November 18, 2013

Johnson School to Lead $2.3-Million Sustainability Initiative

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Joining the World Bank and several international universities, the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management is leading a $2.3-million endeavor to improve the economic and environmental sustainability of marine ecosystems.

Prof. Mark Milstein, management, will head the initiative, picking an international team of researchers to enhance the link between natural communities and their ecological and monetary wealth, according to a press release from the Johnson School. Cornell announced earlier this month that it had formally signed onto the project, called Capturing Coral Reef & Related Ecosystem Services.

The project will primarily help low-income communities to “integrate ecosystems and business to protect valuable marine ecosystems in the heart of the coral triangle,” Prof. Drew Harvell, ecology and evolutionary biology, said in a University press release.

Growing populations in the East Asia-Pacific region have made it increasingly difficult for people to make the most out of natural resources while protecting the ecosystems, researchers say. For example, mass fishing and pollution are two human threats to the welfare of the surrounding marine ecosystems. They also impede the ability of ecosystems to provide natural services like water for filtration, caostal defense and blue carbon sequestration, according to the press release.

Milstein, who is also director of the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise in the Johnson School, said the team’s first step will be to evaluate the areas in which it will be working — mainly Indonesia and the Philippines.

“A critical part of this process is to understand the various related activities already occurring in the areas we are targeting,” he said.

He added that the team will “meet with local, regional, and national governments, NGOs, multilateral institutions and businesses… [to ensure that] the work we do is complementary to other activities in the region.”

Milstein also said that the end goal for the program is to help these communities better manage their ecosystems.

“Ultimately, the work we are doing over the next five years is meant to provide better decision tools for helping an array of stakeholders –– from local communities to national governments –– improve their ability to manage natural coastal ecosystems and economic development over time so that each are reinforcing of the other,” he said.

Prof. Bruce Monger, earth and atmospheric sciences, said the program could be a positive way for Cornell to influence different decision makers to work toward implementing more sustainable practices.

“Valuing ecosystem services is a good way to get decision makers thinking more intelligently about their actions by taking a broader look at all the gains and all the losses,” he said in an email. “Cornell [is] uniquely qualified to lead the world in creating new approaches in sustainable development and the CCRES Project is a perfect example of what can be accomplished with good collaboration.”