, such as Hunter Lovins, argued that big companies must become part of the solution too. Unilever and Walmart were discussed as positive examples, though a general consensus appeared to support the view that most large corporations were clueless, too casual, or actively dissembling (greenwashing). This widespread lack of true engagement by most businesses in finding climate solutions needs to change.

The financial markets play a large role in the problem as well. Mindy Lubber, the CEO of Ceres, examined various success stories of institutional investors pressuring public companies to disclose risk and performance measures regarding greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. In the U.S., the Securities and Exchange Commission has an important task to set “materiality” disclosure standards relating to climate change. Although the size of social impact investing may not yet have had a huge influence, it seems to be growing, and interest on college and university campuses regarding investment policies for endowments (including divestment) has been increasing too.

Mark Campanale of Carbon Tracker provided a well-received analysis of the “carbon bubble” that he and his colleagues have found in the disclosures of fossil fuel companies. A large percentage of assets currently owned by these firms “can’t be burned” if the two degree limit is to be respected. As a result, many of these companies may be financially overvalued—on the optimistic assumption that the political will is forthcoming to curtail this business model. At the moment, however, major investors do not seem perturbed—and they appear to be betting, then, that the two degree limit will be exceeded.

As for solutions, Campanale and other pointed out that the scale of the problem requires massive government (as well as private) investment. Historical low interest rates should be used to finance as much as $70 trillion in global investment in the repair and enhancement of infrastructure, including new smart grids and the development of renewable energy sources. (This very large number compares with $60 trillion as the approximate value of all publicly traded companies in the world.) A number of presenters spoke of the need for a scale of investment to address climate change similar to the expenditures made in fighting World War II. (And one questioner usefully asked: What will be the equivalent of a “Pearl Harbor moment” to provide sufficient motivation for this scale of investment?)

The need to engage with all people, especially those who feel disenfranchised or ignored by globalization, was emphasized, including urban black and white rural populations. Religious groups provide an essential organizational nexus for transformation at the local level. And leaders such as Pope Francis can have large influence at the global level. The role of cities, which account for 72 percent of greenhouse gas emissions globally, is also key. Joan Fitzgerald noted that the average greenhouse gas emissions in large cities were commonly much less that the average emissions of their countries as a whole. For example, average per capita emissions in New York and San Francisco are less than a third of average emissions of the United States as a whole.

New paradigms were also discussed, such as a need to move toward an objective of “plenitude,” as advocated by Juliet Schor, instead of economic growth. An attitude of plenitude adopts a view that natural resources should be enjoyed rather than exploited. And climate change policies need to fit into a larger strategic template that include other large-scale problems, according to Mark Mykleby and Patrick Doherty. Sustainability should go hand-in-hand with policies promoting economic prosperity and national security.

Brune Keynote

Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club, gave a transitional keynote speech that echoed McKibben’s call to oppose the expansion of the fossil fuel industry as a primary target. He first noted an impressive record of success for environmentalists, particularly in the Beyond Coal campaign. Of 200 coal plants proposed fourteen years ago, for example, 90 percent were stopped by coordinated activism and litigation. Six years ago, there were 523 coal plants in the United States, and today more than half of them have been retired. The well-known example of stopping the Keystone Pipeline has been replicated by a string of recent environmentalist victories against similar pipelines and projects. Finally and perhaps most importantly, the overall cost of solar and wind technologies has become very competitive with, and often cheaper than, traditional coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear alternatives.

Brune then drew several lessons from his experience that provided a bridge to discussion about politics in the final day of the conference.

Keep winning. Recent environmentalist victories against the expansion of fossil fuel facilities should continue and, if possible, accelerate.

Reach out to Republicans and Independents as allies. Brune was the first to tag this theme which was later repeated by others. Many of the Sierra Club “wins” have occurred in very politically conservative areas of the country. Climate change cannot remain a cause only of one major party in the United States. Polls show majorities of Republicans believe in climate science and support transitional strategies (despite the rhetoric to the contrary expressed at the top national level). Supermajorities of the American public support policies to counter climate change as well, including many business leaders.

Get active.   People must organize and vote in order for change to happen. Solutions also must work for everyone (a repeated theme throughout the conference). Businesses that embrace climate friendly policies should be welcomed. And “what victory looks like” must include new well-paying jobs, including for unemployed coal miners and persistently marginalized populations.

Moss and Steyer Keynotes

A tag-team keynote session with Otis Moss and Tom Steyer highlighted themes of religion, race, and generational engagement as important. Moss reflected on his own effort to explain and translate environmental issues such as climate change to his religious constituents in order to make change “by any greens necessary.” Environmental justice links with racial justice in the United States, and Moss also emphasized the essential task of engaging younger people.

Tom Steyer agreed with the need to engage youth and described his efforts with NextGen Climate which, for example, has a presence now on fifty college campuses in Ohio. Steyer cited polls that indicated extremely high levels of support for clean energy solutions (around 80% of younger voters) and a transition to a 100% clean energy economy (91% of Millennials according to one poll).

Religious leaders are important as well, and the recent encyclical by Pope Francis carries great weight. Historically conservative icons such as leaders in the military provide another fulcrum from which change may be leveraged.

Day 3: Politics

It is fair to say that the outsized Arnold Schwarzenegger stole the show on the last day of the conference. The former Republican Governor of California made an impassioned case for both parties to tackle the challenge of climate change in a bipartisan manner. His catchphrase, riffing on a famous speech by Obama, was that “there is no Democratic water and Republican water; no Democratic air and Republican air.” He embodied pleas by other participants that Republicans had to come to the table, and he was hard to miss or ignore.

Sharing the stage with Tom Steyer, a Democrat who is known for bankrolling politicians who embrace climate friendly positions, the former Governor elevated California as an example that the rest of the United States could follow. Simply “copy us,” said Schwarzenegger, and I “guarantee” economic growth as well as climate progress. He compared California’s economic and environmental success to Germany’s.

In addition, Schwarzenegger emphasized that the fossil fuel companies (which he described as mostly coming from Texas) had to be opposed. He claimed, with respect to their attempts to lobby against reform, that “we terminated them.” (At the same time, he recognized the ability to work with them on climate-friendly projects such the introduction of hydrogen fuel by Chevron in California.) He reiterated a theme heard throughout the conference that policies to address climate change had to provide good jobs too. In his view, California provides an example for other states (including Ohio and Texas) that green policies can lead to economic prosperity. Interestingly, Schwarzenegger found that some of the biggest opponents of environmental policies or initiatives were in fact environmentalists. For example, proposals to build new solar plants in deserts were opposed and delayed on grounds of threats to endangered species such as tortoises.

Steyer largely agreed with Schwarzenegger on the main points. Both argued for economic growth (which was a contested idea for other participants who see a conflict emerging between growth and sustainability). Both emphasized the importance of jobs. Both made the case of a shift toward bipartisan engagement at the national level.

Earlier in the day, Robert Kuttner provided an incisive commentary on the current political situation. White working class people hurt by governmental policies for several decades appear to have become a wild card supporting the likes of Trump and his anti-establishment, anti-globalization, and anti-science rhetoric. Commenting on “the presence of prophetic voices” at the conference, such as McKibben, Kuttner argued that the deeper roots of Trumpism had to be recognized and countered in order to establish a political consensus to address climate change.   He argued against the “liberal elitism” that embraced climate change as a major issue and yet ignored large losses in wealth and well-being of large swaths of the population. A “possible politics” to remedy the situation could focus on reducing levels of material consumption and reversing the incentives that encourage what he called “predatory capitalism.” He also echoed calls by others at the conference for a massive investment in infrastructure, taking advantage of historically low interest rates. Climate change is a challenge “such as we’ve never faced,” he said, and we are “groping for analogies (but not in Trump’s sense of groping).” Kuttner concluded with one memorable quote from the conference, reflecting on the need to take our grandchildren’s perspective into account: “We need not just to be right; we need to win.”

Conclusion

Many others paid tribute to David Orr at the conference, and his inspiration informed many contributions. I will do so here as well, and mention again that these reflections are sifted through my own particular lenses. I would urge interested readers to consult sources provided at the conference for further avenues of self-edification and engagement. I will leave the last word to Orr, though, and quote the following from his new book, which I believe embraces the spirit of the conference overall:

I do not believe that we are fated to destroy the Earth by fire, heat, or technology run amok. But if there is a happier future it will come down to this: to act with compassion and energy, our hearts must be in it; to act intelligently, we must understand that we are but one part of an interrelated global system; to act effectively and justly, we must be governed by accountable, transparent, and robust democratic institutions; and to act sustainably, we must live and work within the limits of our natural system over the longterm. (Dangerous Years, p. xi)

If we are as a civilization in some measure successful in addressing the massive challenge of climate change, the Oberlin conference on “After Fossil Fuels: The Next Economy” will have had some role in inspiring and informing this future success. It was a privilege to be there for the experience, for the education, and for the inspiration.

Exploring Diverse Approaches to Urban Agriculture: A Case Study of Three Connecticut Cities

Benjamin Laufer, a junior at The Taft School in Watertown, CT, is interested in sustainable agriculture and environmental justice, and he wrote the following paper for the Wharton Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL) blog. The following blog post is the abstract of his paper. The entire paper is available by clicking here. Benjamin plans on pursuing these areas of interest in college.

 

ABSTRACT
Urban agriculture and urban farming, historically often referred to as “community gardens,” have reemerged in recent years due to growing interest in environmental sustainability and local self-reliance. Proponents of the concept have vouched for urban farming’s ability to repurpose land in an effort to spur economic development, provide educational opportunities, reduce current environmental impacts, and strengthen public health. However, few studies have been conducted that create metrics to thoroughly evaluate the impacts of urban agriculture in different sectors. As a result, a lack of data and conclusions have followed, creating a growing landscape of farms without many necessary tools and appropriate information to yield consistent and effective results. Due to the local characteristics of urban farms, there has been little uniformity between organizations’ efforts, leading cities even within states to have differing models and reasons for implementation. The foundation of this report will be constructed from an analysis of US urban agriculture trends and impacts. This report aims to look at case studies from three of Connecticut’s most populated, culturally diverse, and food insecure cities (New Haven, Hartford, and Bridgeport) – the role of urban agriculture in each – and the impacts and setbacks they’ve experienced. In the concluding remarks, propositions of how to best create effective, innovative, and adaptable solutions will be discussed accompanied by the necessary research.

 

Please click here to continue reading. 

The Gashora Clinic Water Project

By Ocek Eke, Director of Local and Global Service Learning Programs at Penn Engineering

Clean drinking water is a luxury that many people around the globe can not afford.  This fact is more pronounced in developing countries where water-borne diseases are widespread because water sources tend to be local streams and lakes that are often contaminated with pollution.

In 2012, the General Electric Foundation generously donated ten state-of-the-art water filtration systems to the government and people of Rwanda. One of these filters was installed in the village of  Gashora.

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Water filtration system donated to Gashora Health Clinic by GE Foundation

Penn Engineering in Gashora

Gashora is also the location of the Gashora Girls Academy for Science and Technology (GGAST).  This elite all-girl secondary school was established to encourage young Rwandan women to pursue careers in STEM subjects.

GGAST is a partner of Penn Engineering and through our Service Learning course.  We collaborate with the Academy on a several projects. This summer, we offered information communication technology training for students and faculty, and installed solar lights and solar powered water pumps to improve the quality of life of students, faculty, and staff.

At Penn Engineering, we approach our service learning programs with an emphasis on long and sustained relationships with our overseas partners. We believe that the communities in which we work should positively benefit by our presence.  To this end, we paid a visit to the Gashora Clinic medical team after being informed that they were in desperate need of water. The Director and staff lamented the challenges they face daily in curing illness, especially in children.

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The Gashora Health Clinic

Then the director took us to the back of the clinic and showed us the water filtration system that GE Foundation donated and installed four years ago. We learned that many of the patients in his clinic are being treated for water-related illnesses contracted by using contaminated water from the nearby Lake Rumira.

The Challenge

The unfortunate irony is that there is an abundance of equipment (i.e., filters and water tanks) yet a shortage of clean water. The filtration system was designed to rely on rain catchment and the local utility for water. However, rainfall in Gashora is sporadic at best and the local water utility service is unreliable.  When asked if a bore-hole or local well could supply water to the clinic, the director explained that the underground water is highly contaminated with lead and manganese, making it both unusable and cost-prohibitive to filter.

Next, we walked with the director to Lake Rumira, about 1.5 kilometers away from the clinic. There we saw children and women swimming and fetching water with yellow jerry-cans. The director explained that while there is water in the lake year-round, it is contaminated, too. The end result is a high rate of people afflicted with water-borne diseases due to a severe shortage of clean water at the Gashora Health Clinic.

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Lake Rumira, main source of drinking water for people in Gashora

I asked him a simple but complicated question, “What if Penn Engineering could bring the water from the lake to the clinic’s filtration system?” He smiled, and said that he would accept our offer if we were extending one. “Can you really do it?” he asked.  As engineers, we design and build solutions to real-world problems all the time. I was confident we could bring clean water to the Gashora Clinic.

Complications…

In order to move forward, we learned that we had to get the permission of the district’s village elders before we could carry out a project of this magnitude. In essence we would have to dig a trench from Lake Rumira to the clinic. There were a series of steps that were necessary that required time and patience:

  • The Deputy Mayor instructed us to put our proposal in writing and bring back to him. While he supported the idea, he cautioned that we might run into problems getting permission from land owners whose lands would be impacted by the trench for the water pipes.
  • We wrote and submitted the proposal to the Deputy Mayor, and he promised to take it to the District Mayor.
  • The Deputy Mayor informed us that the District Mayor was excited about the project and would talk to the elders of Gashora village to give the permission to dig the trench.
  • The elders deliberated with the the District Mayor and Clinic Director.

Ultimately, Penn Engineering was granted the permission to dig the 1½ km trench, and to proceed with the project.

Next Steps

Our goal is to pump water from Lake Rumira using a solar powered water pump installed at a secure location on the lakeshore.  A solar powered pump frees the community from reliance on the local power grid and contributes to long-term sustainability. The water will be rock-filtered to remove silt and debris before it is pumped into a waiting tank where gravity will draw small particles to the tank bottom. At this point, the water will be pumped through the GE filtration system that will remove chemical contaminants and purify the water.  The clean water will then be transferred to the clinic’s tank and the kiosk tank for villagers’ use.

One of the most appealing aspects of this project is that together, we are building capacity with our local partners for long-term sustainability. Gashorans will learn to maintain the equipment, and operate the pump. Penn faculty and students will assist in education and implementation. We have also partnered with Health Builders International, a nonprofit organization based in Kigali to assist us in monitoring the quality of the lake water over time.

At present, most of the trench for the water pipes has been dug and we are poised to complete the project when our service-learning course returns to Gashora in May 2017.

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The Trench from Lake Rumira to Gashora Health Clinic, Rwanda

Help Us Bring Clean Water to Gashora

There is one critical piece missing to the project: The pipes.  Penn Engineering student leader, Erica Higa, has set up a GoFundMe site to help raise $40,000 to cover the cost of the pipes.

The people of Gashora desperately need this project completed. Penn students have benefited intellectually and culturally from the enriched experience of performing service in a foreign country. Penn Engineering is committed to finishing this project and we invite you to join us in bringing clean water to the people of Gashora. Please go to our gofundme site, any financial assistance you can give to us is greatly appreciated: https://www.gofundme.com/WaterForGashora