November 6, 2012

Letter to the Editor: Make an Impact with Sustainable Investments

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To the Editor:

Re: “Letter to the Editor: The Path Toward Sustainability,” Opinion, Nov. 1

In a recent Sun Letter to the Editor, “The Path Toward Sustainability,” P. Ming Wong ’86, M.B.A. ’89 writes about his visit to Ithaca — “to speak with a number of faculty members to explore starting a new program that promotes impact investing, including the possibility of creating a new student-run social venture fund to provide hands-on experience for students (both undergraduate and graduate) to work with local social entrepreneurs, as well as the global Cornell community, to design sustainable and scalable solutions to our world’s most pressing social and environmental problems.”According to Wikipedia, “Impact investing refers to investments made based on the practice of assessing not only the financial return on investment, but also the social and environmental impact of the investment.”I applaud this effort and hope P. Ming Wong’s proposed Impact Investing Program is implemented at Cornell because there are two locations in Ithaca that could use multi-functional interdisciplinary studies.Tompkins County’s largest brownfield site is one of these locations. The vacant Emerson plant is situated on 100 acres of land that is only a few blocks from the Downtown Commons. The Emerson site has attracted a recent study from a team of Engineering Management students in Cornell’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering. The title of their study is, “Feasibility Study Of Renewable Energy Sources at the Emerson Plant in Ithaca, N.Y.” However, due to the extensive pollution on the Emerson site, a further multi-functional interdisciplinary study is needed to make the case for repurposing the Emerson plant in an environmentally responsible manner.The Carpenter Business Park area, which includes the Ithaca Area Waste Water Treatment Facility (IAWWTF), the Farmers Market and other properties along the Inlet, is the other location that could use a multi-functional interdisciplinary study team to examine the feasibility for impact investing. Specifically, a feasibility study that focuses on converting sludge from the IAWWTF into heat and electricity for the undeveloped Carpenter Business Park area, the Farmers Market and other properties along the Inlet, including the IAWWTF. Owners, managers and operators of all these properties have voiced interest in pursuing a District Energy system for this area of Ithaca.    To quote again P. Ming Wong, “With the University wide business minor initiative that has just been launched, the time is ripe to open a dialogue on what exactly a modern business education should include. If we merely succeed in teaching finance and accounting to a few more graduates, then surely it would be an opportunity lost.”Many in the Ithaca community, including the South Hill Civic Association, implore Cornell to follow P. Ming Wong’s path towards sustainability.

John GravesPresident, South Hill Civic AssociationCo-founder, Ithaca Community Environmental and Brownfield Remediation Group (ICEBRG)