February 21, 2001

New Eco-Industrial Center Uses Grant To Hold Workshops

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Cornell and the University of Southern California (USC) have continued to forge their partnership over the past few months, working together at the National Center for Eco-Industrial Development.

The center, created with the help of a $250,000 grant from the Department of Commerce’s United States Economic Development Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is currently beginning its national training program. The program will hold three different workshops for distressed communities to solve eco-industrial related problems, according to Mary Schlarb, coordinator of the eco-industrial center at Cornell.

“We are very excited about this opportunity because we see a great deal of potential in eco-industrial development. Past research has not been sufficient enough to make it a reality and now, we have the financial backing and focus to achieve our goals,” said Dion Jackson, project manager for the USC Center of Economic Development.

Formed on Sept. 1, 2000, the center has the funding necessary to carry out various activities that it was unable to perform in the past. The center represents a partnership under the leadership of Leonard Mitchell, the USC Center for Economic Development Director, and Ed Cohen-Rosenthal, director of the Work Environment Initiative in the Cornell Center for the Environment. Mitchell and Cohen-Rosenthal serve as co-directors for the center.

“We are very pleased that we are finally getting support from the federal government for operations and ideas. This demonstrates that eco-industrial development is taking off and receiving recognition,” Schlarb said.

The grant has been put towards facilitating job growth, industrial expansion and environmental conservation in economically distressed communities. Researchers are also developing a national training program, providing technical assistance and preparing web-based resource manuals through the development of a website.

The primary function is to lend technical services to communities looking to adopt eco-industrial initiatives.

“We help communities identify what they currently have in terms of assets and then match them with the resources and assistance that will help them accomplish their goals with an emphasis on environmental conservation,” Schlarb said.

“Now, eco-industry is moving into the mainstream of economic development, bringing with it a focus on new partnerships in business and new, rewarding jobs in healthful workplaces,” Cohen-Rosenthal added.

The Cornell portion of the center has been located at various points around campus prior to finally moving to Rice Hall. “We have four office staff members, including one student in a suite of offices in Rice,” Schlarb said.

“We are currently orienting ourselves towards receiving additional funding specifically in the area of environmental research,” said Tad McGalliard, education and development coordinator at the Center for the Environment.

Community workshops and the training of new economic development practitioners are at the top of the group’s agenda of overall objectives.

The economic-industrial development specifically mimics industrial systems that utilize waste the way natural systems do. Schlarb stressed the mission of the center as finding real solutions to world eco-industrial problems.

At Cornell specifically, the center takes a community-development slant. “We are not just talking about waste products. In actuality, we are looking at other resources that cannot be qualified (such as labor skills) to help businesses collaborate and discover mutual benefits with an eye towards improving the environment,” Schlarb said.

Collaboration among University researchers working on eco-industrial development is an important part of the new program. The idea is to find a way for economically distressed communities to retain their existing development potential while bringing in the resources that are needed. This will allow for job growth where it is truly lacking, according to Schlarb.

“We plan on providing local communities with a ‘roadmap’ of sorts, or tools/hands-on advice to achieve solutions. We work with many organizations, from community development to city planning departments,” Jackson said.

Each stage of the process differs depending on the organization, but the center works with anyone interested in making sense of their area and helps them fulfill their goals. In some cases, preliminary studies and market analysis is utilized, according to Jackson.

In addition, the group is still working toward future initiatives.

“We are also now working with the Environmental Protection Agency in securing an additional grant in the amount of $50,000 to examine the application of eco-industrial principles regarding contaminated land,” Jackson said.

The center is making an effort to operate a bit closer to home in New York State while still maintaining its broad scope.

“We are working with state legislatures to develop programs here in New York State,” Schlarb said.

Archived article by Chris Westgate