Takeaways from the National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE)
By Gavin Bodkin, MBA Candidate, College of Management, UMass Boston
The 2017 National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE) annual conference was held in Washington DC from January 24-26, and focused on the topic of “Integrating Environment and Health”. The NCSE is a non-profit organization that works to substantiate the basis for environmental decision making via creating dialogue and awareness around pertinent scientific data. The group maintains an objective stance towards environmental issues, with the goal of fostering a platform for data and research for decision makers to act on. Over the week, the event drew in scientists, NGOs, federal agencies, academics, and private companies from around the world to share and propel environmental science.
Dr. Vesela Veleva, Lecturer and Interim Director of the Healthcare Management Program at UMass Boston and Gavin Bodkin, MBA Candidate and COO of Circular Blu attended the event to gain insightsand further advance their research on environmental issues. The conference was vibrant with discussion on issues ranging from pharmaceuticals in the environment (PIE), to the future of solar panels, to agricultural sustainability and the impacts of climate change. NASA displayed their Hyperwall, which exhibited emission trends over time, fluvial and aeolian vectors and energy data. Academics displayed posters on waste reduction and successful farming strategies for urban environments. Dr. Sam Meyers of the Planetary Health Alliance and Dr. Frederica Perera, Director of the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health at Columbia University opened the conference by summarizing the progress made in the past decade on environmental and health-related issues. The conference progressed into a discussion on how to prevent climate change impacts on ecosystems, the economy and health. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich even addressed the audience, suggesting a way forward for science in the new political arena.
Dr. Veleva was invited to speak about green chemistry and its potential to bring both business and environmental benefits. Her research evaluated the applications of green chemistry within the pharmaceutical industry. In her discussion, she covered the drivers, barriers and opportunities for companies to adopt greener practices. She also organized and chaired a panel session on the solar industry, which touched upon the externalities of the solar panel industry, guidelines and insights into solar investing, and safety concerns regarding manufacturing and disposal of the panels at the end of their useful life. As solar is seen as a “clean” source of renewable energy, it like other energy alternatives comes with sustainability concerns including waste issues, safety and environmental impacts of mining, and the chemicals used in manufacturing. The discussion also raised challenges in sourcing talent within the industry as well as barriers to municipal investments in PV panels. Participants in the session included William Henderson, a recent MBA graduate, whose independent study on the topic led to the session proposal, Karen Drozdiak of First Solar and Steven Heim of Boston Common Assets Management.
One session that Dr. Veleva and Gavin Bodkin attended was on PIE. The speakers had backgrounds ranging from alternative medicine to federal regulation of pharmaceuticals. While there are regulations requiring to mitigate the environmental impacts of drugs such as NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) there are still both environmental and health-related risks from the widespread use and improper disposal of pharmaceuticals. Green chemistry has been suggested as an approach to lessen these risks, however its utilization requires significant investment in R&D. After the speakers presented, the attendees broke out into work groups to discuss opportunities in drug evaluation, prescription use, hospital disposal, drug identification, wastewater treatment and the drug approval process. The group came away with suggestions such as incentivizing the insurance industry work with companies to reduce the health-related impacts of drugs, mandating take back programs, and making information regarding the environmental impacts of drugs more available to the public.
A common theme that developed and persisted throughout the conference was the importance of science and storytelling. The tension that exists between the scientific community and the public/governmental spheres is largely do to the way that science is communicated to non-experts. A panel including Paul Anastas who is an expert on green chemistry at Yale University, Georges Benjamin, Executive Director at the American Public Health Association and Jacqueline McGlade, Director of the Science Division at UNEP shared insights into the imperative of storytelling. Connecting listeners to science through storytelling was spoken about as essential to breaching the gap between experts and non-experts. The inspirational talk between panelists also suggested the importance of defending science in the modern era, as it is the cornerstone of our way of life in western society. While scientists and researchers are uncovering new knowledge through science, it’s important that we weave this information into our daily lives, not only as stewards for the environment but also as humans living in society and amongst each other.
The 2017 NCSE conference asserted the importance of and opportunity for environmental science now to impact our world in the future. Rising stars and established experts will continue to collaborate on the important issues discussed with the hope that the scientific community can help realize a healthy and sustainable future for years to come. With its leading work in sustainability and green chemistry research and teaching, UMass Boston is poised to be a focal point for collaboration between stakeholders and to train future business leaders in recognizing and addressing environmental and health challenges of today while creating social and business value.
What Boston is Doing to Combat Climate Change: A Talk with Austin Blackmon
By Gavin Bodkin, MBA Candidate, College of Management, UMass Boston
On October 22, 2015, Austin Blackmon, City of Boston Chief of Environment, Energy and Open Space, spoke at UMass Boston about the city’s Climate Action Plan and its current policies and initiatives to address climate change and advance greater resiliency.
Blackmon opened the talk with some of the developmental history of Boston. Prior to 1630, Boston’s tributaries were open and undeveloped. Over the course of the following centuries, fill was poured into the bays, creating the foundation for what we know today as Back Bay, Logan Airport, the Seaport and South Boston areas. Boston’s surface area was increased, but its capacity for handling sea level rise was diminished. While in the past 100 years sea level has increased 10”, Boston needs to prepare itself to handle an expected 6-8-foot increase in sea level by 2100. Clearly, the city is extremely susceptible to the effects of climate change; the question is what can be done now to prepare for it?
Fuel Cell Technology: Innovation Transforming Markets
By Vesela Veleva, ScD, Co-Director, SERC
While fuel cells have been around for decades the technology has experienced rapid development in recent years. According to a recent industry report, in 2013 global fuel cell industry sales reached $1.3 billion with consistent annual growth of over 30 percent. Fuel cells offer clean, cool, quiet, efficient and reliable energy generation and are seen by the U.S. Department of Energy as important energy source for a wide range of markets including defense, electric power, and automobiles. What is behind this growing investment and how is industry working with policy makers and other stakeholders to overcome current challenges and ensure future growth?
On March 2, 2015 the Center for Sustainable Enterprise and Regional Competitiveness (SERC) hosted a panel presentation and discussion on current developments and future opportunities for fuel cell technology. The event was comprised of a presentation by Charlie Myers, President of the Massachusetts Hydrogen Association and Expert, Fuel Cell & Hydrogen Technologies, SRA International, and Dr. Gami Maislin, Lead of the Power Enterprise Campaign at Raytheon. Prof. Vesela Veleva, Lecturer in Management and Marketing and SERC Co-Director, moderated the event.
How Investors Incorporate ESG Factors
By Sandeep Gummadi, Master in Finance Candidate, UMass Boston
Sustainable, responsible and impact investing (SRI) assets increased 76 percent over the past two years for a total of $6.57 trillion, according to a 2014 industry report. What is driving this trend and the growing importance of environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors in investment decisions more broadly, beyond SRI? How are these factors incorporated into mainstream decision-making? On Dec. 2nd, 2014, the Center for Sustainable Enterprise and Regional Competitiveness (SERC) at UMass Boston hosted a panel presentation and discussion on how investors integrate ESG factors in investment decisions. The event comprised a presentation by Matt Moscardi of MSCI, who introduced ESG research, ratings and MSCI’s perspective of ESG investing, and Elizabeth Levy of Trillium Assets Management, who elaborated on how they actually use ESG factors and information to make investment decisions. Prof. Lucia Silva-Gao, Associate Professor in Finance at UMass Boston, provided an academic perspective and moderated the event.
The Smart Grid and Clean Energy
By Andrew Bishop, MBA Candidate, UMass Boston
What are the challenges and opportunities of upgrading the power grid to cope with growing supplies of distributed, renewable, and intermittent power from solar, wind, and other clean energy sources? On October 28, 2014, the Center for Sustainable Enterprise and Regional Competitiveness (SERC) at UMass Boston hosted a panel presentation and discussion on the Smart Grid and Clean Energy. The event featured Chris Ashley, Senior Director of EnerNOC’s Utility Solutions, and Peter Zschokke, Director Regulatory Strategy for National Grid, and was facilitated by Tal Levy, a consultant and graduate of the Technology and Policy Master’s program at MIT. Over 100 students, faculty and local business representatives attended this event,
Peter Zschokke began the event discussing the need to upgrade the U.S. electricity grid to incorporate information technology and meet 21st century needs for clean, reliable, yet affordable power. Rapid change is being driven by technological and societal change, including concerns about climate change and power reliability. Society presently is more than ever dependent on energy, yet it is not a priority in the minds of consumers. Zschoke explained, “A major issue today, is the type of energy grid we face. We have a one way flow of energy from generation to consumers… This is slowly but surely changing. As distributed generation rises in popularity, it’s no longer a one-way flow, but actually a two-way flow and the grid has got to change dramatically.” A major challenge facing utilities such as National Grid is the peak demand during the day (typically between morning and evening) as well as during the year. During these peak times utilities must have the capacity to produce additional energy, which is very expensive. The current energy grid does not allow for efficiencies and often results in an over generation of energy in order to be prepared to meet peak demand. The problem of matching load demand with supply is exacerbated as renewables penetrate the grid.
2014 Green Careers Forum
By Vesela Veleva, ScD, SERC Co-Director
In collaboration with The Office of Career Services and Internships, The Center for Sustainable Enterprise and Regional Competitiveness (SERC) at UMass Boston held its annual Green Careers Forum on April 16, 2014, to inform students about career opportunities in the environmental and sustainability fields, and provide them with the opportunity to network with prospective employers. Over 120 students from a range of majors attended the event, as well as some external students and alumni seeking opportunities in the growing green economy.
In the first part of the event, a panel of experts from the industry shared their personal journeys in finding a path to a job in the sustainability and clean energy field, and provided some advice for students. The panel was facilitated by Kevin Doyle of the New England Clean Energy Council, who presented some key findings from the 2013 Massachusetts Clean Energy Industry Report. In the second part of the event, students engaged in more intimate roundtable discussions about career opportunities with the 15 participating organizations.
Some of the main themes that emerged from the panel and the roundtable discussions included:
• There is a wide variety of jobs today that require knowledge and expertise related to sustainability and clean energy, ranging across sectors and functions. The Boston area has a strong clean energy-clean tech sector which has been growing over 11% annually over the past 3 years. Solar is the largest renewable energy sector, representing 59.7% of all clean energy employees in the state.
• Nationwide and globally, green jobs are also growing, particularly in sectors such as energy efficiency, transportation, and recycling. Countries in Europe as well as China will increasingly seek people with expertise in clean energy and sustainability.
• One cannot over-estimate the importance of networking – according to the Massachusetts Clean Energy Industry report, 42% of hiring is a result of the word of mouth or referral. Students should be actively attending a variety of events and using platforms such as LinkedIn to network.
• Employers are looking for people with advanced degrees and experience. According to the Massachusetts Clean Energy Industry report, 65.8% of available positions required previous work experience, and 60.5% required a bachelor’s degree as a minimum. Doing an internship or volunteering are the best ways to gain experience.
• In the sustainability field where things change so fast, ongoing education is very important. Taking additional classes, obtaining a certificate or any other educational opportunity can improve job prospects.
• People arrive to sustainability jobs from a range of majors and occupations; having the passion, determination and pursuing additional training/education related to sustainability are the best way to enter the field.
Participating organizations in the 2014 Green Careers Forum included Battelle, EnerNOC, Ernst & Young, Biogen Idec, EMC, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, Raytheon, Next Step Living, and Systainalytics, among others. A complete list participating companies and panelists can be found in the event flyer.
Hydraulic Fracturing: Understanding the Intersection of Water and Energy
By Vesela Veleva, ScD, Lecturer and SERC Co-Director
On March 31, 2014, the Center for Sustainable Enterprise and Regional Competitiveness (SERC) hosted an event on hydraulic fracturing (known also as “fracking”). This event featured a panel of experts who discussed current challenges and opportunities for reducing the environmental impacts of fracking with focus on the water-energy nexus. The panelists included Jim Matheson, President and CEO of Oasys Water, a clean-tech company, and Richard Liroff, PhD, founder and Executive Director of the Investor Environmental Health Network (IEHN), a group of investors concerned with the financial and public health risks of corporate toxic chemicals policies.
Dr. Liroff began the event’s discussion by providing background information on “fracking” and how investors have been engaging with companies to reduce the environmental and financial risks associated with it. While the oil and gas industry has been doing fracking for 65 years, the process really took off when technological innovations made it possible to connect hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. Fracking usually involves injecting several million gallons of water, sand and chemicals under pressure down and then horizontally at about 7,000 - 13,000 feet below the surface. This pressure causes the rocks to crack and release natural gas, which is then captured in the wells. The fracking revolution has dramatically brought down the prices of natural gas in the U.S. and led to “reshoring” – bringing back manufacturing to the U.S.
The Sustainability/ IT Nexus
By Andrew Bishop, MBA Candidate, UMass Boston
On December 5th 2013 the Center for Sustainable Enterprise and Regional Competitiveness at UMass Boston hosted the Sustainability and IT/Nexus event featuring Kathrin Winkler, Senior VP and Chief Sustainability Officer at EMC Corp., and facilitated by Pratyush Bharati, Chair and Associate Professor, Management Information Systems Dept. at UMass Boston.
Close to 120 students, faculty and local business representatives attended this event. EMC is global business-to-business company with operations in 80 countries, 60,000 employees and sales of $22 billion; it is a leading producer of both software and hardware emphasizing data storage, security, protection and analytics. Ms. Winkler used this presentation as an opportunity to examine both the positive and the negative impacts of the IT sector, and detailed specific initiatives EMC has undertaken to lead the industry towards “sustainable business best practices.”
She started by explaining how Sustainability and IT interact with one another: “There is a special synergy between sustainability and the IT industry.” Sustainability drives the IT industry forward towards new innovation and business practices, claimed Ms. Winkler.
In early 2008 EMC developed an ad d the various areas of the company where sustainability could play a role in lowering energy consumption, reducing waste and saving money by implementing eco-efficiency strategies. Initially part of the product management, Ms. Winkler was named Senior Director of the newly formed Office of Sustainability and was charged with looking strategically across the company to examine the business opportunities of sustainability strategies at EMC.
Are Low Wages Sustainable?
By Andrew Bishop, MBA Candidate, UMass Boston, and Vesela Veleva, ScD, Lecturer and Codirector, SERC
The Center for Sustainable Enterprise and Regional Competitiveness (SERC) at the University of Massachusetts Boston, held a dynamic panel discussion on Thursday November 7, 2013. This event, attended by over 100 students and faculty, centered on poverty wages and the impact on sustainability for business, families and society. The panelists came from the philanthropic, business and academic realms, each bringing a unique and diverse perspective.
Mark Popovich, Senior Program Officer at the Hitachi Foundation, began the discussion by introducing the work of the foundation and their Business and Work Program, which focuses on exemplary employers as they create pathways to greater prosperity and career advancement for lower-wage workers. Popovich started his presentation by saying, “Good jobs are hard to find. When the economy and job growth lag, good jobs become even scarcer. As a result, around 27 million people, one in six American workers, are unemployed or underemployed.” Popovich explained that the nature of work is changing and Low-Wage Workers (LWW) bear greater risks citing seven key influences: 1) Job Volatility and Employment Tenure 2) Temporary & Contingent Work 3) Health Insurance 4) Retirement Plans 5) Unemployment Eligibility 6) Influence of Unions, and 7) Technology Advances. Given these factors, since the mid-1970s the wages/GDP ratio has continued to fall, resulting in a loss of five percentage points between 1975 and 2010.
“Greenovation” – The City of Boston’s New Initiative: An evening with Brian Swett, Chief for Energy and Environment, City of Boston
By Vesela Veleva, ScD, Lecturer and Associate Director, SERC
This interactive event on May 14, 2013, organized by SERC and the Boston Alumni Club of the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, featured a presentation by Brian Swett, Chief of Energy and Environment for the City of Boston. Mr Swett, who reports directly to Mayor Menino, presented “Greenovate Boston" – the City of Boston’s efforts to demonstrate leadership in addressing climate change and making Boston the greenest city in the United States (www.greenovateboston.org).
Mr. Swett began his presentation with some striking statistics: 2012 was the warmest year on record globally; July 2012 was the warmest month ever in the U.S.; there are projections for substantial sea level rise in Boston, over 12 inches in the next 100 years; Boston dodged disaster from superstorm Sandy by 8 hours - had it hit at high tide, much of Boston would have been flooded making it a 100-year storm).
Sustainability in the Supply Chain: Risks and Opportunities
By Vesela Veleva, ScD, Lecturer and Associate Director, SERC, UMass Boston
In a panel discussion organized by the Center for Sustainable Enterprise and Regional Competitiveness (SERC) and attended by over 140 students, faculty and local businesses, representatives from Staples and Ernst & Young discussed how sustainability concerns such as energy costs, packaging, and reputational risks affect supply chain management, and how leading companies are able to turn such risks into business opportunities through establishing an effective value chain management system.
Mark Buckley, VP Environmental Affairs at Staples, began the discussion by introducing Staples and its journey toward sustainability. Founded in 1986 in Brighton, MA, Staples is today the world’s largest reseller of office products and services with operations in 26 countries, $25 billion revenues, and 88,000 associates worldwide. Similar to many other companies, 20 years ago Staples was focused on compliance. But an NGO campaign claiming that Staples is responsible for large areas of deforestation changed this and for the first time the company realized the need for greater transparency. Today Staples has an integrated sustainability strategy including five pillars:
• Sell green products and services
• Own customer recycling solutions
• Eliminate operational waste
• Maximize energy efficiency and renewable energy use
• Drive positive change in the world community.
For each of these pillars the company has aspirational targets (e.g., achieve zero waste in operations, zero carbon emissions in operations and help customers pursue the same goal). Mr. Buckley shared some of Staple’s main achievements in energy and carbon management such as:
• 26.3% reduction in energy intensity per sq. ft. since 2006
• 90 LEED certified buildings
• 513 EnergyStar certified buildings
• EPA #6 Green power purchaser in the U.S.
• The first company in the U.S. to sign 3rd party Solar PPA
• 58 all electric trucks which alone have saved Staples 1.2 million gallons of fuel and $1.3 million dollars.
Yet, a 2009 life-cycle assessment study revealed that 93% of Staples GHG footprint is embedded in the products they sell. The company realized that in order to really address sustainability challenges today, it needs to improve its supply chain management. A new position was created - Director Supply Chain Sustainability – to specifically focus on the challenges and opportunities of building a more efficient and resilient supply chain.
Environmental Sustainability at State Street: Performance and Opportunities for the 21st Century
By Vesela Veleva, ScD, Lecturer and Associate Director, SERC, UMass Boston
In a public lecture to over 100 students and faculty at UMass Boston, organized by the Center for Sustainable Enterprise and Regional Competitiveness, Peter DeBruin, Vice President Office of Environmental Sustainability at State Street, discussed the business benefits of environmental sustainability, the company’s achievements and future opportunities.
State Street is well positioned to talk about “sustainability”– the company was founded more than two centuries ago, in 1792. As a purely business-to-business enterprise, State Street is best known in the Boston area, but often unfamiliar to the average person. Yet, it is one of the largest financial institutions globally with 29,000 employees in 29 countries, $9.6 billion in revenue in FY2011, assets under management of $2 trillion and investment servicing covering $23 trillion of assets. In 2012 State Street was #262 in Fortune 500. More importantly, the company was among the few large financial institutions not implicated in the financial scandals of 2008-2009.