October 28, 2010

Panel Discusses Future of Sustainability

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Four experts in environmental sustainability and economic development participated in a panel titled “Creating Sustainable Futures for All: Challenges and Opportunities for the World” on Thursday in Statler Auditorium. Sheryl WuDunn ’81, Armando J. Olivera ’72 — both of whom are University Trustees — Fred D. Krupp, head of the Environmental Defense Fund, and Richard Delaney, vice president at PepsiCo, each shared their personal visions of sustainability, the challenges of achieving those visions, and the strategic role of the University.

President David Skorton introduced the panel, which was moderated by Prof. Frank DiSalvo, chemistry, director of the new David R. Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future.

“We have gathered to consider our collective future,” Skorton told the filled auditorium. He called sustainability “one of the defining challenges of our lifetime,” in response to which the University, and in particular the new center, is engaged in a complex and demanding search for solutions.

Before asking the panelists for their own individual viewpoints on sustainability, DiSalvo defined the concept as the intersection between energy, environment and economic development. Because sustainability connects to all human endeavors and to the planet, which supports human activity, the three themes are interdependent.

WuDunn, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and investment advisor, suggested that, as developing nations grow, they should incorporate sustainability at the ground level, “leapfrogging” over mistakes developed countries have made.

WuDunn cited the example of many African villages, who lack the electrical infrastructure to deliver power, but solar-powered generators — which are more practical and environmentally friendly — can be used to power small appliances.

Richard Delaney, senior vice president of international operations for PepsiCo, Inc., echoed Wudunn’s point about the difference in sustainability needs around the world. Delaney spoke about the critical importance of the “inflection point,” when the majority of people in a society begins to make purchases based on a company’s level of environmental responsibility.

Delaney said PepsiCo is “delivering profits for our shareholders but doing it in a sustainable way.”

Krupp, head of the Envir­onmental Defense Fund for the past 26 years, expressed optimism that many people, especially those in the younger generation, “share the ethic that we need a sustainable world,” but that policymakers must work on “getting the rules right.”

Olivera, who is the president and CEO of Florida Power & Light — which uses clean energy to produce electricity with fewer carbon emissions — added that the U.S. needs a national energy policy that sets renewable energy standards.

After identifing the pressing challenges of sustainability, the panelists turned their attention to the role of the Center for a Sustainable Future and the University at large. Thursday’s announcement of an $80 million donation from David Atkinson ‘60, an announcement made by Skorton at the conclusion of the panel discussion, may give the center greater resources to take a leading role in sustainability.

Krupp praised the ­re­searchers’ practice of “in­clud[ing] the people that are being developed” and Delaney noted that partnerships with foreign governments and NGOs ensured that the information was delivered to those who could use it.

WuDunn said that while the University was generating a considerable amount of knowledge on economic development, the researchers need to take steps to increase their visibility. Olivera said they should be the experts who are needed to inform policy makers in Washington, where “there are a lot of people … don’t believe in climate change.”

Original Author: Jing Jin