Find Your Sustain Ability

Appalachian State University

What the heck does sustainability mean, anyway? Turns out, it means more than you might think. Lee Ball has insightful conversations with faculty experts, and in doing so, helps each of us find our Sustain Ability. read less
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Episodes

019: Get to Know Team Sunergy Pt.02
Jul 14 2023
019: Get to Know Team Sunergy Pt.02
Two App State Team Sunergy members join Chief Sustainability Officer Lee Ball in the podcast studio to share their experiences with solar vehicle racing. Zach Howard and Logan Richardson explain how they got involved with the team, as well as the impact it has had on their personal growth and their job prospects post-graduation.     Show Notes https://sunergy.appstate.edu/   Transcript:   Lee Ball Welcome to the Find Your Sustainability podcast. My name is Lee Ball. I'm the Chief Sustainability Officer here at Appalachian State University and today we have part two of a three part series where we're talking to members of Appalachian State University's Team Sunergy today. With me, I have Logan Richardson, who's the embedded systems lead, majoring in computer science and actually a graduate student in computer science. Lee Ball And Zack Howard, a mechanical lead who is majoring in sustainable technology. Welcome to the podcast. Both Thank you. Thank you. Lee Ball You know, in part one, we talked to the team about various different things. I have a feeling that we'll get into some of the same things. But I wanted to ask you, Zach, what first attracted you to get involved with Team Sunergy? Zach Howard So, I was looking for schools, looking for colleges. I'd come across App State and I had heard about the solar vehicle team. I saw it on Instagram a couple of times and I deemed the team and Sam Cheatham responded to me. He gave me his personal number and he just told me to reach out when I had questions. And I think the first person I met when I started coming to the team was Reed. Zach Howard It just was a really cool community and I really enjoyed being a part of it and it just felt natural. Lee Ball Were you a first year? Had you started when you heard about the team, or is this even before this was? Zach Howard I saw I knew about the team coming into the school, so I was looking out for it at the club fair that my freshman year and my fall semester. Lee Ball It's amazing how many people have heard about us. You know, in high school. Zach Howard Yeah, I was really looking forward to it. I wasn't sure what the team structure was going to look like and if I would be allowed to join the team or if I had to try out or submit a resume. But being a really inclusive team really opened up that opportunity and I've been super excited about it. Lee Ball Yeah, now I want to clone you. Logan, what first attracted you to get involved with Team Sunergy Logan Richardson Well, funny enough, I. I saw Rose in the homecoming parade when I was an undergrad, and I knew nothing about the team. And I just saw Rose in the parade, and I went, “Man, that's cool looking!” But during my undergrad, I never did get involved in it. And I came back for my master's degree and it was kind of one of those, friend of a friend of a friend things. Logan Richardson And I knew Sam, who was on the team, invited me in. And I think just the first time I walked in the warehouse and saw the car up front, I was hooked. I knew. Lee Ball So, both of you joined the team. In your first race last year, 2022, during the Formula One Grand Prix American. So, our challenge we raised from Independence, Missouri, to Twin Falls, Idaho. Zach, can you share a memory from that race? Zach Howard I mean, yeah, that race, there was a lot that happened in those three weeks. It's hard to take just one thing. I have to say, one of my favorite experiences overall through the structure of the race, the camaraderie of the teams is super cool. And adding on to that, we shared a campsite one night in Idaho with Polytech, Montreal. Zach Howard Their team was called Esteban, and we taught them how to play American football. We just had a great time. And we sat out there after dark for hours with a campfire, and they were passing around a cowboy hat, singing a bunch of country songs. And we were trying to sing French Canadian songs and it was a great time. Zach Howard We completely forgot about the competition. They were our biggest competitors and we were just having a great time together, just two schools trying to do the same thing and look forward to sustainability. So that was really cool. Lee Ball How about you, Logan? Do you have a memory that you'd like to share? Logan Richardson Yeah. So last year we raced the Oregon Trail and the whole time I just couldn't get over it. Here we were in this, you know, convoy of solar powered vehicles going out west just like they did back in the day with the covered wagons and the whole thing. And just the juxtaposition of that, I just couldn't get over. Logan Richardson And the, you know, I agree completely with what Zach said, the camaraderie. You're out there and you're on your own. You've got it. You got to figure it out yourself. And really, that sense of of of just roll your sleeves up and get it done was just incredible. But all the little towns we visited, the the beautiful scenery, just the whole thing, just incredible. Lee Ball To build on that. What was it like competing against and and getting to know students from schools located all over North America? Zach Howard I mean, it was that's one of my favorite parts of the competition, how different everybody is and how different every single team functions. Different teams have different strengths, but we all are working towards the same goal. And so it's really cool seeing that in each team. We're all willing to help one another and all willing to...we want to race against each other. Zach Howard We want to compete together. So we helped the other teams get on track and we got help and we helped others and it was super cool to see that. But really what's cool is just how much you can learn from other teams and how much you can teach other teams and just feeding into that camaraderie I mentioned earlier, it's it's super cool. Lee Ball How about you, Logan? What was it like competing against and getting, you know, students from schools located all over North America? Logan Richardson It was incredible. You meet so many like minded individuals from all over North America and and not just in your subject area, you know, I love computers. I love working with them coding. But you meet people who are really into mechanical or they're really into electrical or marketing. It's just incredible. And and you make friends from all over the country and you you talk to them after the race, see how they're doing. Logan Richardson You you see their development, what their team is doing, their cars. And all of a sudden you've got this network that spans the whole country that you didn't have before. Lee Ball This time I’ll go to you. Logan. What are your thoughts about how collegiate solar racing is contributing to the future of sustainable transportation innovations? Logan Richardson Oh, it's the cutting edge. It's absolutely the cutting edge. I mean, you've got teams from all over North America who are building prototype solar vehicles. That’s wild. That’s wild! And I think it's self-evident how much on the cutting edge it is, because you have recruiters from really big companies there, trying to recruit this talent for their companies because they want people with these skills. Logan Richardson It's it's really something. Lee Ball And what do you think, Zach? How is solar racing contributing to advancing technology? Zach Howard I think really what it's doing is it's at this point in time, I feel like it's marketing to a lot of the world right now. We're showing that it's possible. It's something that can be expanded upon. We're a bunch of college students figuring this out right now. And if you think about that, put into large industry and how many amazing minds are out there, something like this truly is possible in our infrastructure one day, and that's my favorite part of it. Logan Richardson And one of the things I'll say, the excitement that you see when we were going through those small towns, people would line up on the sidewalks to watch us go by. And you can see the excitement in their face. You know, they're sitting there with their little kids and little kids would come out to these parks that we would go to and we would show them the cars and the kids were interested in it. Logan Richardson And I think the potential to get young minds invested in science and math and technology and engineering is yeah. Lee Ball Yeah, I agree. And I also remember seeing people that we would pass and they were looking at staring at their phones and they never even saw that we passed that we could have been a whole bunch of aliens and they would have never known. Can you expand on what it's like to work in a really collaborative, multidisciplinary team, Zach? Zach Howard Yeah, I mean, what's super cool about it is that none of us are specifically engineering majors, and so everybody comes from a different background, meaning that everybody has some skill that nobody else has, and we're learning from each other on a different level than some of the other schools, which I think is really cool. There's so much individual talent brought into this group by music majors, by political science majors, by pretty much any major you can think of. Zach Howard We have on our team and we contributing to this car that's really kicking butt, which is really fun. Lee Ball What do you think, Logan? Logan Richardson Oh, it's been awesome! I've gotten to meet so many brilliant people from other departments who know things about their specific area of expertise that are not covered in my program. And having that exposure and being able to learn from people who have the mechanical knowledge or the electrical wiring knowledge or the business marketing knowledge. You just learn so much just by being in the room. Logan Richardson It’s the exposure and the opportunities that are opened up to you by being on the team and what you can learn from the team. I think I learned way more out in the warehouse than I do in classrooms. So yeah. Lee Ball Yeah, I wanted to talk about that kind of warehouse culture first with you, Logan. What kind of things are you working on and can you talk a little bit about some of the telemetry solutions that you've been trying to reach? Logan Richardson Yes. So, I work with a team of students to do the coding for the team, work on the telemetry aspect. When we first got started, the number one thing the team wanted us to do was code up a speedometer. So we worked on that and we worked using magnets and a hall effect sensor. We got that working and then we moved on to a nav system. Logan Richardson We moved on to fault code prediction to monitoring the battery metric system off the car, and we built a dashboard display and that data is pushed from our BMS to our dashboard, and then it's pushed to the cloud, and then we pull it back down from the cloud into our lead and chase vehicles so that our whole team can see the telemetry off the car simultaneously. Logan Richardson So that's been one of the biggest challenges that we've worked on. And we're looking to expand our telemetry, expand the capabilities of our setup as well, and just see how far we can push it. Lee Ball Great. And Zach, can you tell me a little bit about shop culture? You've really added a lot to Team Sunergy and your willingness and desire to make our shop more safe and more organized. And can you just talk a little bit more about what it has been like this spring leading up to the race? Zach Howard Yeah, so the stress has built up a little bit as we're preparing to get into race season. What's been really awesome is we've had the opportunity to test the car and really put it through its paces before we get to the race. And through that, we've been able to train a lot of new members to be very comfortable around the car and be ready for whatever might happen. Zach Howard So within that, you know, we spend, you know, 30, 40 hours a week in that warehouse doing every little thing we can to make sure everything goes perfect. And so every little thing we can think of that could possibly go wrong, we prevent and try and fix it. We spend hours in that warehouse together and there's a different level of bonding and a different level of communication and teamwork involved because you're tired, you're hungry, you're living off of Cheez-Its and mac and cheese. Zach Howard You're ready to go home and you're trying to fix these problems you don't know how to fix. And so you build a really strong team out of that. And it's been really cool and I'm really excited to see this team perform and, you know, succeed at this race. Lee Ball So Zach, how is your experience with Team Sunergy influenced, your career path and maybe what you might want to do after you leave App State? Zach Howard I mean, this is what I want to do and I'm going to find any means I can to figure out how to continue this. This it's so much fun because I care. I want to do something that can possibly make a difference and contribute to something larger. But I also I love cars. I love the mechanical and technical aspect of it. Zach Howard And this is that perfect combination for me. And so this has become my passion in school right now, you know, whatever that looks like outside. However closely I can be involved, I want to be. Lee Ball So, Logan, I happen to know a little bit about what you're doing this summer, and you had mentioned about tech companies that have been attracted to the students that are involved in these competitions. How has your experience with Team Sunergy influenced your career path and can you share a little bit about what you're doing this summer? Logan Richardson Team Sunergy has had such an incredible and immense impact on my life and my career trajectory. It's given me the opportunity to get hands on experience with engineering that you can't do in the classroom. In addition to that, the recruiters are there. So in particular, last year there were recruiters from Tesla and Blue Origin and I am headed on to an internship at Blue Origin. Logan Richardson I'm going to go down to their launch site in Van Horn, Texas, and I'll be working on their test and flight ops team to help test their prototypes and develop telemetry for their rocket systems. It's it's it's my wildest dream come true. It, it really, really and truly is. And Team Sunergy...Team Synergy opened that door for me.   Logan Richardson Truly, because I was able to, at the race, I was able to speak with the recruiters. Over this past Thanksgiving break, they hey flew me out to their headquarters and I got to tour their rocket production facility. They paired me with a mentor and that's now led to an internship. And the next step from here is career in aerospace engineering. Logan Richardson So, hats off to Team Sunergy for opening that door. Lee Ball Nice. Maybe the next time I have you on the podcast, you'll be joining us from Mars. Yeah, we'll see so. Well, thank you very much. It's been a real pleasure talking to both of you. Can't thank you enough for all the time that you've invested in the project and Team Sunergy. It means the world to me. Lee Ball It means the world to Appalachian State University. And thanks so much. Zach Howard Thank you. Logan Richardson Thank you.
018: Get to Know Team Sunergy Pt.01
Jul 10 2023
018: Get to Know Team Sunergy Pt.01
Two App State Team Sunergy members join Chief Sustainability Officer Lee Ball in the podcast studio to share their experiences with solar vehicle racing. Nicole Sommerdorf and Patrick Laney explain how they got involved with the team, as well as the impact it has had on their personal growth and their job prospects post-graduation.   Show Notes: https://sunergy.appstate.edu/   Lee Ball: Hello everybody. Welcome to another Find Your Sustainability Podcast. My name is Lee Ball. I'm the Chief Sustainability Officer here at Appalachian State University. Today, this is the first of three parts with Team Sunergy Appalachian State's solar vehicle team. Appalachian State University's internationally recognized Team Sunergy is an interdisciplinary team with a passion for sustainable transportation and the ingenuity, innovation, and drive to create it. It's premier solar car, Apperion, gained national attention with top three finishes in the 2016 and '17 Formula Sun Grand Prix, an international collegiate endurance competition that sets the standard for and tests the limits of solar vehicle technology. In 2018, the team's second cruiser class car rose, racing on solar energy, placed third in the FSGP competition and tied for second place in the American Solar Challenge, an international solar vehicle distance race held every other year by the Innovators Educational Foundation. In FSGP 2021, Team Sunergy captured second place in its class advancing to the ASC and winning first place for multiple occupant vehicles. In 2022, team Sunergy finished second place in the American Solar Challenge, and that race took place from Independence Missouri to Twin Falls, Idaho. So, joining me today are two team Sunergy members that I've had the great pleasure of getting to know for several years now. Nicole Sommerdorf and Patrick Laney. So, welcome to the podcast to both of you. Nicole Sommerdorf: Thank you. Lee Ball: Nicole Sommerdorf is the electric director and majors in sustainable technology and environmental science. Very ambitious double major, Nicole. And Patrick Laney, who's the lead mechanical engineer, is a sustainable technology major. So, welcome to the podcast. I'm real excited to talk about Team Sunergy and talking about kind of your connection to Team Sunergy and really what got you involved and why you're excited to continue to be involved with such an interesting and sometimes grueling and exhausting program. So, I'll first start with you Nicole. What first attracted you to get involved with Team Sunergy? Nicole Sommerdorf: I actually heard about Team Sunergy when I was in high school and I was looking for a place to go for college, and it actually led me to Appalachian State in the first place. I got initially into the team my first year of college during COVID, fall 2020. And at first the electrical meetings were on Zoom, but then I just kept being on the team and I finally got to go to the warehouse in spring 2021. Lee Ball: Patrick, what about you? Patrick Laney: I also discovered the team when I was in high school. I was actually here on a visit to see my sister who was a student here and when I saw it in the newspaper, I applied early admission to App State on the drive home. So, I joined my freshman year and never looked back. Lee Ball: Yeah, that's awesome. We need to make sure enrollment management listens to this podcast. Nicole, can you share a memory from your first race? Nicole Sommerdorf: My first race was in 2021 and the best memory from that race was when Jessica and Stephanie finally made it over the big hill during the ASC route. And no other teams at that point had made it over the hill, and one team even broke down trying to get their solar car over the hill. So, I think it was a really great feat when they finally made it over on top of the hill, they all jumped out and we all hugged them. So, it was a really nice memory. Lee Ball: I think I share that memory. Just seeing the smiles in their faces was priceless. Nicole Sommerdorf: Yeah. Lee Ball: Patrick, what about you? What do you remember from your first race? Patrick Laney: Probably from the track race when we decided that I would try to drive all day and barely make the cutoff to qualify for ASC. When me and Austin were in the car and we drove the whole day, I don't remember how long it was, but we ended up one lap short because of a penalty. And the last lap we had to power cycle the car like 20 times just to try to get it around the track and we finally made it over, which was a cool feeling. Lee Ball: So Patrick, could you describe what the scrutineering process is and what it takes to qualify to even begin the competition? Patrick Laney: Yeah. So, scrutineering is basically technical inspection, where you roll your car into their building and completely deconstruct it basically and get grilled for hours and hours by their engineers to make sure that it is safe and also passes all the regulations and all that kind of good stuff. Lee Ball: And then the track race, can you describe what that's like? Patrick Laney: So, the Formula Sun Grand Prix is the qualifier for American Solar Challenge, and you have three days of track racing. Both of my FSGPs have been at Heartland Motorsport Park and you drive all day making laps on the track, and see how it goes. Lee Ball: And then the road race usually consists of what? How many days and what's that like? Patrick Laney: Well, the race in '21 was shortened because of COVID requirements, so that race was only a thousand miles and we did that over three or four days. This past summer was a longer race, 1,500 miles, and I think that one was five or six days. Lee Ball: Yeah. Did you get that audience? Only a thousand miles. It's pretty grueling. Nicole, what's it like competing against and getting to know students from schools located all over North America? Nicole Sommerdorf: I think it's fun. It's really cool to meet a lot of different types of people and just see the different teams coming from all across the world. You get to meet people from Canada, you get to see big engineering schools like MIT and just see how they interact with each other, and also just how they interact with other teams. It's like, I don't know. It's very interesting. Lee Ball: And Patrick, can you talk a little bit about the camaraderie between the teams? Patrick Laney: Yeah, I mean during scrutineering especially, it's basically all the teams band together against the scrutineers is essentially how it works. If you need parts, you can pretty much ask any team there and they'll give it to you or if they need something you can give it to them. We're one of the only teams that ever brings a drill press, and I think there's always a line at our trailer to use that. But yeah. Lee Ball: I know there's a lot of creative tension between the teams and the scrutineers, but I do like to think that they have our safety and our best interests. Patrick Laney: They do. Maybe us versus the scrutineers isn't the best way to word that, but we all team up together- Lee Ball: It feels that way. Patrick Laney: That way through scrutinizing. Lee Ball: It certainly feels that way sometimes. Patrick Laney: It does. It does. Lee Ball: Because it's so challenging, these are engineering problems that many of the teams have been spending months to solve, and then we get to the race and the scrutineer year will say, yeah, we want you to do it this way. And sometimes it's literally back to the drawing board. Patrick Laney: Yeah, completely back to the drawing board sometimes. And all the other teams come up with different solutions too, so I'm sure it's hard for the scrutineers to decide what's okay and what's not. Lee Ball: Right. Nicole, what are your thoughts about how collegiate solar racing is contributing to the future of sustainable transportation innovations? Nicole Sommerdorf: I think it really promotes students to think about the future and what they can do for the future and also how to work together. Lee Ball: Patrick, what are your thoughts on how solar racing in this collegiate space is contributing to the future of sustainable transportation? Patrick Laney: Well, not only, like Nicole said, everybody's thinking about the future, but the technologies that come out of solar car don't always necessarily have to be a solar car. Regenerative braking is something you see in most standard EVs, and that got its start primarily in solar car racing. So, advancements in solar cell technology, MPPTs aerodynamics, all coming from solar car. Lee Ball: Nicole, you're the electrical director. And I'm just curious, what is it like leading a team at a school like App State that does not have an electrical engineering team? What is it like trying to transfer the information that you've gained in the last few years to the next kind of crop of students that are also interested in the electrical part of Team Sunergy? Nicole Sommerdorf: It's been difficult, but in terms of just trying to find students that have the passion and drive to learn themselves. But it's been also good to just learn how to interact with other people and figure out what their needs are. So, some people might need different types of resources, some people might need hands-on training. It gives me good opportunities to learn and them, but yeah. Lee Ball: Well, I really appreciate your interest and passion in helping the next group of students learn from you and from others that preceded you. Because solar racing really relies on a strong electrical team and a strong mechanical team. And some of these challenges are extremely difficult and a lot of faculty members don't even know how to solve them. So, my experience witnessing you all as student competitors, I think of you more as colleagues because the knowledge that you have gained is far surpassed definitely myself and many other of your own faculty members that you know work with. Patrick, what's it like working with such a collaborative multidisciplinary team? Patrick Laney: It's interesting to say the least. I think a lot of times if you work with a group of people that all have the same mindset, you're going to have the same solutions each time. But when you work in a more multidisciplinary environment, you start to see more solutions to problems that maybe I didn't see at first. Lee Ball: And Nicole, how has your experience with Team Sunergy influenced your career path? Nicole Sommerdorf: I think Team Sunergy has given me a lot of skill sets for my further career path. I'm kind of completely going a 180 and doing soil science, so it's not that much with solar tech. But I did learn a lot from my years on the team and not just in terms of leadership skills, but also just working through various problems that seem impossible and having very high stress environments all the time. So, I think that has really prepared me for future careers. Lee Ball: Yeah, I mean, we've all experienced multiple times over when we think that it's impossible to find a solution. We'll keep trying and a solution emerges. I think that you really touched on the tenacity that it takes and the commitment that it takes to be able to be involved with this type of this competition where you have challenge after challenge after challenge, and sometimes they're just like, this mountain is like Everest. We're never going to get over this, but the team comes together and they huddle up and they just keep trying and keep trying. And eventually a solution presents itself and you get to the other side and you get to the next mountain. Patrick, how has your experience with Team Sunergy influenced your career path? Patrick Laney: I would say Team Sunergy pretty much single-handedly created my career path. I just today discovered that I'll be working with one of our sponsors after graduation, VX Aerospace, so I'm super stoked about that. And yeah, without Team Sunergy, I wouldn't have that opportunity, so. Lee Ball: Well, that's great news. Congratulations. Patrick Laney: Thank you. Lee Ball: Well, I want to thank both of you for spending time with us in the podcast studio. Remember, this is part one of a three part series about Appalachian State University's Team Sunergy.
017: National Geographic CEO  Dr. Jill Tiefenthaler
Jul 7 2023
017: National Geographic CEO Dr. Jill Tiefenthaler
Dr. Jill Tiefenthaler, the first female CEO of the National Geographic Society, joins App State Chief Sustainability Officer Lee Ball in the podcast studio to discuss the journey that led her to her current position. She shares her thoughts on the importance of higher education and the history of the Society’s National Geographic magazine, as well as a few of her favorite National Geographic Explorers.     Show Notes https://www.nationalgeographic.org/society/our-leadership/ sustain.appstate.edu   Transcript Lee Ball: Welcome back to another episode of Find Your Sustainability, where we talk to many of the world's experts about sustainability and what the heck that means. On today's episode, we spoke with Dr. Jill Tiefenthaler, who is the CEO of National Geographic. Jill was on App State's campus for the 11th annual Appalachian Energy Summit, and it was my pleasure to have a chance to interview her on the podcast. As Chief Executive Officer at the National Geographic Society, Dr. Tiefenthaler oversees the development and implementation of the society's mission driven work and programmatic agenda. She leads our global community of explorers, scientists, innovators, educators, and storytellers in our mission to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world. Jill sits on the Society's board of trustees and the Board of National Geographic Partners. To read more about Jill, you can find a link to her bio on our show notes. Dr. Jill Tiefenthaler, welcome back to North Carolina. Jill Tiefenthaler: Thanks. It's great to be back, Lee. It's fun to be with you today. Lee Ball: You did your graduate work at Duke, you were the provost at Wake Forest and more recently you were the president of Colorado College for nine years. How's it feel being back on a college campus and especially back in North Carolina? Jill Tiefenthaler: Well, it's wonderful to be back on a campus. It's one of the things I miss most about leaving higher ed and being in my new role at National Geographic is the dynamism and excitement of a college campus. And back when I was college president and provost too, I used to teach every year, so I really miss teaching and being in the classroom and that interaction with students, especially. It's also great to be back in North Carolina, especially up here in Boone. I used to enjoy escaping the heat of Winston-Salem and coming up here and hiking and camping. I have very fond memories of my time both at Duke and Winston-Salem. Lee Ball: Yeah, it's funny, I go to Winston-Salem and I tell people that, "Yeah, we just came here for the day." They're like, "Oh my gosh, it's so far away." I'm like, "No, it's not. You should be coming here often." Jill Tiefenthaler: Yeah, just a couple hours. Lee Ball: What role do you think higher education plays or can play to help promote the type of education that is in line with Natural Geographic's mission? Jill Tiefenthaler: Well, I think higher ed is critical. I'm obviously a true believer in getting students to have awareness of these critical issues. And now more and more, I think they have that awareness through the media and through high school education, but they really still need those skills to figure out how to put them to work. To get the work done, we need to do both for climate change and biodiversity loss. I think they see the urgency. I also hope higher education really focuses on solutions, because I don't want our students to feel hopeless about the future. I want them to feel hopeful and motivated, inspired to make the change that we need to see in the world. Lee Ball: Yeah, that's definitely something that we focus on here is engagement opportunities, and I'm a real big believer that it does inspire hope when you can get your hands dirty or whatever. Jill Tiefenthaler: Yeah, when you can see something change. When you can see something get better and you can see how the power of collaboration and community can make that happen, I think it can be really inspiring. I love that you're all doing that hands-on education opportunities here. Lee Ball: May I ask you a little bit about your childhood? Jill Tiefenthaler: Sure. Lee Ball: I'm fascinated by the stories I get to hear about my guest connection's to nature and place. Is there a memory or experience from your childhood that helped contribute to your development as such a strong advocate for the natural world? Jill Tiefenthaler: Well, I grew up on a farm in Iowa, so my everyday was being part of the natural world. And in fact, when a lot of people, as a grownup, I escape and had to the nature for my vacations. As a child, we escaped nature for the city or something. But we just saw... I was so lucky to grow up in a very small town on a farm where every day we were out there, and my mom would send us outside in the morning and shut the door and say, "See you at lunch," and then same thing after lunch until suppertime. I had the opportunity to love the natural world. And then as in my adult life, and especially spending time in Colorado in the West and in North Carolina when I was here, just the beauty of this country and the awe of what we have. And I think every day that awe inspires me now today as well, to do the work we do at National Geographic. Lee Ball: I really applaud the work that National Geographic does to really help people feel a connection to nature. It's an important part of my work and a personal interest of mine, to try to help people maintain that connection however they can. And I think that you all do such a beautiful job with all the different ways that you tell stories, and I just thank you so much for that. Jill Tiefenthaler: Thank you. At the Society, we often say that science and exploration and education are our foundation, but storytelling is our superpower, and it's one of the things. There are so many great organizations out there doing incredible conservation work in supporting science and education, but we really feel like our biggest comparative advantage is with the brand telling those amazing stories so we can get more people to care, more people to be motivated, more people to be hopeful and to act. Lee Ball: Right. Exactly. If you were anything like me, having access to a National Geographic magazine was like a treasure that enabled me to explore some of the world's most beautiful and mysterious places. Can you share any early memories of reading a National Geographic magazine? Jill Tiefenthaler: I can. When I was in grade school, I went to this very small little Catholic grade school in Iowa called St. Bernard's School. There were about 20 kids in a class and we had a little library at our grade school and National Geographic was always there. And so, I always remember grabbing it when I was in the little library, but I particularly remember the 1977 when King Tut's funerary mask was on the front cover. And I remember it, the magazine was propped up so you could see the cover on one of the shelves. And I remember vividly being drawn to it and just felt like I was being transported to another world when I was reading about Egypt and King Tut and these amazing stories. When I travel the world on behalf of National Geographic, I hear so many amazing stories from people about their connection to the magazine. The stories, of course, the photography, and also just as you said, that inspiration to be somewhere else. In a day, especially in the past, when we had very few opportunities to do that like we do today with social media and the internet. Lee Ball: I remember that one. Jill Tiefenthaler: Do you? Yeah. Lee Ball: Very well. Jill Tiefenthaler: Yes. Stunning. Lee Ball: My grandparents had Nat Geo and so when I would visit them, I would devour them. And my grandfather was a world traveler, worked for a tobacco company as a salesman, and he was from North Carolina. And he had gone to Egypt with my grandmother on a vacation, and so they had brought also just some gifts and trinkets back to me. But I just remember just that wondrous sensation of not really even being able to imagine what it was like. Not just being in the culture they visited, but just imagine what it was like to live way back then when the pyramids were constructed and just all the historic culture. Jill Tiefenthaler: Absolutely. And so, it's another way to be inspired by human ingenuity and what we can do and to be hopeful about the future, to look at that distant past. Lee Ball: I can't imagine all the incredible places you have visited since taking the helm as CEO of the Natural Geographic Society. Is there some place or experience that was not on your radar that surprised you or that you find yourself still thinking about? Jill Tiefenthaler: Well, it's funny because you were just talking about Egypt and King Tut, and just in 2022 was the hundredth anniversary of the discovery of King Tut's tomb. And so, I got an invitation to attend a bunch of celebrations in Luxor and in Cairo around that time. And after seeing that incredible image as a child and then now getting to go see it in person as well as to experience the tomb and to enjoy... I went to a conference specifically on King Tut's tomb while I was there in Luxor, so had both the academic and the amazing experiential opportunities when I was there, so that was special. The other thing I'm completely drawn to is we have a project in the Okavango Delta in Botswana and working in the highlands of that delta in Angola, and I had the amazing opportunity to be out in the field with our team last fall as well, in September. And to see the work they're doing, they've done thousands of miles of transects of the rivers and the land there, and now we're really working on with the local communities, a education and preservation of that critical delta, as well as they found over 100 new species to science in their work there. To be out with those experts and seeing the wildlife there and the beauty and the birds. Oh, the birds were amazing. It was really a special experience. Lee Ball: I can imagine. I'm a birder, so. Jill Tiefenthaler: Oh, the birds were just... You'd love it. You got to go. Lee Ball: Do you find that the locals are very receptive to your work? Jill Tiefenthaler: Yes, we're working very hard. All of our big projects and all of our grantees, part of the requirement is in a plan to be working with the local communities, and we're doing much more to be funding not the traditional way of funding. An American to go and look at something and to learn and to explore, but really to work to fund explorers in every country in the world. Our 6,000 now explorers come from more than 140 countries and we're funding about two thirds of our work is non-US citizens working in their own regions around the world. When I go with National Geographic, if I have a cap or a pin or whatever, everybody's dying to get National Geographic. I've only been to one place in the world where when people heard National Geographic, they didn't recognize it. That was up in the very north part of Kenya and their Turkana Basin. But otherwise, everywhere I go, the National Geographic receives an incredible reception and people know we do the brand and the magazine. Lee Ball: It sounds like it's very local community centric and you work on- Jill Tiefenthaler: Very. Lee Ball: ... capacity building. Jill Tiefenthaler: We know National Geographic's been around 135 years and there's been a history of colonial exploration and imagery exploitation, and we look back on it, aren't proud of everything that has always happened, but the only thing we can do there is recognize what wasn't right and move ahead in a new way, and that's what we're committed to doing. And we also know that conservation and really great work is only going to happen if it's led by communities. These are the people who care and know their places, indigenous knowledge being so critical. When you can get amazing indigenous knowledge together with some of the cutting edge sciences developed, that's what we're hoping we will really find the sustainable solutions that we need. Lee Ball: Oh, that's incredible. Along those same lines, is there a National Geographic explorer who has particularly inspired you? Jill Tiefenthaler: Well, I'm here in App State, so I have to say Baker Perry, who has now been to Everest three times, as well as Tupungato in the last couple years. And he's such a humble guy too, but so committed to the work at National Geographic and such a great model of an explorer for us. Someone who has this amazing scientific background, but also is truly an adventurer. And what we're looking for in our explorers is that talent and depth of knowledge and experience, but also that wonder and awe that really want to be out there in the world and talking to people and educating. Not just talking to other scientists, which is important, but can't be everything because at National Geographic, as I mentioned before, our superpower is taking that science and really sharing it with the world in a way that we can engage a lot more people. I'd say the work that Baker has done here has been a great example of that. Lee Ball: I couldn't agree more. Have you had a chance to meet one of my heroes, Dr. Jane Goodall? Jill Tiefenthaler: I have had a chance to meet Jane. She is amazing. I started my job during the pandemic, so a lot of my opportunities to meet our explorers was delayed. But in 2022, a little over a year ago, I had the great opportunity. We have a exhibit that's been traveling the country called Becoming Jane, and it's about Jane's journey. It debuted in the society, in our headquarters in Washington DC and is now been traveling around the country, and then we'll do even around the world. And so, after the pandemic, it reopened in LA and I got a chance to spend time with Jane and tour it and spend some private time with her as well. And she is an amazing force and we're so proud. We were the first to fund her through her mentor Louis Leakey in Gombe way back when, and her work with the chimpanzees. And she is a wonder and how her energy and what she manages to do today, the number of talks she's given, the places she travels, she's truly an inspiration. Lee Ball: Yeah, she is certainly a she-ro of mine. We were under contract to have Jane come to campus. And then the pandemic struck and she was going to come to Western North Carolina and they were going to have multiple stops, and she ended up doing a virtual event with us. Jill Tiefenthaler: Oh, yeah. She's really gotten amazingly good at that during the pandemic because she was determined to keep her work moving forward during the pandemic. Lee Ball: And she did. And we had, kind of like what we're going to do tonight, we had students that were able to interview her on her Zoom. And she was just a force to be reckoned with. And she's funny and and humble. Jill Tiefenthaler: I've gotten to watch her with little ones, grade school kids, and it's magical to watch her with them too. That's when you know really see greatness, when someone who can resonate with people who have known and watched her since her earliest work, to little kids and teenagers and everybody in between. I've had so many young women tell me how inspired they're by Jane. Lee Ball: Her Roots & Shoots program is so important to her. And she still really focused a lot of their attention on supporting that all around the world. Jill Tiefenthaler: I think that's one of the things is true of so many of our explorers, and Jane is a great example of that. Bob Ballard, who's the famous oceanographer who found the Titanic, he has a big education program. He works with us. As well as Sylvia Earle, Her Deepness, who also has her Hope Spots, and she really is committed to education through that. I think everybody realizes that we can't do this on our own, and one of the best ways you can galvanize others is to get that next generation excited about the work. Lee Ball: We were invited to a fundraiser in Atlanta because her team wanted to meet us to test the waters with us, and I was able to watch her work the room because it was a fundraising event, and she was just tireless. And she stayed and shook hands with everyone who wanted to meet her and took pictures, and it was just so amazing to see. Even towards the end when people were sitting down, they were tired and she was just still up and fundraising, and it was just incredible to be around her spirit. Congratulations on being the first woman to serve as CEO of the National Geographic Society. Jill Tiefenthaler: Thank you. Lee Ball: It's clearly been a long time coming. I know National Geographic has featured numerous women over the years who have contributed to National Geographic's mission of sparking curiosity, empowering exploration, inspiring change. Is there another woman whose work is particularly inspiring to you? Jill Tiefenthaler: Well, I mentioned two of our incredible women, Jane and Sylvia Earle. But in addition to that, there's Louise Leakey, who's the third generation of the Leakey family who is now working in Kenya and just doing amazing discoveries for paleoanthropology. And then some amazing young women, Paula Khumbu, who is a Kenyan and is just tirelessly working for the protection of elephants on the African continent. She recently was featured in our National Geographic series on Disney+ called Secrets of the Elephants, which was produced by explorer at large, James Cameron, and it is so inspiring. But Paula's also done a series called Wildlife Warriors, which is for Africans to really get people right there living next to elephants every day to care and love these animals, because they're the ones where the conflict happens and the difficulty happens, and to really get kids to fall in love with them. I'm so inspired by Paula, and then I have to mention Tara Roberts, who was our explorer of the year last year in 2022, and she is a storyteller. And her mission became... She went to the African American History Museum and saw the divers with the purpose work who are diving scientists and historians and others who are diving to understand and uncover the mysteries of those enslaved Africans who died during shipwrecks in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. And she, determined to tell their story, went out and learned to dive, became an expert diver. And then she just tells the most beautiful stories about this project in her podcast, Into The Depths. And then last year she became the first black woman explorer appear on the cover of National Geographic Magazine. Again, too long coming, but to see her in her dive suit and truly a badass, she's amazing and we're excited about the projects that she has to come in that area as well. Lee Ball: Yeah, I remember that. I have that issue. Jill Tiefenthaler: It's a great issue. Lee Ball: Yeah. The National Geographic Society has a long and storied history. What can you share with us about your organization's future? Jill Tiefenthaler: A lot of exciting things happening. We have a new strategic plan, NG Next, that I helped to develop with the community when I arrived a couple years ago at National Geographic. And the big focus of our strategic plan is doubling down on the support for our explorers. We truly believe that when our work is explorer-led and they bring us their best ideas, we will achieve the most we can. We are increasing funding for our explorers, but also, maybe even more importantly, increasing opportunities for career development, for collaborative work across explorers, and for amplification on our media platforms and with our partners at Disney to get their work out even more. We're also really excited about a big renovation of our base camp in Washington DC that's now underway, and it'll be a couple years. But we're quadrupling our public space and going to include so many new opportunities, including a public archives experience and an amazing education center for kids and families to visit when they come to National Geographic, to learn, of course, more about our work of our explorers, taking that geographic approach to understanding our world. Lee Ball: Well, I can't wait to visit it. Jill Tiefenthaler: Yeah, I can't wait to have you. Lee Ball: My favorite thing about the National Geographic Society is your phenomenal ability to tell stories. Is there a story that you would like to leave us with today? Jill Tiefenthaler: That's a good question. Lee Ball: Or another story? Jill Tiefenthaler: I know, so many stories. Let me think. Well, I think I'll just tell a story maybe of some of our history, because I think it's fun to think about all these amazing things that we've done. But National Geographic was founded in 1888 by 33 gentlemen who came together. You see these pictures of them all standing around in the Cosmos Club in Washington DC, and they were determined to increase and diffuse geographic knowledge. And through the history, because of amazing leadership, Alexander Graham Bell sat in my seat at one time. He was the head of the Society, for example, and he even expanded our mission more and said, "We cover the world and all that's in it." And the idea of really moving away from being that original scientific journal that people had imagined and figuring out how to talk about the world to broader audiences, and to take science and complicated facts and ideas and present them in a way that can engage everybody. And I think that's what's so inspiring about our work, because that's given us a platform, I think, where the brand is so strong, so recognized, and it's bipartisan and it's loved by so many. And so, I think a story of that founding, of being focused on exploration, but also sharing it is a story that we try to live and be true to every day now, as we leverage all the important work that our explorers are doing around the world. Lee Ball: It's almost like it was Life Magazine for the Earth, but they probably influenced Life Magazine because they came before Life Magazine. Jill Tiefenthaler: And it's funny, because I'm going to talk tonight about the controversy that started in the early 20th century when photos started to show up in the magazine. Because originally, one of the board members quit because he thought it dumbed down the magazine. And if you think about what National Geographic is so known for, is not just the great narrative and the science, but of course the images that, as we talked about earlier, really transported you to another place. A place that you could never go in the past, but many of us can't go to today. And so, the beautiful imagery and the awe and wonder and empathy that I think that inspires for our world. Lee Ball: Well, Dr. Tiefenthaler, thank you so much for coming today to campus, to my podcast, Find Your Sustainability, and it's just a pleasure having you here. Jill Tiefenthaler: It's great to be here with you, Lee. Thank you for inviting me. Outro: Find Your Sustainability is a production of the University Communications Department at Appalachian State. It's hosted by Appalachian's Chief Sustainability Officer, Lee Ball. For more information about Appalachian State's sustainability, check out sustain.appstate.edu. For more podcasts, videos, and articles related to Appalachian State, check out today.appstate.edu.
016: App State at The United Nations Climate Change Conference
Apr 28 2023
016: App State at The United Nations Climate Change Conference
Lee welcomes Dr. Dave McEvoy, Professor and Chair of the Department of Economics in the Walker College of Business along with Grace Waugh, a senior sustainable technology major and Matthew Mair, a senior economics and political science major. The 4 discuss their January 2023 trip to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.   Links: Appalachian Today Article about the COP27 Trip   Transcript:   Lee Ball: Welcome to another episode of Find Your Sustainability. My name is Lee Ball. I'm the Chief Sustainability Officer here at Appalachian State, and today we have three guests in the podcast studio. It's our first ever attempt to have multiple guests, more than one. First we have David McEvoy, Professor and Chair of the Department of Economics in the Walker College of Business. Welcome, David. Dave McEvoy: Thanks for having me. Lee Ball: Grace Waugh, a senior sustainable technology major. Welcome, Grace. Grace Waugh: Happy to be here. Lee Ball: And last but not least, we have Matthew Mair, a senior economics and political science major. Welcome, Matthew. Matthew Mair: Thanks for having me. Lee Ball: So, I'm going to start with Dave. The goal of this podcast is to share with our listeners an experience that we've all had together of attending the COP27 Conference of Parties in Egypt this past fall. Prior to talking about the experience in Egypt, I just wanted to ask you, Dave, can you tell us a little bit about the UN Conference of Parties? Dave McEvoy: Yeah, sure. My interest in climate change negotiations and the United Nations, the UN kind of Climate Conference, really started way back in graduate school as an economics major. Been interested in kind of the strategic aspects of policy surrounding climate change. And so the body that governs this, at an international level, is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change or the UNFCCC. And every year since 1992, except for maybe a COVID year, we have an annual conference of the parties. Roughly 200 countries get together and try to work towards a common goal of mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and limiting the damages from rising temperatures. Lee Ball: So Dave, why did you want to provide students the opportunity to attend a COP? Dave McEvoy: I mean, to be honest, I just thought it would be a fun, cool, interesting, hopefully life-changing kind of experience. Not knowing too much about how it would shake out, we have two of our initial cohort students here with us today. And so I thought that bringing students would be kind of eye-opening in the sense of how massive this problem is. And although from the press, I don't know, the coverage can be disappointing in terms of how we've done in trying to manage this problem. Just being there, kind of demonstrates how important this is for so many people. I mean, thousands and thousands, 30 to 40,000 delegates spend resources, time, energy, effort, to try their best to work on this problem. And so I think just being there is something that you can't capture in a classroom environment. Lee Ball: Grace, why did you want to attend the COP? Grace Waugh: Yeah, so my major in sustainable technology is in large part a very technical degree, so I added an economics minor my sophomore year, in order to try and get another perspective on sustainability because the biggest argument against a lot of the renewable energy initiatives that we have is that they're not going to be economically feasible, and I don't believe that to be entirely true and so I wanted to get another perspective on that. And so when the opportunity to go to the conference and see, not only what all of the other countries are doing in their sustainability efforts, but also the economic aspects of it and the negotiation portions, it seemed like a really great experience to see what the rest of the world is doing and get out of the bubble that I've lived in, in the United States, for my whole life. Lee Ball: Matthew, I have the same question for you. Why did you want to attend the COP? Matthew Mair: This is, I think a really great opportunity for me specifically because of my combination of majors. I have a international concentration in my political science major and an environmental concentration in my economics major and so this really was just the perfect opportunity for me to go out into the world and see what people in my fields are working on, and it was just really eye-opening opportunity to see what kind of career pathways and opportunities are out there for people who are interested in sustainability and environmental problems. Lee Ball: Dave, what was it like observing the students while you were there? Dave McEvoy: Yeah, that's a great question because I think while I was there, I was worried about all the procedural, kind of day-to-day travel arrangements, and so I think it was the first day that we entered the conference, seeing how students took their own path in navigating this. Some, just kind of seemed comfortable right away in navigating such a huge conference and others need a little bit more help. It took a little bit of time. I think the cool part was witnessing that transition from overwhelmed, or what's going on, to towards the end of the week, it was just like, this is where we go every day, so let's see what's on the agenda and let's see what progress has been made. And so that's kind of cool. Lee Ball: Yeah, I thought for me, especially towards the end of the week after we'd been there for days and it was exhausting and there were a lot of challenges, but seeing you all just remain super engaged and really focused and interested. If we were going to stay another week, we could have, and I think you would've been just as engaged and interested the whole time. There was no shortage of content, that's for sure. Dave McEvoy: The hotel would've gotten a little old Grace Waugh: That yes. The lack of wifi would've gotten a little bit old. Dave McEvoy: We managed. Grace Waugh: I felt like I could have stayed there for another month and been fine. There were so many people to talk to, so many different perspectives, things to talk about. We didn't find the Green Zone, which was just this big several buildings worth of expos and different presentations of technologies and things that industry is doing. We didn't find that until probably day three or four, so halfway to three-quarters of the way through the trip and that I could have spent two days at on its own, so there was so much to see. Lee Ball: Grace, did the COP27 experience influence your career path in any way? Grace Waugh: Oh, a hundred percent. Absolutely, it did. Yeah, so before this, I mean, I said that I had the economics minor, but I didn't feel very engaged in the economics department mostly because of COVID. So, most of my econ classes had been online, but getting this experience, and as Matthew said before, seeing all of the different career pathways, possibilities, things that people were doing, was really inspiring to me. And so it really set me on more of a data-driven path, a more numbers economics-based path than the purely engineering state that I was in prior to going. Lee Ball: How about you, Matthew? Matthew Mair: I would say certainly. There were so many different people there with different positions and goals that I had no idea even really existed. There was one panel I went to, there was an economist from the IMF and he was talking about valuing economic valuation of animals and tidal marshes and grasses. It was just this wealth of information and you could tell that he was so much of an expert in his field, that it was really eye-opening to see how deep you can go, in even such a small corner of the world of sustainability and the world of climate change. Lee Ball: Matthew, what was something surprising about the experience? Matthew Mair: I was surprised to see the lack of protestors at the conference. I had been hearing and doing research, and I had heard that there had been often protestors at these conferences for people demanding more action or more concrete deliverables, but we didn't really even see that until day three or four, I think, until there was some small organized protests that were allowed within the conference. Lee Ball: Grace, what was your general takeaway from the COP? Are you hopeful that the COP process is able to make measurable differences? Grace Waugh: I would say it's kind of a mixed bag, as far as takeaways for me. Learning about the different conferences going in, I think we all kind of went in with a slightly cynical view of it, simply because we had gone through the history of the conferences and seen that really very little substantial difference had come out of the COP as a whole. But going there and listening to the negotiations and seeing all of the people there, I came away with a more hopeful view of it. Even if this isn't the end all, be all, for climate negotiations and we're not going to solve everything through policy at these, this is still a big conference where everyone in the world who's interested in fighting climate change and making a difference can come together, share what they're doing, get a new perspective, and it was honestly kind of refreshing. Lee Ball: Matthew, how did it make you feel attending the COP? Hopeful for the future of the earth and humanity? Matthew Mair: I think I had some of the same sentiments as Grace did. Going into it, I didn't have a whole lot of hope to be honest, but I came away with this idea that at the very least, I have seen with my own eyes, 30 or 40,000 people, all in the same place, who are well articulated, well-educated and passionate about solving these issues of sustainability and climate change. And so it did give me some hope that there are a lot of really great people out there working on this issue and even if we don't solve it at this COP, or the next one, or the next one after that, there's going to be change happening at every level around the world, which is I think I have something to be optimistic about. Lee Ball: How about you, Dave? Dave McEvoy: Yeah, I mean, I think as an economist I kind of faced these problems or approach these problems thinking the underlying assumption is that countries are kind of looking after their own self-interest, and that's just the traditional way we would model the world, whether it's people or firms or countries. And the advantage to that is that not just me, but most economists, if not all, agree that we need to do something about climate change now. And the gist here is that there's these collective gains from mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and not exceeding our threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius and those collective gains are there. It's all a political process to try to reach some sort of goal, and it's going to take some transfers of resources from one part of the world to the other, but we've done that before. We've done that before, regulating the ozone through the Montreal protocol and there are important differences. There are important similarities. But I'm hopeful that because there are gains to be made from this and the damages are so high that we're going to make significant progress, just not as fast as in an ideal world, Lee Ball: The COP27 was in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, on the southern end of the Sinai Peninsula. I think for all of us it was a new experience. Grace, what was something culturally that surprised you or was interesting or fascinating, that you remember? Grace Waugh: One of the most memorable experiences from there was seeing the inside of the mosque in the new market center. The name of the mosque escapes me right now, but me and the other two women on the trip, we actually had to go in and put on one of these coverings and there was a woman in there who helped us put it on. She was very sweet and then we were able to go inside. We had to take our shoes off. It was very quiet, but it was absolutely gorgeous and it was an insane structure. So, it was one of the most memorable parts of that trip to me was inside of that mosque. Lee Ball: Matthew, what'd you think about Sharm El-Sheikh? Matthew Mair: I had a great time there and it was lovely to see different cultural perspectives. I came away from that trip realizing how friendly all of the locals were to us, and it seemed like all of the other visitors for the COP. It was really great to just walk down the street and they'd strike up a conversation with you about what they're selling in their store or what they want you to buy. I had a really great time just learning about the people there. Lee Ball: Grace, from the student perspective, would you recommend international travel to your peers? Grace Waugh: Definitely. I had been trying to go abroad for about three years at this point and COVID kind of stuck a wrench in that plan. But when I finally did get abroad, it was mind-blowing. My college experience wouldn't have felt complete without it. Lee Ball: Matthew? Matthew Mair: I would absolutely agree. I had similar travel plans, but COVID derailed those. But this trip really offered a lot of things for me educationally and culturally and really helped me gain that, I think international perspective, that up until that point I'd been lacking in my education. Lee Ball: Would you recommend students attend another COP trip? Grace Waugh: Honestly, yes. If you are interested in sustainability, international policy, the environment is going to be a major part of any international policy made now and in the future, COP27 was an amazing experience for me, interested in the environment and policy related to it, and anyone else needs to know what's going on at this conference in order to be properly literate in sustainability. Lee Ball: Matthew, would you recommend COP28, 29 or 30? Matthew Mair: Absolutely. I learned so much in that one week time-span. I remember reflecting on the plane ride back that I think I had learned more in that week than I had in my entire college career up until that point. It was really, really transformative. Lee Ball: Dave, what are your plans for this year's COP? Dave McEvoy: Well, Lee, hopefully with you in tow here, we will be taking the second cohort in this program, the United Nations Climate Negotiations Program to Dubai for COP28, and that will be during the first of the two-week conference, that starts in December. It starts a little bit later this year. But I actually, I think it's kind of a nice time of year where exams are kind of starting and students aren't going to be missing too much in the way of classes. We'll be with hopefully six students in the second cohort. Lee Ball: Yeah, I'm really looking forward to it. Never been to Dubai. Another trip to the Middle East and it's going to be fascinating to see this kind of continued perspective and outlook from the Middle Eastern perspective on these huge challenges that we all call, sustainability or decarbonization, or climate action or helping with biodiversity. It's such a huge umbrella, the topics that are covered during these conferences, and there's a little bit there for everybody, so I feel very fortunate to have been able to attend and thank you all so much for being on the podcast. It's been a treat. Grace Waugh: Thanks for having us here. Matthew Mair: Thank you for having us on. I really enjoyed it. Dave McEvoy: Thank you, Lee, for inviting us to the podcast and I also want to thank you. Not all universities have a Chief Sustainability Officer attend with the student cohort, these COPs, 27 and 28 to come, and there are some significant advantages to that and so we appreciate your involvement. Lee Ball: My pleasure.
015 Brian Crutchfield on sustainability since the 1970s
Mar 28 2023
015 Brian Crutchfield on sustainability since the 1970s
Brian Crutchfield joins Lee in studio for a discussion ranging from tobacco farming to photovoltaics and the Tennessee Valley Authority. A North Carolina native and Virginia Tech graduate, Crutchfield has seen his share of changes in the field of sustainability since the 1970s. Crutchfield shares some of the ways he has found to make real and lasting impacts in your community.    Lee Ball: Welcome to another episode of Find Your Sustain Ability. My name is Lee Ball. Today, we have joining us Brian Crutchfield, a longtime energy advocate, and I was really interested in getting Brian on the show because of the current state of energy in the world today. Brian worked with the Tennessee Valley Authority for many years. More recently, he worked with Blue Ridge Energy as their sustainable development director. Welcome, Brian, to the show. Brian Crutchfield: Great to be here, Lee. Lee Ball: How did you first become interested in advocating for the environment? Brian Crutchfield: Well, I was in grad school back during the original energy crisis, '73 and '74, when there were gas lines. OPEC had cut off the supply, sort of like they just recently did. Prices were high. And not only that, you couldn't get it. It was an odd-even day kind of thing, or according to your name when you could get in line just to get gas. At the time, I was in graduate school at Virginia Tech working on a degree in city and regional planning, had a professor who really was into this type of thing and got us working with a group that was trying to bring coal back to Southwest Virginia. They were selling so much coal and shipping it out of Norfolk to Japan and other places that low income folks couldn't buy it. We were bringing a carload back on every return empty train just for local folks. It was pretty unusual. Got into energy resources analysis at that time in '74, got my master's degree, did some work up in Washington, DC. Basically being in graduate school regarding planning, realizing that all of a sudden energy was a factor, that you couldn't necessarily predict what was happening in that field anymore. You need to start planning around energy issues, not just transportation and highways and development, because now the cost of energy was driving a lot of things, business and communities and society. That was the beginning, during the first crisis. Lee Ball: Going back a little before that, you grew up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Brian Crutchfield: Yeah. Mount Airy, Winston-Salem area. Lee Ball: Mount Airy is a pretty rural environment. Was there something about your formative years that enabled an environmental ethic that just kept you connected to the land? What was it about your childhood that led to being interested in being an advocate for the environment? Brian Crutchfield: Well, my family had been involved in agriculture. My great-grandfather was one of the folks that actually blended Lucky Strike and had his own tobacco company in Reidsville, North Carolina. Ended up selling his company to James Buchanan Duke of American Tobacco Company. And back then, it was the old handshake kind of thing. If you'll sell me your company, I'll make sure any of your kids, their kids and grandkids will always have a job. My grandfather worked for the company. My father worked for the company. It almost seemed like I was heading in that direction to be a tobacco buyer. But knowing all the hard work that went into growing tobacco back in those days, they really didn't use a lot of chemicals. Everything was pretty non-filter even. But it was interesting to see how agriculture was changing, so an appreciation for rural farmers and what they had to go through. My dad was a tobacco buyer. He would buy tobacco from farmers. They would show their appreciation for him and the company buying from them by bringing us country hams, things like that. Nice relationship back in those days. Lee Ball: I have a very similar story from my family on both sides of my family. My grandfather was a buyer. Brian Crutchfield: Oh, is that right? Lee Ball: Yeah. He was born in Roxboro. He worked for American Tobacco Company and Virginia Tobacco Company in Danville. They probably knew each other. Brian Crutchfield: Oh, I'm sure. I'm sure they did. Lee Ball: And then on my mom's side, they grew tobacco on a farm in Edgecombe County outside Rocky Mount. That's where I spent a lot of my time really just wandering the woods, and I think that had a profound impact on me growing up. You mentioned before pesticides and herbicides and fungicides before what they called the Green Revolution. Now our Green Revolution is more about energy and sustainability. Back then, it was about trying to grow food more efficiently and feed the world. Brian Crutchfield: Exactly. Lee Ball: I'm fascinated to talk about your experience in the late '70s and early '80s because of the cyclical nature of the work that we do. There are so many things that we could be doing today that you all were talking about then the late '70s and early '80s, appropriate technology, energy efficiency, community energy and community scale, energy systems and food systems. Could you speak a little bit about that experience then as a young professional and really what you think we could be learning from today with our current problems that we're needing to solve? Brian Crutchfield: My first job out of graduate school in '75 was working for the State Economic Opportunity Office of North Carolina in Raleigh. They were the state level of the 35 local Community Action Agencies like WAMY, Watauga, Avery, Mitchell, Yancey, Community Action. We'd received a grant from Office of Economic Opportunity, OEO, or Community Services Administration back in the '70s to do a Low-Income Weatherization Program of weather rising homes. Well, at that time, there had never been a program like that, so this was all pretty novel. How do you do it? We had a grant for labor, so we were able to hire people to do it that worked for the Community Action Agencies. But then we had to come up with standards as to, how much do you do? What do you do? How much can you spend? What kind of impact does it have? Are we just making it airtight or tighter? Are we putting in new windows and doors? Are we putting in insulation? Back then in the '70s, just like in the '60s, a lot of the housing stock of low income folks was pretty bad. If they owned it, it was a little better, but a lot of it was renter occupied. Just designing those programs, trying to decide who got the most money, I had to come up with a formula of things like poverty rate, owner occupied, degree days of how cold and hot it is in certain areas. A lot of the Community Action Agencies in the western part of the state got more money because we were factoring in that you need to make a house warmer in the winter, better than you need to make it cooler in the summer, because a lot of the houses in Eastern North Carolina back then did not have air conditioning, by any means. Designing that program, doing the training, we decided to buy cellulose insulation blowing machines. I had a contract with a company in Northern Virginia that oftentimes they would come down, bring the insulation to us, and we would ship back reams of newspaper. We ended up getting into a little bit of renewables, making the wood stoves, things of that sort out of barrels, solar window units that would bring in war air on the south side of a structure. It was about that time that this group also funded by the Community Services Administration, who had funded our Low-Income Weatherization Program, was created in Butte, Montana called the National Center for Appropriate Technology. It was designed after a similar group in England called the Intermediate Technology Center that was started by E.F. Schumacher, who had written this book in the '70s called Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered. He started this group that was doing village technology in places like India and Pakistan, other places. They were bringing in technology that just really didn't work. Or if it worked for a while, if it went down, you couldn't repair it. Trying to come up with ideas as to how to do better farming techniques and things of that sort. The center was located in Butte, Montana. Senator Mike Mansfield, that was sort of his parting gift as he left the Senate. He used to be head of the Senate back in those days. Nobody now remembers him. But they had a great facility, had a $3 million budget, which was big time back then, $1 million for staffing and administration, $1 million for research, and $1 million for grants. I ended up going to work for them after a couple years with the Low-Income Weatherization Program and was their Appalachian Bio-Regional representative. I moved back up to Radford, Virginia where I'd gone to graduate school at Virginia Tech and worked Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, all that whole Appalachian Region, traveling around four days out of each week visiting folks, making presentations on the grant program, getting people to line up to do things. Did that for a few years, then moved on to Tennessee Valley Authority where I started an appropriate technology program there and also a community energy branch. And that was a lot of fun. We had money to give away too, as long as you only did one project. You couldn't start a program that you had to consistently fund that particular thing. One of the projects we did in the community energy branch was to fund four communities to do energy assessments and energy projects. One was in Tupelo, Mississippi. One was in Norris, Tennessee, just outside Knoxville. We also had one in Alabama, and we also had one in North Carolina, Boone. At the time, Appalachian State had a program here called Earth Studies Program in a building not far from where we are right now. They had a three-person board of directors that was the chancellor of the university at the time, John Thomas, the chairman of county commissioners, and the district manager for Blue Ridge Electric. The three of them, along with the local person that had been hired for that, Mike Epley, were doing a lot of things. They had a few faculty members here like Harvard Ayers, who was doing some things in micro hydro. They built a few micro hydro installations. When we talk micro, we were really talking pretty small, just really a creek that's being damned up and a pipe coming out of it, going maybe a hundred yards down the hillside of a slight elevation change, and then dropping it real rapidly down to the bottom of the creek again, where you might have a small turbine of sorts, not much bigger than a lawnmower engine, that would run and generate some electricity. Those were the early days of micro hydro. Actually Appalachian State did a lot in that area in the '70s and '80s. That's also in the early '80s when the windmill was here. TVA did some work with NASA on that, as we were all over here during the dedication of that back in about 1979, '80. Of course, the World's Fair was in Knoxville in '82 and the theme of that fair was energy. All the countries from around the world, and this is sort of the last of the Great World's Fair. After that, I think there was one more in New Orleans on water, but after that, people realized that Disney World and Epcot Center and all that pretty much had that covered and were going to do that on a permanent basis. No more need for World's Fairs. But countries like China, Australia, and others came in and showed off all their innovative energy programs and technologies. That was a lot of fun back then, watching that come in and being exposed to that. And also working at Tennessee Valley, we got to do a lot. We brought in George McRobie, who had been E. F. Schumacher's partner at the Appropriate Technology Center and had him look at projects that we were doing at TVA right after Three Mile Island where one of the nuclear plants in Pennsylvania sort of went awry. There was a lot of money out there then after that for anything solar. TVA at the time under the leadership of Dave Freeman decided that we need to shut down a lot of this nuclear program and move toward renewables and conservation. It was a real big strategy to how can we come up with solar? What was the solar technology at that time? Solar water heating was the most popular aspect. Wood stoves. How do you improve the technology of wood stoves with things like catalytic combustors inside the chimney of the wood stove that would burn the particulates butter than the old style? Then conservation programs, home weatherization. It was great seeing those programs being generated and how do you work. We have this one guy come in from New Mexico, Bill Yanda, who came up with the whole idea of solar greenhouses, having a greenhouse on the south side of your house where you could store the heat during the day, grow vegetables and get fresh air as well off these greenhouses. We did programs where we actually went to a community and would build a greenhouse over a weekend. The creative days of doing things back then before the internet, before computers, based on word of mouth, based on actual experience, based on getting on the phone and calling somebody saying, "Can you send me some of those plans," as to what you were doing. TVA really had a great lead role in doing that. But like any federal agency, I was there for 10 years, went through a lot of changes. Reorganization were real popular back in the '70s and '80s. I'd always had, as my career path, do as many local projects as you can at the state level, at the federal level, and then take that experience and try to apply it to a community where you're going to be there for the long-term. We had the opportunity with Blue Ridge Electric back in those days and Blue Ridge Energy now to help them write a job description in economic development and sustainable development. I helped them write that description. Six months later, they got it approved. Six months later, they called me asking if I knew anybody might be interested, could I help them with that. I was thinking about it and thought, ah, good time to move back to North Carolina and work at the local level, and came here in 1988. Worked with Blue Ridge Energy for 25 years doing a variety of projects. I was sort of the only person doing that type of thing for them. It was great to be able to apply that experience in local areas with a whole variety of projects over that 25-year period. Lee Ball: I have a ton of questions. Brian Crutchfield: All right. Lee Ball: That was terrific. I'm going to go back to David Freeman. At the time, it seemed like we didn't have battery storage. Thinking about photovoltaic solar energy at scale was next to impossible. The focus was more decentralized at the community level, at the user level. That makes sense, focusing on energy conservation, solar thermal, and that's when we saw, I guess, the installation of a lot of these wood boilers and solar thermal like the Carolina water stoves. Brian Crutchfield: Exactly. You still see a few of those around. Lee Ball: You do see those. Another question, going back to the Center for Appropriate Technology, when you're doing that work in Southwest Virginia, you're working with homeowners, farmers, I take it, what are some of those projects? I mean, were they small solar thermal, like you said? Were they more efficient wood stoves? Just curious. Brian Crutchfield: Little of that. We would work with the Community Action Agency who wanted to build the solar window boxes and come up with that design and provide them funds to say build 10 of them. And then same thing with the old wood stoves that were made out of barrels, where you had a barrel that was horizontal, you'd put legs on it, get it off the ground, a front cover to it. And then where the chimney came out the back, it would then go into another barrel, and then circulate that heat from the exhaust or the smoke and gather it before it went out the final chimney out of the house. Barrels were almost like now fairly cheap to do. It just required some welding and a good design. We came up with some designs that could be passed out and printed. Same thing with the window boxes. We had our folks up in Butte, Montana work on that and figure that type of thing out, come up with some conservation techniques. Ultimately, they end up being the agency that evaluated a lot of the weatherization programs around the country and have done that for decades. Working with Department of Agriculture and others to try to determine what's the best way to do home weatherization in a home that's in potentially pretty poor shape to begin with, what's most important. And over time, it was not just air infiltration and weatherization, but actually replacing heating and cooling systems and even additions to houses and so forth. That program's really changed over the last 40 years when you look at it for the better. Lee Ball: The window boxes, were they vertical in angle like a solar thermal flat plate collector without the water lines? Brian Crutchfield: Exactly. You'd have a space behind, generally just almost a piece of tin or some type of metal that would store the heat, and then underneath would be an open space where air would come into it, and then at the bottom of the unit flow back over the black metal with either glass, sometimes plexiglass, but oftentimes it was just an old window or something else that would try to make it somewhat airtight. And then as it goes into the bottom half of a window, the heat would come in at the top part, and then you would try to have colder air from the floor of the house come in. It was just a passive non-fan type activity. Even now, every now and then I'll be riding around the back roads, I'll see something like that out there on a house. It's pretty interesting to see. Lee Ball: I think it would blow the minds of an appraiser or a realtor trying to sell a house if they see those stick out the windows, but the functionality is really legitimate. I know they work well. Let me ask you about Chancellor John Thomas and his involvement with this committee and the Earth Studies Program. Now, this is making sense now because John Thomas used to always show up to a lot of my talks. He's always been interested in sustainability, and I think tracked it more closely than I ever realized when he was still alive. Just a really sweet man. He was a great leader for our university. Brian Crutchfield: Oh yeah, and he was an engineer too. Lee Ball: I know. That's right. He was an engineer and a lot of people don't remember that. He and others were involved with the early beginnings of the Earth Studies Program here at App State that eventually evolved into a few programs, appropriate technology and sustainable development. They kind of went different paths. What else do you remember about those early days? Brian Crutchfield: One of them was in agriculture. There was a guy with a program who was into French intensive gardening. They had an appropriate technology farm. You go up into Valle Crucis. Lee Ball: 194 near Matheny, right? Brian Crutchfield: It was up near Matheny, and it had a house up there. Some students lived there for a while. But they had this guy, and I'm trying to think of his name. It'll come to me soon. He's still around. He taught this biointensive gardening method. You would come in and put a spade into the ground and do just one turn and then go completely through your flower bed that way. But they had a passive solar collector there made out of concrete blocks filled with sand and facing south, of course. Just doing a lot of agriculture, in some ways much like the current Earth studies farm or whatever we want to call it out in Ashe County, because they're growing food and bringing it in and being served here in the university. When you think back on some of these programs, they've gone through lots of changes over last 40 years. But in reality, they keep current with the times. Lee Ball: There seems to be a common thread that they're very hands-on, grassroots, a lot of low tech appropriate technology. However, they're using high tech data analytics and some other technology that we have at our disposal now. Brian Crutchfield: Well, one of the projects we did at Blue Ridge Electric and provided some funding for the county was this methane collector out at the landfill. That was just 15 years ago. After they closed that landfill, there was still gas to be collected, and they were flaring it off because they didn't want it to go into the atmosphere. But it was determined that you could take that gas and run it through a generator. Now, the big landfills for places like Hickory has one, it's a big, big diesel generator, fits inside the back of a semi, like the one we have out at the Watauga County Landfill that's closed is a modified truck engine. They were using those at coal mines in West Virginia. We decided, let's give it a try. I think they've got three small truck type engines, and they provide a little electricity that goes back on the grid. We ended up making that whole landfill area of buildings a microgrid. There's one meter as the power comes in, and we allow them to use the lines that were out there so they can circulate whatever power they generate off that generator into the rest of the buildings out there, which is not significant, but it's still unique and a great learning experience. Lee Ball: Yeah, exactly. It's closing the loop on a waste stream. Speaking of waste, I was reading in the materials that you sent over to me early this morning about your experience at TVA with waste reduction and recycling, and I really honed in on the fact that you're involved with inventing the convenience center. That fascinates me. I'd love for you to expand on that a little bit. Brian Crutchfield: Well, back in the day, and I'll just use Watauga as example, counties did not do door-to-door waste collection. Only municipalities did that. But obviously there's a lot of waste being generated out there in the houses that are around the county. Oftentimes people would have their own barrel in the backyard and take their waste out there and burn it. And of course, that's not very environmentally appropriate. The second phase past that, counties would establish what they call green box sites. They would consolidate somewhere between five and eight, maybe 10 green boxes, containers for garbage, on the side of the road, drive by, throw your garbage in there, and go on. Well, those sites, the garbage, somebody might catch it on fire or put ashes in there that would cause a fire. They were exposed to the weather. They would rust. Vermin, rats, bears, everything got into it. There would be scavengers or dumpster divers out there, potholes, glass. You were taking your car and yourself a little risk just by disposing of garbage that way. There would be, like in Watauga County, anywhere from 30 to 50 sites like that around the county. The trucks would have to go out there and lift up the boxes, put them in the back of the garbage truck. Of course, they didn't know what was in there, so oftentimes it could already be on fire. They'd be throwing it into the back of a $200,000 truck and have to go down the road. As the air went in, the fire gets bigger and they'd have to stop and dump the whole load on the side of the road. It was just not a good system. We came up with an idea of let's consolidate it. Let's fence it in. Let's have a person out there. Let's have certain hours of operation. Just like now, I know that Thursday morning is my garbage pickup day, and I have to get my two rolling garbage cans out to the curb. You know here's the days that it's open, here's the days that it's closed. There will be an attendant out there maybe to help elderly people to do that. We came up with a book of different designs on how you do it and what are the best locations. Initially, there was some resistance to that. People didn't want them near their home or their neighborhood. But once they saw how clean they were, it was a welcome addition. I guess we have five or seven sites here in Watauga, and they're all fenced in. One problem we have is people who are Airbnb type folks. They'll go there. And as they're leaving town on a late evening, like a Sunday, and they'll just put their garbage out by the front gate, usually the attendant will go through that to see if they can get a name that they can send a ticket to. But for the most part, it still works very well. Lee Ball: This was primarily for health and safety, trying to get people to stop burning garbage, throwing it in rivers, down ravines, that sort of thing. Was TVA involved with the early days of recycling, trying to divert certain things like aluminum probably first? Brian Crutchfield: Yeah. Back then, you also had jails that had prisoners. They needed to help them do something. They used prisoners in a lot of small counties to do roadside pickup. And as they were doing that, they were also realizing, we've got a lot of aluminum here or glass that could be recycled. Let's come up with programs for that. We came over here and provided two grants, one to the town for recycling and one to the county for the convenience centers. Ultimately, both of them came up with very good programs that over the years have been improved dramatically, where we have curbside recycling in Boone now and a lot of recycling opportunities in the county, including the convenience centers. Back then, we were doing a variety of programs, and when I came here initially to Watauga, they had a bond issue that had been associated with the hospital that had been finished and they got some money back. And they used this $2 million to establish a program to do bailing of garbage at the Watauga County Landfill. They built a facility with those funds and put a baler in there. This is a baler that you have a concrete floor and you move the garbage around on the floor in front of it and mix it together, and then put it on this conveyor belt that goes up and then drops it into this bin, and then a hydraulic press compacts it into a bale about the size of a table, 30 by 60 by 30, and wraps it with wires. And then you pick the bale up that weighs somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 pounds with a front-end loader and put it on the back of a flatbed truck. Flatbed truck goes to what is now called the balefill and stacks them up. And then you cover up the face or the top of the balefill each day and then come back and start again the next day. The landfill here, actually, I guess the last two years of its operation was a true balefill. Some law came up from the state that allowed them to get out of the landfill business and avoid a lot of future liability. As it turns out, they're just saying counties under a certain size of almost 100,000, it doesn't pay to have a landfill. You need to do a regional landfill, and that's what we do now. We have a tipping station at the landfill. You tip it on the floor. They don't bail it, although I think that would still be a nice way to compact it. It's certainly much more efficient than running a large compactor back and forth over garbage. But I guess we're shipping our garbage either to East Tennessee or down to Caldwell County outside of Lenoir. I guess we send about five loads of garbage down there every day when the landfill was operating. Lee Ball: Let's talk about now and the future. I'm really interested in what you think is a very promising off-the-shelf technology that can help us with our urgent need to decarbonize, fight against climate change. Looking to the future, what do you think is emerging that might be very promising? Not that it's ever going to be a silver bullet of energy, but what are you tracking? Brian Crutchfield: Well, I remember when photovoltaics first came out. We used to say something by the mid-1990s, photovoltaics will be everywhere, on top of phone poles and utility lines and things of this sort. They'll be so cheap and available that they'll be everywhere. And that electricity will then become almost totally decentralized. No need for central station power plants anymore. Well, that's 25 years ago now. It didn't happen, but a lot of that technology has happened in the last 20 years. It just didn't get the push back then that it needed. But I think if you look back at the last 40 years, every five or 10 years got a bump of some sort, an improvement in the technology, whether it was in solar panels, photovoltaic panels, or improvements in the battery storage technology. I know in the early 2000s I was working on some projects where we thought fuel cells would be the new thing, where you're taking natural gas or propane, breaking it up and turning it into hydrogen electricity and water. I think that still has some potential, but I think that's in the next 25 to 30 years. I think right now, photovoltaics, battery technology are going to be the real thing that we see. People really like electric vehicles. The fact that they can be charged with photovoltaics, the fact that they can be a battery for the grid itself, the cars and vehicles, and the fact that photovoltaics are really coming down in price, I think all of that's tied together. I never thought that transportation would necessarily be the push that made a lot of that happen. But with privatized space exploration and rockets, a lot of stuff going on there in pipes of photovoltaics, very thin type of PV worked into roofing panels, into windows, into all types of siding, on the tops of cars, it's pretty amazing. The ROSE car that you guys have here at ASU, a very thin type of PV, not cheap, very expensive. How do you take that technology and make it affordable? When that type of thing happens, where you buy a roofing system and PV is built into it. We've had over the last 40 years a lot of Solar Home Tours here in the county. We've gone out to look at a lot of these innovative systems. I remember somebody had what they call a standing seam roof, which is a type of metal roof with a seam that sticks up about two and a half inches. The company that sold it to them had a type of... It was actually like PV on a roll that went between the standing seam. It was pretty amazing. They were able to reduce the cost of the roof by almost half because the rest of the PV panel got tax credits at the time. I'm not too sure that was the best use of that technology. The plastic overtime, like a lot of plastics, degrades and reduced the efficiency, but even if it had a 10 or 15 year life. It helped with the learning curve, if nothing else. Lee Ball: I have time for one more question. You touched on some community events like the Solar Home Tour. I know you've been very involved with the Green Drinks effort here in the high country. Could you speak to its origin and what you're doing today? Brian Crutchfield: Yeah. Green Drinks International is a group that said, "We're going to save our society one drink at a time." Social networking, a lot like networking on Facebook and other types of things, where a great way to meet people is oftentimes in a bar or a bar type setting where you're having drinks and you're just talking back and forth, like we are now, asking questions. What do you think about this and that? We have a group that 10 years ago we met for about a five-year period almost once a month, usually on a Tuesday or Wednesday night from say 5:30 to :30 in a restaurant on an off night so that it was beneficial to them. They oftentimes would provide the appetizers and a drink special. Oftentimes we'd have a topic, but most of the time it was all about socializing. You just came in, put on a name tag, put a little card in the fishbowl, and we'd pull out some door prizes. If you win, you come forward and tell us what you're doing that's green. We quit for about a 10-year period when I first retired, but we had a meeting here, I guess, about a year ago that ASU sponsored with your sustainability program, your Appropriate Technology program, your programs in business that were looking at sustainability and said, "How can we get more going in this area? How can we get people talking?" I volunteered to restart Green Drinks. We've had about four meetings over the last year. We had one this week that was a little lightly attended, where we were looking at the new Tesla charging station and the new electric bus from Apple Car, the first charging station here in Watauga County at Makoto's. The owner of Makoto's 10 years ago had a Tesla, one of the first buyers of the Tesla, and put a charging station out front. He's now added a second supercharger in the back, so you can go in, have a meal, charge your Tesla. He pretty much lets you charge it for free if you were having a meal there and go on your way. We're looking to do some more around the area where we'll look at green projects and just have people get together. We had a great one couple months ago at Booneshine. Your group here at ASU that did the ROSE electric vehicle racing car was the spotlight. We were able to walk over to your garage and see the vehicle and talk to the students who had been involved. That was great for them. We all had a good time. It really felt good. I guess we had close to 45 people there. There were just a lot of good things going on. With a local newspaper that only comes out once a week, it's hard to find out about them. Getting people together just to socialize, talk about green. You don't have to have an alcoholic drink to participate. You'll meet some interesting people. I was surprised at some of the folks that came to that meeting we had at Booneshine I hadn't seen in 10 years or so, and they're talking about some PV projects in the community. Just a lot of interest, especially with lead certified buildings here and other things, things that people need to know more about and how do we address future topics like affordable housing and still transportation issues and waste management, food production and distribution. There's just some great people in this community doing lots of unique things that are part and parcel of the last 40 years that I've been around Boone. Lee Ball: I really enjoyed the Green Drinks opportunity to, like you said, socialize and just cross pollinate and learn what's going on. Brian Crutchfield: Yeah, meeting new people.   Lee Ball: Everybody's sharing information and ideas, sharing what doesn't work and what does work. Even more than that, I appreciate your being here and your time today. Brian Crutchfield: I'm the old green guy. Lee Ball: Brian Crutchfield, the old green guy, the original OG. I just really appreciate your time here today. Thank you so much. Brian Crutchfield: All right. Thank you, Lee. Outro: Find Your Sustain Ability is a production of the University Communications Department at Appalachian State. It's hosted by Appalachian's Chief Sustainability Officer Lee Ball. For more information about Appalachian State Sustainability, check out sustain.appstate.edu. For more podcasts, videos, and articles related to Appalachian State, check out today.appstate.edu.
014 Jamie Parson on the goals and challenges of in the work of diversity, equity and inclusion
Jun 23 2022
014 Jamie Parson on the goals and challenges of in the work of diversity, equity and inclusion
Host Dr. Lee F. Ball visits with App State Chief Diversity Officer Jamie Parson. The two discuss her experiences in the world of insurance and academia. Parson shares goals for her position as chief diversity officer and defines some of the greatest challenges to her work in diversity, equity and inclusion on App State's campus.   Transcript Lee Ball:  Welcome to the podcast, Find Your Sustainability, where we discuss complex sustainability issues with experts from a variety of perspectives. Today, I would like to welcome Jamie Parson, Chief Diversity Officer here at Appalachian State University. Jamie was an associate professor in the Department of Finance, Banking and Insurance at App State, where she taught undergraduate courses in business law and insurance. In addition, she led the Walker College of Business' Inclusive Excellence Team, formerly Diversity Advisory Team, as well as the Risk Management and Insurance Diversity Initiatives in the Brantley Risk and Insurance Center. She also serves on numerous boards and committees, including the university's Diversity and Inclusion Accountability team. Jamie, welcome to our podcast. Jamie Parson:  Thank you. Lee Ball:  Can you tell me a little bit about what led you to the role of chief diversity officer? Jamie Parson:  Yeah, so I think much of my diversity and inclusion work started when I was younger. I was in the youth NAACP when I was in high school. And when I got to college, I was one of 7% underrepresented students in my undergraduate institution, and being a part of a multicultural student organization was really important to building communities. So I was a part of a group called The Meeting of Students Addressing Intercultural Concerns. And then when I went to law school, I became involved in our Black Law Student Association and our Multicultural Law Student Association. And I think being involved in those programs when I was in college really led me to find a lot of value in those in my career. So when I went to working at State Farm, I had the opportunity to participate in employee resource groups, which I found were really valuable. Before I went back to State Farm, I was also a Title VII investigator. And then when I got to this position here at Appalachian, being able to do diversity and inclusion work just seemed like a natural fit for continuing in my career. Lee Ball:  Yeah. Like me when I was young, the chief sustainability officer wasn't a thing and I don't think chief diversity officers were a thing, but we just kind of fell into these roles. Jamie Parson:  Absolutely. Lee Ball:  Well, you certainly deserve it. You have a lot of experience and it's always been great working with you. Jamie Parson:  Thanks. Lee Ball:  Can you expand on your experience teaching and working in the Walker College of Business? Jamie Parson:  Yeah, so I was hired to teach primarily the legal environment of business course, which is a introduction course to law for all business majors, had the opportunity to then start working in teaching some of the insurance courses. So I taught a personal insurance course and then had the opportunity to participate in the rollout of the employee benefits minor, which is the first employee benefits minor in the entire nation. So getting the opportunity to teach in the College of Business, it's a lot about innovation and what kind of creative, practical things you can bring to the classroom, which is a model I really like. Because I see such value in bringing those practical experiences to students rather than spending a lot of time talking about high level theories and things that they can't necessarily relate to, thinking about how we take some of those theories and put them into practice. Lee Ball:  Are you seeing students in the College of Business really valuing the employee experience, just the people part of the business community? Jamie Parson:  Absolutely. I think that hands on experience gives them the opportunity to see the real life implications of the work that they're doing. So in the insurance space, they get to see how businesses use insurance and how they benefit from insurance. And they get to see the real life response that happens when a crisis happens and they need to call on their insurance company to come to provide coverage. I think getting the opportunity to see that in all the different stages of that process is really important for them understanding why they're taking the classes that they're taking. Lee Ball:  How did your previous and recurrent research connect to your DEI work? Jamie Parson:  I don't think it's a direct line. My research is primarily in insurance regulation, so not really a direct connection to diversity, equity and inclusion work. But I think the connection to policy law, navigating political atmospheres really to bring people together is where my work and research really aligns with diversity, equity and inclusion. Most recently, I've had the opportunity to bring some of my colleagues together to write a paper on gender identity and auto insurance. And so that's been an exciting opportunity and exciting chance for me to pull all of my worlds together. Lee Ball:  Well, certainly understanding policy and politics helps you in your current role. Jamie Parson:  Absolutely. Lee Ball:  You helped with the passing of the North Carolina Foster Care Family Act in July of 2015. Can you tell us a little more about how you became involved with that process? Jamie Parson:  So before I came to Appalachian, I was a foster parent for a couple of years. And when I came to Appalachian, the Department Chair, Dr. David Marlett was also serving as a foster parent, and like many insurance experts, starts to take a deep dive into whether or not he has insurance coverage for different scenarios and hypothetical situations. And he realized that there was a gap in the homeowner's policy that if I'm an insured and my kids are considered insured, so would my foster children be considered insureds. And in a homeowner's policy, insureds can't sue each other in a liability coverage. And so if a foster child's biological parent was disgruntled with the foster parent or the foster child got injured on the property, there wouldn't be any insurance coverage for any lawsuits that came to the foster family by the foster children's parents. And so that gap in coverage really left an exposure for maybe more affluent potential foster parents who might be able to provide really great experiences for foster children who might not be interested in getting into foster care because of that exposure. Jamie Parson:  So we saw this as a really important opportunity to get involved in some of the conversations that were starting. Senator Barringer who's now a judge, was also a foster parent and she, along with some other folks sponsored a bill to figure out how we could support foster families, but also thinking about foster children. There was also a gap for foster children in getting coverage for car insurance. Because if you can imagine as a foster parent, well, as a parent, I barely want to ensure my own children, because my insurance goes up so much. And as a foster family, whether or not that's cost prohibitive, if you've got three or four teenagers living in your home, you wouldn't be able to necessarily ensure them. And so then they age out of the system without having any experience driving. Lee Ball:  So you're definitely focused on just eliminating the risk, both of the foster child and the caregivers? Jamie Parson:  Yeah. And I think it's not so much eliminating the risk, but providing some coverage in spaces where we didn't traditionally have coverage for these types of scenarios and thinking about how we can create a better and more equitable pathway for children aging out of the system that don't necessarily have access to car insurance from their parents car insurance. Because otherwise, when a 16 year old starts driving, the reason their premiums are so high is because they're an inexperienced driver. When they get to be 18 and age out of foster care, if they got their license at 18, they'd still be paying that same high premium because they wouldn't have any years of experience. Lee Ball:  Sorry, I'm just reflecting on my son's premiums, and why they're so high. He didn't start driving until he was 18. Jamie Parson:  Yeah, my daughter started driving when she was 16 and I think we drive older cars and it was still a very significant increase. And so I can't imagine trying to ensure multiple teenagers at one time, let alone multiple teenagers that I don't always have 24/7 visual on because they maybe go for visits with their family and just that increased exposure. And some foster children bounce from house to house. So they don't necessarily have a consistent home to even establish and build a relationship enough with those foster families to say, "Hey, can I get a car? Can I get a insurance and a license?" Lee Ball:  Well, it doesn't surprise me at all that you're a foster parent. You're very kind, very generous. What was that experience like? Jamie Parson:  It was humbling, I think. When you see the experiences that some of the children in foster care have had and some of the ... I would describe resilience in their lives to be able to persevere through some of that. One of the children I had ended up graduating high school early once she came to my house and started college classes at the age of 17. So to see some of these children go through the life experiences they had, and still push through and try and do the things that we expect our "normal kids" to go through and do like graduate high school, go to college, get a job is pretty amazing. Lee Ball:  That's really very generous of you to take that on. A lot of people, I'm sure, just can't even imagine doing that. Let's talk about sustainability and business for good, a little bit. Sustainability and DEI work are interrelated and it's known that sustainable solutions need strongly valued people in places in addition to making a strong business case. However, the business case for sustainability, it often precedes conversations about how people and places are influenced. So what are your thoughts on how to ensure that we lead with people in mind as a priority? Jamie Parson:  I think you really have to have someone charged with that in their role. If it's not specific to someone's role, and I mean a leader like a corporate leader's role, an executive leader's role. If it's not on their radar and in their job description, there's nobody being held accountable to making sure that people are first and foremost in the organization. Jamie Parson:  I think secondly, what I hear a lot about is the need for holistic wellness and support of the entire employee, thinking about mental health, financial wellness, and just general health management, I think is really important to demonstrating how we lead people by providing them the resources they need to be healthy and productive employees. Lee Ball:  So here at Appalachian State, it's a pretty large business, and we have a chief sustainability officer in you. And you report directly to the Chancellor. What do you think that says about how this institution values diversity, equity and inclusion? Jamie Parson:  What I know is that not every university has their chief diversity officer or that person that's typically like a chief diversity officer reporting to their chancellor. So to me, that speaks volumes to the type of commitment we have here at Appalachian for the work of diversity, equity and inclusion. Lee Ball:  What are some of your big, hairy, audacious goals for diversity here at App State? Jamie Parson:  I would say there are a couple, and I think first and foremost, going back to the people portion, we really need to be able to create an environment that is welcoming to all people, and one where people feel safe and comfortable to engage in difficult dialogues and feel like they have the skillset to do that. I don't think we'll always agree on everything, but I think it's really important for us as a higher education institution to make sure that we are providing those types of environments where people can explore their thoughts, and grow in their thoughts, and develop their thoughts because otherwise we're not really doing our job as an institution. Lee Ball:  What are some of the biggest challenges or obstacles to our DEI work here on campus? Jamie Parson:  I think we have about three big challenges right now. First is communication. We're dealing in a space that's in person and virtual and figuring out the best means of communication with students, faculty, and staff, and some of our community partners. Jamie Parson:  Secondly, I think crisis management is another issue that we are facing as a challenge because there are so many different obstacles with the pandemic and navigating masks, vaccines, social justice movement, deciding what to respond to, when to respond to it, and how to respond to it, I think is a growing challenge for all of us, as we try and navigate this new space that we're living in. Jamie Parson:  Third, I think infrastructure is a challenge. We have this chief diversity officer role and we have a lot of other areas of diversity, equity and inclusion. And trying to figure out how all those pieces really work together, we try to model after other universities, but at the end of the day, we really need to figure out what works for our campus. And that's a growing challenge as more and more people try and get into the work of diversity, equity and inclusion, which is really exciting, but it also brings about the challenge, okay, where does this new initiative fit into the grander picture of what we're trying to do? Lee Ball:  In the case of faculty and staff retention, what can we do to help ensure our diversity goals are met in a way that deeply supports our BIPOC colleagues? Jamie Parson:  I think taking the search process seriously and playing an active role in the search process, thinking about how we do everything from the job description, to the interview process, and thinking through every line of that work and saying, is this a skillset that we need, or do we just have that on there because we traditionally have had it on there? What barriers do we create by continuing to have that particular job descriptor on there? And asking questions in the search process, challenging each other around our biases. I think beyond the search process, reaching out to the colleagues that you have that you know are from marginalized backgrounds or maybe have invisible identities that you know of, that are struggling to find community, struggling in their teaching, research, service or in their job, and really being an active supporter of helping them find community. Lee Ball:  You've been spending a lot of your time training campus units about diversity, equity and inclusion. Can you elaborate on that? Jamie Parson:  So most of the training that I've been working on spends some time talking about diversity, equity and inclusion vocabulary, some of the traditional terms that we've worked with, diversity, equity, inclusion, as well as newer language, such as anti-racism, micro-aggressions, bias, identity and what all those things mean for us as a campus. And thinking about different scenarios and how we can move from just knowing the information to acting and responding when we run across situations where someone is using language that presents as bias, or is speaking in a way that comes off as a micro-invalidation, how we can interrupt those scenarios and maintain relationship in the process and interrupting in a way that's still educational because we're still an educational institution. So thinking about faculty and student communication, student to student communication, and staff to staff, communication, how those conversations are different based on who you're talking to. Lee Ball:  So the work that you do is really difficult, I know, it's sometimes controversial. You find yourself in the middle of conflict, not everyone is aligned with their values, everyone has different experiences. So despite all of that, what is giving you hope these days? Jamie Parson:  I think watching the younger generations of students who are in high school now who are going to be coming to college. My daughter is getting ready to go into college and I have watched her grow and I have a lot of hope for the generations coming after, that they're going to continue the work that's been started and that's really been pushed the last year. And I have a lot of hope for their ability to get things done and to make real systemic change for our campus community as well as our national community. Lee Ball:  Jamie, thank you so much for being on the show today. If people wanted to learn more about your work and diversity at App State, where should we send them? Jamie Parson:  I think they should visit the website, diversity.appstate.edu to keep up to date on what's going on on our campus. I would also encourage everyone to follow the monthly messages that my office puts out regarding different initiatives that we're leading and different events on campus that are taking place and some of the strategic direction we may be going. Lee Ball:  Well, thank you so much and have a great rest of your day. Jamie Parson:  You too.
013 Nicole Hagerman Miller on the journey not just the destination
Dec 21 2021
013 Nicole Hagerman Miller on the journey not just the destination
Nicole Hagerman Miller is the Managing Director at Biomimicry 3.8, a Missoula, Montana based company that draws it's design inspiration and functional instruction from nature and natural systems and tailors those ancient and refined principals to modern day businesses and organizations the world over. She shares intriguing success stories, some of the bright moments during her covid quarantine time as well as the story of her personal growth from an ideology of achievement above all else, to a value system that emphasis the importance of the journey not just the destination.     Transcript Lee Ball:  Welcome to another episode of the podcast, Find Your Sustain Ability, where we have deep conversations about the meaning and varying perspectives of sustainability. Today, we're speaking with Nicole Hagerman Miller. Nicole serves as the Managing Director of Biomimicry 3.8, a certified B corp and social enterprise dedicated to helping change makers create a more sustainable world by emulating nature's designs and core principles. Welcome to the show, Nicole. Nicole Hagerman Miller:  Thank you. I'm happy to be here. Lee Ball:  It's really nice to have you on the podcast today. Always love talking to you and appreciate your perspective, but I wanted to start by asking you how you're doing these days as we begin to navigate out of our global pandemic much like the cicada emergence? Nicole Hagerman Miller:  Well, thank you for asking. I'm doing well. I always am hesitant to answer that question because I understand that people can be in not so good situations. I feel very fortunate that I live in Montana, a place where I have access to nature, I can get outside. My work wasn't impacted heavily by COVID. Overall, I feel very grateful coming out of COVID and coming out of, I think, the awakening that so many people had. I think I am so hopeful that the awakening stays rich and conscious for people and that there was so much awareness I think that occurred for people in the value of slowing down and pausing and getting outside. Nicole Hagerman Miller:  I think all of that that surfaced was just really inspiring to see happen in the world. This is a really long answer to your question, but I'm really well and I'm really hopeful and I'm really encouraged by some of the things that we did see. As much as there was the horrible and the restless and the unnerving and the scary aspects of it, there were also some really beautiful outcomes of COVID, and I'm choosing to focus on those silver linings. With that, it embodies me with an overall feeling of being well and grateful. Lee Ball:  What did you say that nature was a big part of your pandemic experience for you and your family? You're in Montana, so I know it was cold during a lot of the pandemic, but also know that you are not afraid of the cold. Nicole Hagerman Miller:  Well, I don't know about that. I feel like as I get older in my years, my tolerance for cold goes down a little bit each year. Yeah, absolutely. Nature was a massive part of being able to be resilient in such an unnerving time. I think the thing that I often think about is last spring, when COVID was at its height, I remember sitting in my yard and being like, "Wow, these birds are so loud and everything is so green." I work with an amazing group of biologists. We were talking about that and it was actually Janine Benyus, the co-founder of our company who said, "I'm also sure that it is different. I just think that we're noticing it for the first time in a way that we've never noticed it before." Nicole Hagerman Miller:  That really struck me and I did start noticing things in a way that I hadn't before. I think I was chalking it up to, oh, the world is slowing down, and therefore nature is really showing her glory. But I think it's always there. It's just we're not always looking in that way. I definitely became more conscious of what was happening in nature and having that space, as I mentioned earlier, to slow down and really enjoy it in a more conscious way and in a more grateful way, because we sought nature for sanity in so many of those months. Absolutely, I think it was a part of being able to get through this past year and a half, but then also in everyday. I think it's part of my wellness strategy, for sure. Lee Ball:  We sure are fortunate to have your founder, Janine Benyus, on your team. There's no better person in my opinion to remind us to stop and pay attention to what's going on in the natural world. Nicole Hagerman Miller:  I'm grateful for that every day, and all of our team. I probably share this story a lot, but it's one of my favorite memories of actually first meeting Janine. We were traveling together and we were with a group, a client group that we were working with. We were within a city, but we were in this tropical forest area that was a protected zone, and we were going for a walk in there to just look at some of the local species and just look at what we could learn from the species. I remember the organizers, they had planned this three mile loop, right? This one hour three miles. Totally doable, right? That's a lovely nice stroll. Nicole Hagerman Miller:  For our group, in the hour, we got not even a couple of yards into the walk and we just stayed there. I think it's such a great example of you don't have to go far. I think for me, I was always one of those people who was like, "Must get to the top of the mountain in this time. Must get back. Must have this cardio experience." I was always so focused on the goal, and I think she's really been such a teacher for me in learning that value of slowing down and learning that you don't have to go even on a three mile walk to see all these different things. You can just sit in one spot in your backyard and have the same experience. Lee Ball:  What were some of the biggest challenges and takeaways for you and your team at Biomimicry 3.8 during the past 12 to 14 months? Nicole Hagerman Miller:  I think we were all very grateful that we were grounded in biomimicry and that we look to nature to help us make our decisions, to help make more informed decisions about what we want to do and what we want to put our energy into. We're grounded in that as a company. I think that gave us a stability that maybe others didn't have, is that we were already ... I think we were well-grounded, right? We had this belief and understanding and ethos of there is something bigger holding us and that we all are working to protect that and to be in service to that. I think that purpose and embodying that purpose keeps us grounded. Nicole Hagerman Miller:  I think one thing that we saw is that while yes it was scary, while yes it was unnerving, while yes there were so many unknowns, we knew that the work that we are doing and will continue to do was becoming more and more important. I think not that we would have chosen this way for it to become eliminated, but I think because of that awakening, because of that awareness, we were seeing more interest in our work, and I think that was encouraging for us, certainly as a team, to see other companies wake up. In full transparency, we did have several projects drop off. Nicole Hagerman Miller:  A lot of our projects that were product-focused, those got tabled. But the ones that were around our built environment work, building did not slow down during COVID. That absolutely kept, and it even in some cases grew. The other piece of it that I think we're seeing is oftentimes we really had to work to create that system, that web for people to show, yes, you're going to start applying biomimicry to a R&D project over here, but there's so many other applications, right? We would have to ease people into that in terms of seeing the holistic capacity of what biomimicry can bring. Nicole Hagerman Miller:  I think now what we're seeing is a much more awareness or an easier understanding of systems thinking and systems approach to problem solving because ... Well, actually, I can't say I know for sure, but it seems like that was easier for us in the last year. Something within COVID triggered that for people to be able to understand, oh, we can't look at issues in isolation anymore. We have to look at things systematically. Once you start looking at a whole system operating biomedically, what does that yield in terms of impact? That conversation has been a unique one in the past in terms of organizations that were able to go there. Nicole Hagerman Miller:  Interface is a great example. We've been working with them for almost 20 years and they got it. But when we would work with other companies that oftentimes would see Biomimicry as this shiny object like, "Oh cool, let's try biomimicry." They would see it as a very one-off like, "Let's apply here," and we really had to work very hard to help them see the system's benefit of doing biomimicry. Obviously, that's challenging because companies and organizations can be deeply siloed and it's hard to break those and interconnected parts. But what I've seen is that conversation is becoming easier. Lee Ball:  I want to back up a little and talk about your journey that led you to work in the sustainability space. Can you share some of your story that explains why you care so much about helping people and places? I'm always really interested in people like you that have remained connected to nature over the years. I think it's an important part of those of us that are interested in sustainability education. How do we get people to care? You clearly care. There was something about your childhood, your journey that just led you to this work. Nicole Hagerman Miller:  Certainly my upbringing growing up in Montana, being connected to nature. Indirectly, I had that probably within my DNA of wanting to take care of this place. I also come from a family that has five generations of being in Montana that has worked the earth, farming and ranching. I think taking care of the earth is probably somewhere embedded in my genetic code. But I don't think I was conscious about it until I did my work at Overstock and was doing sourcing. When I first started sourcing, it was funny our CEO described it as, "Nicole, you have a dream job. You get to travel the world and shop," which is a really glorified way of saying what I did. Nicole Hagerman Miller:  It wasn't quite that luxurious. But I think what that gave me is the exposure to how our products are made. I don't think most people are privy to that process of just any product that's in front of us. We've become such a consumer-oriented culture that drives our whole economic systems. So then to start to understand that more deeply, it really impacted me in how do we design better in a way that isn't having these negative externalities? Because it was clear, as soon as I started getting into the sourcing space, is half of my job was figuring out how to mitigate for the externalities. Nicole Hagerman Miller:  I just became really curious of, well, how do we not even have that conversation? How do we design upfront so that we're not spending all of our time trying to offset those externalities? That was in probably 2003, 2004, I had that awareness. It was one of those things that changed me forever, and Lee, I'm sure you've had these moments where it's like I remember coming back from a trip. I spent a lot of time in Shanghai. I set up an office there and we'd go to India quite a bit. I remember I'd just come back from this tour of being in China and India, and was back home and I was sitting in my apartment. Nicole Hagerman Miller:  It was just looking around at all the stuff. I don't have a ton of stuff. It was just looking at all of that and just thinking, "Wow, this has to change. I want to be part of not just supplying stuff for people, I want to be part of giving people things that make them feel good and make them feel beautiful and give them happiness, but not at the expense of the environment and not at the expense of somebody's help and not at the expense of all the things that manufacturing can do. Nicole Hagerman Miller:  For me, I think it was just one of those moments where once you see it, you can't unsee it. I just forever wanted to change it at that point. That was when I started my journey deepening my understanding of sustainability, of CSR and really getting into that world. Then once you start into that space of sustainability, you can't unsee it and it's all you want to do. I've dedicated my work and my career and a lot of what I do personally around the space. Lee Ball:  Thank you for sharing. Biomimicry 3.8 really is a unique organization. How do you describe what you do, let's say, to the semi interested uncle during a holiday meal? Nicole Hagerman Miller:  That's a great question, Lee, because I do get that question. Well, luckily, biomimicry is definitely becoming more and more in the zeitgeist. When I say biomimicry, more often it's like, "Oh, cool. Well, tell me what you do with biomimicry." At least we're making that transition into I don't have to explain what biomimicry is anymore. But in some cases I do, and the simplest way to explain it is that we look to nature for innovation and time tested strategies. The 3.8 is a 3.8 billion years of R&D that exists in nature that we can tap into to essentially de-risk our innovation process. Nicole Hagerman Miller:  That's the language I use a lot in business. It really depends on who we're talking to, because there's so many amazing components of biomimicry that what we lean into in biomimicry is largely dependent on what that person's interest is. Short answer to your question is if someone asks me, I usually flip the question a little bit and say, "Well, tell me a little bit more about you and what you're interested in," and then I can find a nice parallel for them because there's so many examples of biomimicry and how we look to nature to do that. But it's even more of ... We can talk about it at a more of even a spiritual level, right? Nicole Hagerman Miller:  Of how people are reconnecting to nature to be better humans. There's so many ways that we can talk about it. For us at B3.8, the way that we often lead people into biomimicry is what we call the three seeds of biomimicry, and that's reconnect. Reconnecting to nature, the ethos. Why are we doing this? Then the emulation. That's a lot of what you hear in the media about biomimicry. Looking at spider silk to make stronger fibers, right? Emulating what nature is doing. Then that entry point is really being able to look at those seeds and think, "Well, okay, well, is this person really interested in the science and wanting to understand that piece of it?" Nicole Hagerman Miller:  Then the third is the ethos of it, right? For me, that was my entry point into I wanted to design a better world. I knew there was a better way to design. But some people, their entry point is very much like I want to reconnect with nature to better understand what the potential is from a human capacity standpoint. Right? There's these entryways into biomimicry that help people understand how it can be applied and how they could use it in their everyday life. Lee Ball:  You and I have worked most recently on the Project Positive initiative through B3.8. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the basic concept of generous or positive design and how it differs from a lot of what people refer to these days as net zero. Nicole Hagerman Miller:  Yeah. I think, well, it's something I'm so passionate about and so excited about, and I'm so happy we've had the chance to work together in this project. What Project Positive is, is really a collaboration of companies and organizations that are really looking to change the conversation of it about what does it mean to be regenerative, moving away from this space of doing less bad, but moving into this space of positive and what we talk about as regenerative, right? So much of the conversation is about net positive and being positive and regenerative. But what does that mean? Right? Nicole Hagerman Miller:  How do you define that? I think that's where we saw a lot of opportunity for biomimicry to really play a role in helping define what does positive mean, what does regenerative mean. Because nature is the best blueprint we could possibly ask for teaching us how to do things for regeneratively. That's what nature does. That's how it succeeds, is it gives back and keeps producing, it keeps providing in a benefit way, in a life family way. How can we look to that as a model for how we can design our world? And how can we look to that as a measure in particular is a lot of the work around Project Positive, which is looking at using nature as what we call a model mentor and measure for regenerative. Nicole Hagerman Miller:  The premise of this work is something that Janine talked about in her book from 1997 in her Ted Talk in early 2000. It's not a new idea, but what we've been able to formalize a little bit more and pilot is this notion that we can quantify, we can measure the benefits that a ecosystem produces. These will be ecosystem services that a wild land can produce. How much carbon is being sequestered? How much air is being filtered? How many particulates are being removed? How much biodiversity is being generated? These are positive benefits that our wild lands are producing for us for free as humans. Right? Nicole Hagerman Miller:  Once we start to look at that as a quantifiable unit of measure of this wild land store and we can understand, oh, this is how much carbon is sequestering, this is how much water it's filtering, that can become a performance target and guideline for us, a local target and guideline for our performance standards. When we first started doing this work, we were really talking about ecological performance standards, really looking at the local and native ecosystems to help us make locally informed decisions around what positive looks like. Nicole Hagerman Miller:  We've been piloting this work for about five years and really have some incredible examples with Interface and Ford, Jacobs and HOK and others to really demonstrate what does it look like to set these aspirational targets of performing like the ecosystem next door benefiting not only the ecosystem itself, but also the people who are operating living in those communities, right? It's this idea that people and planet are not separate, right? The benefits that we get ecologically are also socially and economically beneficial as well. Nicole Hagerman Miller:  Tying that all together in a way to start to show people how these actions that we can take to design for regenerative are in service to longterm business success, local ecological success, and social health and wellbeing. That's been the premise and the vision of the work of Project Positive, and what Project Positive does is bring the companies together that are doing this work to share best practices, to share ideas, to share challenges so that we can really advance the work in the time that is necessary. Nicole Hagerman Miller:  There is a real sense of urgency for us making an impact. We have these existential crisis things happening, and we're making these incremental moves around us. What we're trying to do is just to really show how this vision works, but then how these companies can work with one another, learning from one another to expedite the learnings and expedite the application and outcomes that are generated. Lee Ball:  Do you have an example or two of a partnership that you could share that describes to the listeners a cool project that you're working on? Nicole Hagerman Miller:  Yeah. As I mentioned earlier in the call, Lee, we've been long-term partners with Interface. They manufacture carpet tiles, and they're continually ranked in the top five most sustainable companies in the world, right in line with Unilever, Patagonia, and a lot of their vision came from their CEO, Ray Anderson, who just had this incredible epiphany. He read Paul Hawken's book, The Ecology of Commerce, and that was really just pivotal moment for him. That's really when he engaged Janine Benyus, our co-founder, to be part of his dream team with Paul Hawken to really rethink what the carpet tile manufacturing industry could look like. Nicole Hagerman Miller:  Then Interface really took a lead and has been a leader in sustainability sense. This was about six years ago, we were having this conversation and they were looking ahead and saying, "Okay, we're going to reach our 2020 sustainability goals. What's next? What are we aiming for next?" That's really when this notion of, well, what is it that Interface can control? What is it that they can really have an impact on? We started really talking about their manufacturing facilities and develop this idea of, well, what if your factories function like a forest? We started to pilot it. Nicole Hagerman Miller:  We started to look at, okay, well, what's it going to take for this to really get traction and have success? At the same time, the company was building a new headquarters in Atlanta, as well as redesigning one of its operational facilities in LaGrange, Georgia. While we had identified our first pilot as Australia, we did the work there to test out some of it, just thinking in ideas, but then we quickly pivoted and brought it over, first starting with their LaGrange manufacturing facility, and just looked at, well, how does the Southern Piedmont Forest operate? What is it doing? Nicole Hagerman Miller:  How much carbon is it sequestering, and when and what cycles? We really did this deep analysis and then brought that back to Interface and said, "Okay, here's what the forest around you is doing. How might your factory start doing this?" We really landed on, well, what could the factory do to generate benefits around these key areas of carbon, air, soil, habitat? We honed in on, okay, well, this is what the forest next door is doing. How can the Interface manufacturing facilities operate in a way that is producing benefits? We've honed in on these five categories and then just started looking at things such as bioswales and green roofs and HVAC systems. Nicole Hagerman Miller:  We just took all of these different design interventions that they could integrate today, but just started doing so in a way that demonstrated how they could do so holistically to create these multi-functional benefits in the same way that a forest does, right? It's a system, it's not one single tree sequestering the carbon to benefit all. The soil has to play a role. The air has to play. Everything plays a role for all to work. It was, I think, that pilot that first started us to think about the role that Interface could play. What did they have within their sphere of influence and control around some of these things that we identified? Nicole Hagerman Miller:  Really for them, that was its aha moment of, okay, well, we're building this new headquarters in Downtown Atlanta, it's in the same eco region, same goals that we're setting. What could they do in an urban environment as well? We had this really exciting opportunity to look at what would it look for its actual manufacturing facility to function like a forest in its environment, but then also to translate that and to look at scale of, well, what does that look like if we apply that to an urban environment? Over the project, there were several different design interventions that focused on multiple different things. Nicole Hagerman Miller:  One of the big design interventions for their headquarters in Atlanta was the [inaudible 00:25:26] system that they integrated and how that really was able to help them look at the holistic opportunities around the water that they were in-taking, and what benefit did that provide from the city level and how they were giving some of those benefits back? We wanted to get feedback from the sustainability community around this vision, and we would talk about it as factory as a forest. This notion that people should start thinking about their manufacturing facilities as opportunities to create these benefits, right? Nicole Hagerman Miller:  Aron [inaudible 00:25:58] will say this a lot. She's the vice-president of their sustainability. She still had to grapple with the fact that their manufacturing facilities were hot, uncomfortable places to work. How could they solve for that? Some of the design interventions that we integrated really solved for that, really made them more comfortable places applying some of the shading, cooling and some of these broader ideas, and they're not always super novel super innovative, right? They're just looking at these holistic strategies of these forests and what are some of the abstract principles that we can take from that evolution of the work and then talking about it on this notion of factories that function like forests? Nicole Hagerman Miller:  We really started to engage other companies that had manufacturing facilities that were really interested in having them be beyond less bad, right? That's really when we started peaking the interest of Ford Motor company. They have within their sustainability strategy, one of their key pillars is positive impact. What does positive impact look like for Ford? Knowing how much of their impact is in the manufacturing space, we really started this exciting conversation of highlighting for them, not only in the manufacturing, but then in their office spaces that they were building. Nicole Hagerman Miller:  We're in that work right now. Still doing it. It's been about a year into that project and it's evolving in a really exciting way. I think what's important for people to see is that progress, right? This is the whole point of Project Positive. Is there safety in numbers? As a more people start doing this work and learning from one another, we can get more people interested and integrated into thinking this way and to applying biomimicry from a design process from the very beginning. Lee Ball:  Well, I'll have to say that all of this work has influenced us a great deal as we've been imagining a campus as a forest. Our dream of creating a campus as a forest is still alive and well, and it's moving forward. I look forward to give you a more detailed update soon. Nicole Hagerman Miller:  To build on your last point, with campus as a forest, this idea that the building itself is part of the faculty and that we're learning from the building itself, and that there's so much in that conversation. I think that's something that's really exciting about the campus as a forest notion, is that we have these buildings that are producing all these benefits that students are involved in the operations and the maintenance and the benefits that are being produced, the relationship with the community. Nicole Hagerman Miller:  I think that's something that's really exciting about the campus of forest notion, is there's so much learning that can happen, and it's a fundamental shift in how campuses think about their cost centers, right? If you think about how much education can come out of just a building alone, in addition to the R&D that's done there, I think that's a really exciting aspect of this vision. Lee Ball:  I agree. Talk about a living laboratory, that's relatively cliche these days. But this would be the epitome of a living laboratory. Yeah, to think about the buildings themselves as faculty members, as being part of the team, that's helping us to instruct about the built environment, design and the interplay between the natural world and the built environment. We're extremely excited to be able to see this dream manifested and bring people here at Appalachian State to experience a campus as a forest. I happen to know that you are a fan of fungi, specifically the mycelium as they thread their way in and out of our natural world. Could you tell us about why that's so exciting? Nicole Hagerman Miller:  Yeah. I think for me, I am such a big fan of connectors and communication and how communication is the bridge that links us together, and as humans, we have a hard time doing that. Communication isn't always easy. But I think I've been so fascinated with mycelium because it's just this amazing network of communication that happens that is just this really beautiful way of saying, okay, this ... In an ecosystem, if there is a disease happening or if there's something that is bothering its particular species, how mycelium plays this really important role of communicating that to the species next door, right? To say, "Hey, this is happening. You need to adapt over here to be able to be resilient to this disease that's spreading or to this bacteria that's happening." Nicole Hagerman Miller:  I think just the role that it plays in connecting the ecosystem and being that connector, I think has always inspired me potentially because maybe as a human, I often like to play that role as a connector. I'm so fascinated by all the different things that exist in what people are doing, and there's so much beautiful inspiring things happening in the world. How do we connect that to really make that thrive and support that? I think that's probably why I've attached to it, is I see myself in it a little bit, which probably sounds weird. But I think there's just something so beautiful and fascinating about this notion of the World Wide Web and how everything underground is connected to these mycelium networks. Lee Ball:  It doesn't sound weird to me because I resonate completely. You and I are both connectors and that's why we work so well together. Yeah. Nature's internet, right? The original internet. Nicole Hagerman Miller:  Yeah, exactly. Lee Ball:  We have time for one more question. What really excites you these days about your work and what drags you out of bed and gets you pumped about coming in these days? Nicole Hagerman Miller:  Well, the field in which I work in, biomimicry, it would get me out of that any day, no matter what the project, because I think the opportunity to really influence how we're designing our world is exciting. I think what I'm most excited about right now is probably a combination of two things, definitely the work that we're doing with Project Positive and really connecting with a lot of this global movement around nature positive and how we can use biomimicry as a design tool to really create regenerative design and really connect that with the social aspects as well. Nicole Hagerman Miller:  We talked earlier about the environmental and social. I'm really excited about that merger, that we're no longer talking about environmental issues over here and social issues over here, and that they're very much intertwined and people are seeing that. I'm really excited about that, and I'm really excited about our work that we're doing in biomimicry, learning from nature to really show people how it is in service to human benefit. I think historically, there's been this conservation aspect of our work, which is equally important and exciting. Nicole Hagerman Miller:  But I think once we can tie it to the social, it hits people at a deeper level and it makes it a little bit more real and tangible. I think bearing witness to that and seeing that actualize and being materialized in the work that we're doing right now is really exciting. For us as a company, what we've started to become aware of is that the value of our work is storytelling. Being able to tell people that story of place, this is the value of this place, this is the value of this ecosystem, this is the benefit that it generates, this is what we can learn from it, this is how can it form design. Nicole Hagerman Miller:  For us, we've been so heads down focusing on that design that we are just recognizing the benefit that we can create as a company is to be much more conscious about that storytelling. While we were storytelling within our projects, we weren't really storytelling in a way that gave the world access to it, that gave our internal champions the tools that they needed to bring the rest of the people along. A lot of the work that ... We have a mutual friend [inaudible 00:34:34] and the work that she's done at Harvard Sustainability Program to really introduce this concept of sensing and piloting and bringing people along in the role that we play at B3 is really that storytelling that supports that because everyone has a deep connection to nature. Nicole Hagerman Miller:  No matter who you are, where you come from, you have that connection. Being able to tap into that and tap into place is something that I'm really excited about, something we're starting to put energy around. I'm really excited about some of this stuff that we'll be coming out with in the next year around the value of biomimicry is this proven pathway to regenerative. Those are two things that obviously are connected, but I'm very much excited about. If you're really interested in biomimicry and want to learn more, there's a couple of key sites I can send you to. Nicole Hagerman Miller:  First, our site is biomimicry.org. You can learn all about our work and what we do. Also, we have a blog, Synapse.bio, which talks a lot about how we apply biomimicry. We have a sister organization called the Biomimicry Institute, which has an amazing website called asknature.org. If you're out and about or if you're a designer ... By the way, everyone is a designer. Whether you're designing a operations plan or a product or your family finances, everyone is a designer, right? Nicole Hagerman Miller:  If you are looking at how to create something and you want to know how nature does it, you can literally go to this website, asknature.org and type in the question like how does nature do cooling? How does nature manage temperature? How does nature ... You can look at these different questions and get the biological answer. It's a great website, great resource. Highly encourage everyone to take a look at that. You could spend hours. Lee Ball:  Well, Nicole, thank you so much for your time, and thanks for being on the podcast, Find Your Sustain Ability. We really appreciate you and your work, and just have a wonderful rest of your day. Nicole Hagerman Miller:  Thank you so much for having me, Lee. So good to connect with you and to be on this podcast with you.
012 Dr. Rajat Panwar on  deforestation, corporate social responsibility and global value chains
Feb 15 2021
012 Dr. Rajat Panwar on deforestation, corporate social responsibility and global value chains
Join App State Chief Sustainability Officer Lee Ball and guest Dr. Rajat Panwar, associate professor in App State's Walker College of Business, as they discuss deforestation, corporate social responsibility and global value chains, as well as Panwar's journey from India, to the Himalayas, to App State — an institution that "values sustainability and sustainable business so much," Panwar, said.   Transcript Lee Ball:  Welcome to the podcast Find Your Sustain Ability, where we discuss active solutions to some of the world's toughest problems related to climate change, social justice and sustainability. My name is Lee Ball, and I am your host. On today's show, we have Dr. Rajat Panwar, who is an associate professor of sustainable business management here at Appalachian State University. Dr. Panwar has a versatile academic background that includes researching and teaching in Asia, Europe, North America and South America. He has earned two doctoral degrees, one in the forest sector, business sustainability, and the other in strategic management. A native of India, Dr. Panwar now lives here with us in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of Appalachia. Rajat, welcome to the show. Rajat Panwar:  Thank you very much, Lee. Thank you for having me. Lee Ball:  So can you tell us what it was like growing up in India? And can you share any stories that inspired you to advocate on the behalf of people and places through your work as a professor and a researcher? Rajat Panwar:  That's a very good start of the conversation. Thank you, Lee. Growing up in India as a child was very different than the experience the kids are having these days. Things have changed dramatically. Back in the day, the gap between the developed and the developing world was even more dramatic than it is today. So for example, I did not have a television in my household until I was in senior year of high school. And the first time I made a phone call in my life was when I was already in college. So just to give a framework around where I grew up and all that. India happened to be a developing country even then, and the economy was growing fine, and actually at a remarkably faster rate than many others when I was growing up. Rajat Panwar:  But at the same time, my memory of the development happening in India is not a story that is very exciting. Why I say that, Lee, is because I was growing up at a time when the word sustainable development had not entered the policy lexicon, at least in a country like India. So I witnessed, growing up, devastation of natural resources, particularly the forests around the area that I grew up in, sometimes purely to see a road being constructed or a telephone line being put up and things like that. So growing up, I was very ambivalent with this whole idea of economic development and that perhaps led into my research and my professional pursuits in the area of sustainable development. That is what I would say in terms of growing up, my story in India, it was filled with very mixed emotions. What I was seeing was not what I wanted to see, and that definitely shaped who I am as a person and who I am as a scholar. Lee Ball: Was there still a lot of nature that you grew up around, a lot of beauty? I'm always trying to understand people like you and me that have a devotion to protecting these places. A lot of times that was really inspired by a deep connection at an early age. I was just wondering if that was something that you experienced. Rajat Panwar: Yeah, absolutely. And so, I mean the notion of nature is very different to different people. So for example, anybody growing up or living in Appalachian Mountains or Blue Ridge Mountains, their idea of nature is green trees and those kind of things. I grew up in a rather arid part of India. So we didn't have lots of greenery, so to speak, around, but there was a big river and the watershed of that river really was what I would call nature growing up. Like bushes and some animals around those, that was my nature. And I saw that going away because the government started to give those lands on lease to farmers. And so the watershed around the river started to basically disappear as people started to farm on it. Rajat Panwar:  Today, if you go there, you'd see just a tiny little stream and six or seven months in a year, actually it does not have any water. It is not a perennial river now, whereas 30 years ago, it was filled with water and was a prominent river. It still is a prominent river in Northern India, but it does not have water round the year. So coming back to your question, yes, the nature was there in a very different form. And actually, because I grew up in a very arid setting, now I live in a temperate region, and I have also spent times in tropics. So my view of the word nature is multidimensional. And that is why my research has also has become multidimensional for that reason. Lee Ball:  Let's expand on that a little geographically. So you grew up in India, but you left, at least to explore other parts of Asia. Was that your initial departure, was to go to other parts of Asia first before coming to Europe? Rajat Panwar:  Yeah, for tourism. But no, the first time I came out of India to live abroad was actually when I moved to the U.S. to pursue my Ph.D. program at Oregon State University. But yeah, I had traveled quite a bit before that, short-term projects. Some projects had two to three months kind of project. I had some consulting assignments prior to getting into academia with the United Nations and the World Bank, and that took me places. I also was involved with some projects sponsored by the Ford Foundation. And so that took me to Africa. So I had traveled quite a bit before I moved to the U.S. But as far as the long-term living is concerned, for the first time it was when I decided to come to this beautiful country. Lee Ball:  Right. So you really went from a very arid area to almost the complete opposite in Northwestern United States, in Oregon. Rajat Panwar:  Yep, absolutely. Yeah. It was very difficult. I remember when I moved to Oregon, it was the month of September and September, it's the weather like we have these days here. But I was coming from very warm climate, so I remember complaining to my Ph.D. adviser then that, "Oh, this is so difficult for me. I don't think that I would be able to live here." And then, later on, I lived in Wisconsin and then in Canada and now here, so adaptability comes as circumstances change. So yeah, but it was a very, very different climate conditions in Oregon relative to the ones that I grew up in and lived and had lived in before. Lee Ball:  Rajat, could you do us a favor and explain what really drew you to university in Oregon? Rajat Panwar:  Yeah. So there's a little bit of a story behind that. I had completed my MBA degree in India, and I started to work for a corporation and I was not too happy with the corporate kind of jobs. And within the first few months, I realized that I need to take a break, I need to actually reflect upon what I want to do and where do I want to spend my energy on. So I took a break from the work. It was supposed to be a weeklong break and it ended up being a nine-months-long break. So I went to the Himalayas and started exploring around, talking to people, and I just stumbled upon a Buddhist monastery. And I got drawn to that and spent quite, several months, actually, meditating. And around the same time, I also got interested in forest products, natural forest products. Rajat Panwar:  And in India, particularly, forest products are like medicinal plants, herbal plants, aromatic plants, anything that you see in the forest, other than timber. So I started to talk to people who were living in the rural communities there, that what are your means of livelihood? And many of them told me that, "Oh, well, we actually do depend on these forest lands." And these are, by the way, public lands. Forests cannot be owned by individuals in India, unlike for example, in the U.S., people can be forest land owners privately. Anyway, so I was talking to these people and they were telling me their sources of livelihood and those kind of things. So I started to ask them that, "Hey, what price do you sell a particular herb for?" And they would tell me, 20 rupees, 50 cents a pound kind of rate. Rajat Panwar:  And because I had spent time in the cities, particularly New Delhi, the capital city of India, I knew that actually the price of that particular herb in the markets in New Delhi was sometimes 1,000 or 2,000 times than that. So I thought, ha, this is the area that I want to really focus on and these are the kind of problems I would like to solve or help address and utilize my business administration planning and expertise on. So I started to explore whether there are some professors who had been working at the interface of corporations, markets and these forest products. Actually, I can give a technical name for that. It is called non-timber forest products, NTFPs. Some of your audience might be interested in that. So non-timber forest products are everything that comes out of the forest other than timber. Very big market, the World Bank, the United Nations, every major organization has deep interest in promoting these, partly because many communities throughout the world depend on them. Rajat Panwar: So anyway, I started to look into if there are any professors who are making this connection between these non-timber forest products and mainstream markets, and I really didn't find any, within India. So I started to look if there are people outside India that are working in the area of forest products and particularly non-timber products, and are they making the connections with the mainstream markets? Long story short, I started exploring, many professors were contacted, and finally, I found somebody in Oregon who was interested in this kind of research. And that is when I decided that, OK, well, I want to pursue my further studies and I came to the U.S. as a doctoral student pursuing my doctoral studies, specifically in the area of forest products and forest sector sustainability. Lee Ball:  That's fascinating. It makes me want to go to the Himalayas and meditate on my next move. So the idea of just the notion that people are out there extracting non-timber forest products is very interesting to me as well. There's a long history and culture of that here in Appalachia, in the Blue Ridge Mountains. And I know that the forest has, for centuries, been treated as a commons. But now, the commons is really the national forests and there's so much private forest. And as a result, we see a lot of poaching that occurs. But most people, when you ask them about forest products, like you said, they think immediately of timber products. But forest product, I've been to the Amazon and other places, and I'm very aware that non-timber forest products are thriving. But then they're also threatened in many ways. And I think it's just really important work for you and others to be really thinking about how to really, I don't know, disrupt the inequities in that supply chain that you referenced, between the value of the local market compared to what you observed in New Delhi. Rajat Panwar:  Actually, early on the assumption was that these communities were not aware, but that is not what I found out in my research. There are structural barriers and there are, of course, some what you could easily call actions within the broader notion of corporate hypocrisy. They are aware, but oftentimes silenced in the bigger story of markets and where powerful players are often able to survive better than the others. But yeah, this is, as you said, I mean, in Amazon, in Southeast Asia and also in parts of Africa, this is a very critical issue from all angles, from economic development perspective, from natural resource protection, as well as from a social equity and social justice perspective. Lee Ball:  So you eventually made it to here to Appalachian State University. Could you tell us a little bit about the journey that led you here? Rajat Panwar:  Yeah. So when I was finishing my Ph.D. at Oregon State University, Lee, my plan was to go back to India and work with those communities where I actually had got the motivation to pursue the Ph.D. in the first place. My then-adviser and now friend Eric Hansen, he is the one who should be blamed for everything that happened since. So he pushed me and sort of motivated me to explore the possibilities of sharing what I had known with students in the United States. And I'm a very freelance and very free flow kind of academic. And he said, "You should explore a liberal arts college and see if you would fit in somewhere. You are a liberal arts kind of person." I had not heard the word liberal arts ever in my life before that. This is not the word that is part of the Indian higher ed system. Rajat Panwar:  When I came to the U.S., I was very much in the science-y crew. So I had no idea, like, what is liberal arts? I am not interested. And he said, "No, I found a job announcement from an environmentally focused liberal arts college in Wisconsin, called Northland." And I was like, "Where is Wisconsin?" And so, I'm cutting some parts of the story. I went to Northern Wisconsin in March, it was snowing, basically the end of the winter, but frigid conditions. I went there just on the shore of the big lake, Lake Superior. And I had never been to a place like that before. Basically I fell in love during my interview, and I thought, "Oh my goodness, I want to be at this kind of a place. People are just talking about things that I have been researching." Rajat Panwar:  These are undergraduate students. They are obviously not a deep explorer of science, but they are very curious about big pictures and all that. And it also turned out, they actually also liked my perspective on things. It worked out. I joined Northland College as an assistant professor, tenure track, thinking that I will be there for a year or so and then I will move on. India was still on my mind. Then that one year ended up being three years, four years. I was still enjoying everything there. And around that same time came an opportunity from the University of British Columbia, where I had several colleagues and they knew about my expertise in forest products and sustainability and all that. And they were looking for somebody to pioneer, kind of like to do cutting-edge research at the intersection of sustainability and forest products. Rajat Panwar:  They invited me, I went there, everything worked out fine. I joined the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, again, as a tenure track professor doing all the research, got many graduate students, many talented graduate students, Ph.D. students. Research was going on fine, but for personal circumstances, I decided to come back to the U.S. and to the U.S. South, actually. And so right around the time when I was looking for, is there any opportunity, I happened to see an advertisement in one of the higher ed listservs. It says sustainable business management announcement at App State. I had heard about the university, but I did not know anything beyond the name. So I looked into, I came here again, I remember it was the month of March. Amazing people, amazing colleagues. I met many of you. I don't think that I had the opportunity to meet you, Lee, at that time. Rajat Panwar:  But Jim Westerman, Heather Dixon-Fowler, many others, Marty Mezner. And I, again, fell in love with the place, with people, and of course, the students I interacted. So I joined in November of 2016. And of course, I forgot to mention a few moves here and there. I had done some work in between, in France and also in South America, doing research, again in the area of sustainability and social justice. So the journey is long, but the journey is focused. I have always been a sustainability researcher and am very happy to be working at a place right now that values sustainability and sustainable business so much. Lee Ball:  We're very happy that you found your way here, that's for sure. Rajat Panwar:  Likewise. Lee Ball:  Someone that has an interest in forests, you have really spent some time in some serious woods, my friend. So I used to live not too far from Northland College. I don't think we've talked about this. But I lived two hours north of Duluth. Rajat Panwar:  Ah. Lee Ball:  Yeah, in a little town called Orr, Minnesota, northwest of Ely. Rajat Panwar:  Yes. Lee Ball: In that boundary water area. Rajat Panwar:  Yes. Lee Ball:  I was in the middle of the North Woods, working at a wildlife sanctuary for black bears. An area that I never was able to get to was the Apostle Islands, closer to where you lived on Lake Superior, which it looks like just a magical place. But then you go to British Columbia and that's another area with a lot of intact forest. But like a lot of North America, there's still threats to these forested areas, mostly through resource extraction, mining and logging. Did you spend much time just exploring the North Woods, especially in Wisconsin and northern Minnesota? Rajat Panwar:  Yeah. I would definitely travel around and I had research collaborators. So many of them are still there. Yeah, I had the good fortune to be able to explore and travel around in both places, both in Wisconsin and Minnesota, as well as in British Columbia. Lee Ball:  Right. And so now here, in Boone, North Carolina, it's one of the largest deciduous forests in the world. Arguably, it's somewhat contiguous, but we still have a lot of national forest intact. Your work, focusing on forest products, does it continue here with your work at App State? Rajat Panwar:  Lee, unfortunately, the forestry research has taken a little bit of a backseat in my research portfolio within the last three or four years. Forest-related projects, I'm pursuing two of them, very big projects. But I'm looking at my projects list here and actually out of the eight projects that I'm currently working on, there are two that are related to forests, but nothing is specific to North Carolina. So I am pursuing a global project on deforestation and global value chains. And another one is corporations and biodiversity. Both are obviously forest-related projects, but there is no project currently that is specific to North Carolina, Lee. Lee Ball:  Can you tell us a little more about those projects? Rajat Panwar:  Yeah. So those are both bringing the knowledge together kind of projects. So I'm leading … one is kind of like a special issue and bringing together the most influential voices as to how deforestation is caused by value chains of different commodities. Many of your listeners would know that deforestation is caused by these four major commodities: beef, which is related to cattle ranching mostly in South America. The second commodity is palm oil. Again, partly in South America, partly in Southeast Asia, actually mainly in Southeast Asia, but also in parts of Africa. The third one will be paper products to get pulp for making paper. Again, timber industry basically. And the fourth one is soy. And when we think of soy, most of us think that, "Oh, soy is for human consumption," which is true. But actually most of the soy goes to feed the animals that humans eat, for example, chicken. So these four commodities are the main drivers of the majority of tropical deforestation in the world. And it is a major concern. Deforestation is the second single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions after the energy sector. Rajat Panwar:  And so just to keep it in perspective, the emissions caused by deforestation are higher than the emissions caused by all the world's airplanes, ships, cars, trucks, trains, all combined. So basically deforestation causes more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transportation sector. So it's an important topic and four commodities are responsible for it. And obviously, most of it happens through global supply chains. People don't even know that their day-to-day procedures are causing deforestation. If you go to a grocery store in town, it is said, some estimates suggest, it is not accurate, but gross estimates suggest that half of the items on an average grocery store’s shelves do contain palm oil in one form or the other, from your cookies to your shaving cream, to any other cosmetic item, you name it. So this project is about connecting the dots between global value chains, which is a topic that business management scholars study, on one hand, and deforestation that is generally not a topic that business management scholars have adequately dealt with. Rajat Panwar:  So this project is about combining these two disparate and two diverse fields of knowledge that somehow, unfortunately have remained disconnected so far. The biodiversity project is more like a research project, and it is about how different corporate actions do affect what kind of biodiversity. People think of biodiversity in a very monolithic way, that biodiversity is about number of trees, but there are many ways to measure biodiversity. And actually, some of the research is suggesting that there is no one way to say that which type of biodiversity conservation is better, or which type of biodiversity targets are better in one area versus the other. So the second project is more like a research project, detail-oriented. The first one is more like combining the big picture issues. Lee Ball:  So when COVID is over, will you travel to some of these areas? Rajat Panwar:  Yes, South America, for sure. I have collaborations in Chile and there are several projects that I'm pursuing there with. Several of them are related to these issues, but there are also some others. And you may have, I know you are a global thinker, so there were some issues, social unrest going on in Chile. So some of my recent projects have also addressed those issues, particularly trying to explore the relationship between economic inequality and gender inequality. Lee Ball:  Sure. So that was in the news yesterday, I believe, related to palm oil. No surprise to us, but they're linking a lot of human trafficking and sexual abuse to the palm oil industry, specifically in Asia. You and I have talked a lot about greenwashing and the business sector. Could you speak a little bit about your investigations and what you've been able to discover regarding corporate greenwashing, corporate attempts to use sustainability as a marketing tool? Rajat Panwar:  Yeah. That's a very good question. And yes, you and I, and many others, we have had these conversations before. Corporate sustainability actions are important, and corporations have unique resources. They have massive reach and they of course can influence consumers in any way they want to. So their cooperation and their coming on board in sustainability efforts is critical. It's indispensable. Governments cannot do it alone. But at the same time, in last 15 years or so of my research, exploring corporate sustainability, I'm not that enthusiastic anymore as I used to be maybe even 10 years ago. So in one of the lectures that you very kindly invited me to, Lee, in the Energy Summit lecture, I summarized everything that I think about characterizes the corporate actions into three categories. And this is how I say them. Rajat Panwar:  Corporate sustainability actions are shallow, they are narrow and they are beguiling. So this conversation can go forever. But in very short way, I would say that they do not address all the critical issues that without which, we cannot be sustainable. Corporate sustainability story is a story of carbon management. And that is not all about sustainability. I tell my students, I tell to my corporate audience, I write through Forbes and any other magazine that has given me the opportunity to talk about it, that sustainability is not all about carbon. Carbon is an important, but just one piece of the equation. So corporate sustainability initiatives are very narrow in that sense, that they just focus on one item, which is carbon. And partly because that it is easy to strike a win-win between carbon management and financial considerations. Whereas, the win-win in ocean cleaning up or biodiversity, that is not so easy. Rajat Panwar:  The second is that they are shallow, meaning they don't go deep enough. It is easy for the company to say that we are being sustainable within the boundaries of the firm. But if you start looking into the embedded footprints, whether embedded carbon or embedded biodiversity or anything, where their supply chain actors are located, what is the overall environmental impact of their products or whatever they are buying throughout the supply chain, they don't go that far at all. People talk about, sometimes about energy, where their energy is coming from. But that also is not the complete story. Rajat Panwar:  Just to give you an example, Unilever, a large consumer company, 96% of its emissions are hidden in its supply chains, in its value chain. So if Unilever says that, "Oh, we changed this light bulb. We installed solar panels. We did this, we did that." That is 4% of their footprint. 96% is hidden. That is buried underneath their value chains. So companies don't talk about it and that is why I say that they are shallow. Rajat Panwar: And as far as the beguiling aspect goes, that is really where your question about greenwashing becomes important. And I just give one example, recycling. Ask recycling companies that, OK, yeah, you are getting us excited. We all want to be part of the solution. Our students are so keen on recycling, our community is so keen on recycling. I want to know where our recyclable products are recycled. Tell me please that they are not going to China. Well, China actually stopped taking our garbage. Now tell me that they are not going to Malaysia or Indonesia or many other parts in the world. Rajat Panwar:  And that is what is happening, that majority of the recycling is happening somewhere else, where the recycling plants are run on not clean energy. And then of course, there is transportation-related and environmental emissions involved and whatnot. I have been to Southeast Asia many times. In many places, you will see that the garbage is actually floating in the ocean. And you ask, "Where did it come from?" I'm not seeing people actually disposing so much of their garbage around. Where did it come from? And you find out that, oh, it's actually a waste management company that got all this stuff from somewhere else in the world. In many cases, it is the United States. And so we are filling somebody else's, not backyard, but their front yards. Rajat Panwar:  So the corporate sustainability initiatives, they are important, but my understanding and my narrative and my narration of them is not very enthusiastic these days. That is why in one of the research projects, along with some of my collaborators, I'm proposing a new paradigm of corporate sustainability, which I will not talk about until we have that paper out. But that is something that I would be very enthusiastically looking forward to sharing with you, Lee.   Lee Ball:  Well, I hope that we get a chance to talk about that when the paper comes out. And I really appreciate the fact that you shed light to some of these issues. The world is hyper-focused on carbon, and I understand climate change is a scary thing, but so is the lack of biodiversity, the threats to biodiversity, and the myriad of social travesties that happen. So I'm just thinking about the future of, how we push the envelope, how do we get better at this work? Specifically with tracking this information within supply chain, because here at the university, we want to do better and we want to be able to have more informed decisions. But it's difficult to make decisions when we don't have the information that we need. So if we wanted to install a specific climate mitigation strategy, is it helping people? Is it helping biodiversity? We don't really necessarily know. And I know there are no silver bullets in sustainability, so I'm not going to ask you about that. But are there some hopeful technologies like blockchain or others to really help with this supply chain issue? Rajat Panwar:  There are and there aren't. Blockchain is good, but blockchain is not the invention that we have not had before. In forest products sector for example, this idea of essentially closing the chain so that your accounts and your books are interlinked. The problem is this — it all depends on human will. And even before blockchain is becoming actually popular, I'm already seeing it being misused. So I am not putting my bets on blockchain. Where I'm putting my bets and I'm still a little bit hopeful is about remote sensing and enhancing surveillance. That is probably one of the ways how the progress can be made. Again, it is not foolproof. It is not easy to implement. But the problem with blockchain, and I'm bringing it back because you gave that as an example, and so many people are very, very, very keen about it, and I am too, in a way, but I'm also seeing that it might end up being yet another smoke screen, just because it will continue to maintain the status quo. Corporations will have the say. Rajat Panwar:  I think the way forward could be, first of all, to enact regulations about supply chain disclosures, and some countries are making significant progress: Germany, UK and even in the United States, actually, state of California has a Disclosure Act related to supply chain. So that is not the number one thing that it has to be legislation. And second is I think the remote sensing expertise has to come into picture. A combination of these two, then can inform blockchain-type of ledger keeping or closed loop communication type of systems. Before that, I don't think that these technologies will be as much helpful. So what I'm saying is essentially this: We need to have supply chain disclosure regulation, we need to have remote sensing, that means surveillance in place, and then we trust on corporations' willingness to adopt these voluntary initiatives, such as the one that blockchain allows for. Lee Ball:  Right. And hopefully customers can drive some of this as well with their purchasing interests, I would think. I like this notion of a more radical transparency around surveillance and just people need to know that people are watching. Rajat Panwar:  Yeah, absolutely. Lee Ball:  So Rajat, we're coming up to the end of our time here, and I'm just really super fascinated in your experience in the Himalayas and just your lifelong work regarding mindfulness and meditation. And really, how do you draw upon that in your current work? Rajat Panwar:  Yeah, so Lee, this is a very, very important question. And when I say important, I mean that it is profoundly personal, not private, but profoundly personal. That experience in the Himalayas that you are bringing back again, that made me realize that I have to connect with myself. I was living like I'm living now, or like any anybody else. But until you realize that who you are from within and that all of our actions have meaning, they have to be performed in a way that they have intrinsic value. I did not realize those kind of things until that experience. And now, everything I do, obviously it is part of my job, my job is part of my physical well-being, my livelihood and all that. But every single thing that I write about, every single thing that I research about, it has intrinsic value. So relating back to my experience, and now what I do, now what I do is what I am. It is not my job. It is what I am. And that is a one sentence summary of how I can relate my professional life with my inner life. Lee Ball:  That's really beautiful. I so appreciate your vulnerability to share that with us. I really relate to that at a deep level. I feel the same way about my approach to work and life. And just thank you so much. And thank you for your time, Rajat. You're a blessing to this campus. It's great having you here. I can't wait for COVID to be over so we can be in person again, sharing stories and continuing this work. Rajat Panwar:  Thank you very much, Lee. Thank you very much, everybody who would be able to listen to it. And yes, it's a blessing for me also to be able to work with all these wonderful people at Appalachian State University, your wonderful team doing amazing work in the sustainability realm, Lee. And of course, everybody in the community and these beautiful surroundings that we have been endowed. Thank you very much. Speaker 3:  Find Your Sustain Ability is a production of the University Communications Department and Appalachian State. It's hosted by Appalachian's chief sustainability officer, Lee Ball. For more information about Appalachian State sustainability, check out sustain.appstate.edu. For more podcasts, videos and articles related to Appalachian State, check out today.appstate.edu.
011 U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich on the climate crisis and repairs and upgrades of national parks
Dec 23 2020
011 U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich on the climate crisis and repairs and upgrades of national parks
Lee Ball:  Welcome to the podcast Find Your Sustain Ability, where we discuss active solutions to some of the world's toughest problems related to climate change, social justice and sustainability. My name is Lee Ball, and I am your host. On the podcast today, I have an old friend, the honorable Senator Heinrich from New Mexico. Senator Heinrich is no stranger to environmental and sustainability issues. An avid conservationist, he has worked for decades on behalf of the environment and the people of his home state of New Mexico. Now, as an acting U.S. senator, he continues this work, and much more, on behalf of our country. Senator Heinrich, welcome to the podcast. It is a real pleasure to speak with you after all these years. Senator Heinrich:  Yeah, it's great to be with you, Lee. Lee Ball:  So we first met in Albuquerque while I was working on my master's in environmental education at the University of New Mexico. At the time, I remember being hopeful that we're slowly, slowly starting to get a handle on the environmental crisis. Fast forward 25 years and the environmental crisis is exponentially worse, coupled with a climate crisis of unimaginable proportions. The majority of the state has warmed at least 1 degree over the last century. There are more fires, droughts, floods, extreme heat, pests, decreased snowpack, changing landscapes and even desertification. As someone who's spent decades actively working on these problems, what's really troubling you about these issues in your home state right now? Senator Heinrich:  You know, I think when you and I first met there was a growing awareness of the problem. But I think in our generation, we were more the exception than the rule in choosing to really focus on these issues with our life's work. And I see that differently today in this rising generation. It seems that the entirety of the generation really sees these challenges very clearly and they expect not just, you know, words, they expect action for changing the myriad of challenges that we face. They expect us to fix the climate crisis. They expect us to do something about biodiversity. And I think the political power in that is really going to open up a flood gate of action. And the reality is that this kind of change does not happen in a linear way. There's a lot of effort that goes in for a long time before you really get to see anything but incremental change. Senator Heinrich:  And then all of a sudden, the curve bends and things happen quickly. And so, as frustrating as it has been to spend my entire adult life fully aware of the changing climate and seeing very little action, now we're reaching a point of dramatic action, and technology is changing very, very quickly because they're not on a linear path either. And so I have more hope about doing something right now that I've had for most of my life. And I'm hopeful, in part, because you know, when I was in college, we didn't have all the solutions to these things. We have the technology to fix the climate crisis today. We have the agricultural practices, but what we need is mass implementation. And what we need is to bring down the costs of some of those solutions, but we can see a path and that wasn't true in the past. And we just need to, you know, across the board, we need action and we need cooperation with the rest of the world. And as we've all seen, that's been a real challenge in the last four years, shall we say. Lee Ball:  I'm glad you shared that perspective. That really takes me back, you know, back when I was really thinking about what I wanted to do when I grew up. I thought that spreading awareness was really important at the time. I did feel like there was, you know, a lot of momentum back in the '90s. You know, fast forward to today, we don't spend any time in our work trying to convince people that climate change is real. We're actually working with these youth that you mentioned, they're telling us we're not doing it fast enough. And so that's a great problem to have. I'm so happy that there's a ground swelling support that has spread across the globe amongst the youth and others, obviously, and other generations. This does seem like the time for us to take action. We clearly don't have a lot of time. And I realize that that's a big part of why this has all emerged at the moment. Senator Heinrich:  I really think, you know, if we don't act with urgency, this generation is going to push us out of the way and rightfully so. Lee Ball:  I agree. I recently read about how the iconic pinyon pine habitats and chili pepper crops were being affected by climate change in your home state. What are the ramifications of inaction and what are some of the social environmental risks associated with this? Senator Heinrich:  Well, you start messing with the New Mexican's chili, and you'll get their attention really fast. You know, this stuff is coming home to roost in a way that really is motivating people because the very foundation and the sense of place of home that is so unique in my state. You know, New Mexico is not "anywhere USA." It's not a place where you get dropped into a small town and there's an Applebee's on one corner and a Starbucks on the other and a McDonald's across the street. It is deeply unique in culture and history and things like chili and pinyon are sort of baked into who we are. So, when you start to see things that are foundational to you change and change rapidly and be threatened, it is part of the motivation that has us acting much more urgently than we have in the past. Senator Heinrich:  Our state actually just passed a law, the Energy Transition Act, in the last legislature, to say that we want to be carbon zero in all of our electric generation by 2045. Since then, we've actually worked with the state's largest utility and they've committed to do that by 2040. So, all these timelines that people said couldn't be met in the past are actually getting shorter, and the urgency of losing things that we care so deeply about, or, in my case, you know, when I have free time, I spend it on our public lands and I know the state really intimately. And I know these places that are such a central part of who I am, and I have seen places that are just really near and dear to me change dramatically in the last 20 years. And that is really motivational, because when you are rooted to a place and a sense of place, and then you see that change, it's very hard not to be motivated to act. Lee Ball:  Yeah. I feel the same, you know, here in Western North Carolina the mountains are unbelievably beautiful and when we see real changes beginning to happen, it just really hits home at a place that is, you know, uniquely different from really anything a lot of us have ever experienced. So farmers are feeling this and the recreation industry is feeling this and, you know, fortunately there's this broadened awareness and those industries where people are starting to lend a hand. So it's unfortunate that we've had to really tap a wide variety of interest groups. It would be great if we could just solve these problems without engaging them, but now people are literally rising up because it's just, you know, it's affecting their livelihoods at a deep level. When I first moved to New Mexico, I taught in the McKinley County Schools System on and off the Navajo or Diné Nation as they like to call themselves. And many of these communities were deeply and desperately struggling back then, in addition to the obvious, most pressing COVID-related needs, what other lifelines do tribal communities need now to help them deal with the accelerating effects of climate change? Senator Heinrich:  You know, I think there's a lot of parallels between COVID and climate. COVID is very urgent and very quick and right in front of us and climate is slower, but every bit as urgent and even bigger. No one has felt the impacts of COVID harder than tribal communities. I've had mentors and friends of mine in tribal communities who have who've passed away from COVID. And I think one of the only silver linings is that I've been able to get the attention of my colleagues to understand just how urgent these issues are in tribal communities. And I think what tribal communities need more than anything else is the basic infrastructure that the rest of the country takes for granted. And so, my hope is that in 2021, we can shift towards getting serious about infrastructure in particular and make the kind of commitments to building out infrastructure in tribal communities that we made for rural electrification back in the 1930s. We need electricity; we need sanitation; we need water; we need broadband. That's what tribal communities need to be able to compete on a level playing field with the rest of the country, because they have the human capital and they have these amazing young leaders that I have enormous faith in, but they're not playing on a level playing field because they don't have those things. In many cases, you go out to a pueblo and what you'll see is a bunch of kids around the community center or around the library so that they can get the broadband to do their homework. I just think that if we're going to address some of the fundamental inequities in our country, we have to address the fact that tribal communities never got the fair shake when it came to basic infrastructure that the rest of the nation just expects as a matter of course. Lee Ball:  I really appreciate your experience and knowledge of the struggles that our nation's tribal communities really go through because there aren't many senators that are, you know, as close as you are to these communities and you're right. I never imagined until I lived in New Mexico and then in Minnesota how much infrastructure, you know, that we had, the typical American has that we take for granted. The failing infrastructure that I witnessed just in my kind of brief exposure to these tribal communities was appalling. I just didn't really understand all the reasons and the history behind that. So, just thanks for being an advocate. You're one of the strongest advocates on the Senate. And I know that a lot of people really are cognizant of that and appreciate it. Senator Heinrich:  No, thanks, Lee. And I think we can learn, too, from the solutions to these challenges. And they're very analogous to the solutions that we have to find all over the world with the differences in income and between North and South. The fact is if we're going to solve these things, a lot of the solutions we need to bring to bear now also need to be distributed solutions. The centralized solutions of the past, whether we're talking about energy or other things, I think are really changing and are becoming more distributed. And if you work on a place like the Navajo Nation, there are going to be a lot of homes where it just doesn't make sense to send a power line, where it's going to be much, much cheaper to power that home right from its location, rather than spending tens of thousands of dollars to extend transmission or distribution lines. I think, in addition to the necessity of meeting these challenges in tribal communities, there's a lot we can learn that scales to the rest of the world and puts basic things that should be in the hands of all of humanity closer to reality. Lee Ball:  A great example where resiliency strategies and climate action strategies are really go hand in hand when you're thinking about a distributed system in a very remote place like the Navajo Nation, you know. Because a lot of our climate action solutions, you know, that people have kind of held up as silver bullets are not always distributed. When some people think that this is going to make a really big impact to decarbonize something, you know, it still might marginalize a community somewhere. And so we're really trying to think deeply about that and understand the ramifications of our actions. Even when we think like, you know, a solar field is going to make sense somewhere, it might not always. Senator Heinrich:  Oh, absolutely. One of the reasons why I think solar has been so successful in bringing down costs is because it is truly a distributed resource and it can be created in such small increments. If you look at the differences between solar and nuclear, for example, the reason why the costs have never been sort of as advertised with nuclear is because they're such huge, giant projects. And when you can take something like a solar panel and it can be as small as on your phone or as big as a solar field, or it can be the solar panels on your house, it's been that increment that has allowed us to reduce the cost per watt from like, oh $75 to $80 just a few decades ago down to, you know, pennies today. And that has, you know, that has completely changed the economics of electricity in a way that, ironically, other generation sources just never saw coming because they couldn't imagine that those declines could be so precipitous. I think that speaks to how we think as humans. We tend to think in straight lines and when we're dealing with lines that are not straight, that are exponential in nature, humans really struggle with that, but it was completely predictable from the 1970s on that we would reach these really low electricity prices that are going to allow us to, I think, fully decarbonize our grid and then shift other sources of emissions, like transportation, over to clean technologies through electrification. Lee Ball:  Yeah. We're starting to see a lot of headway in that with electric buses right now, all over the country. We just got a grant for our first electric bus in our community and a charger. We're super excited about it. I wonder if DC (direct current) technology might play a role here, especially in places where battery storage might have limitations or it might be expensive for households or communities. What are your thoughts on that? Senator Heinrich:  I'm not an expert in DC, but I do think, especially for remote locations that oftentimes we've seen that it makes a lot more sense where you're not necessarily attached to the grid and so you're not in a net sort of situation. Lee Ball:  Yeah, exactly. That's kind of what made me think of it, where I've seen people experimenting with, you know, trying to at least provide lighting and, you know, even refrigeration. So, let's change gears here just a little bit. So, Senator Heinrich, you're an engineer. And are you the only engineer on the Senate currently? Senator Heinrich:  I believe that Senator Daines of Montana has an engineering degree as well, maybe chemical. Lee Ball:  OK. Well, you know, I have a feeling that it serves you well with the complex problems that you're tasked with trying to solve every day and you know, kind of using a systems approach probably is, I would assume, how you're wired in a lot of ways. One thing that I realized that I did not know that we have in common is that you, when you were at the University of Missouri, you were on the Missouri S&T Solar Car Team, and here at Appalachian State, we have a solar race car team that is called Team Sunergy. How cool is that? I really did not know that about us. Senator Heinrich:  It's amazing that we didn't put that together, but that was a really formative part of my youth and of my thinking around all these issues around sustainability. Lee Ball:  Solar car racing, if you look at the old pictures and really even some of the cars today you know, there's a global solar racing community. I remember, you know, seeing some of the old cars when I was younger and it looked like the Jetsons and their little spaceships and, you know, some of them even look like that still today. But, you know, from my experience, the solar car team is managed under our office, and so I'm deeply involved with this. And I've been able to participate in two American Solar Challenge races. And I was invited to be a guest on a Chilean team in the World Solar Challenge, where we race across Australia ... from Darwin to Adelaide. And so I've had a little experience and I will say that the students that primarily drive these programs and these race teams are just incredible. They're often a mixture of engineers and communicators and business students, and they take problem-solving to a level that I had never really experienced. A lot of the teams now, especially, you know, and in the late 2000s leading up to today, they're really focusing on how can our efforts influence some of the world's most difficult problems in sustainable transportation and solar energy. What was the feeling or the vibe back in the early 1990s when you were on S&T's team? Where y'all out there thinking you're going to save the world, too? Senator Heinrich:  You know, I think we really weren't. I think there was much more of an approach of this is sort of a constrained situation where you have to be really creative. And that was a lot of the point. I think the technology has actually moved a lot further than any of us at that time in the early 1990s could have imagined. And for me at the time, it taught me a couple of things. One, it taught me that renewable energy was real and that it was going to change rapidly and come down in cost and scale and be distributed. But it also taught me how wasteful we were with energy. And I grew up in a household where my dad was a lineman for the utility company. So I've been thinking about electricity my entire life. I quickly realized how much energy we were just wasting at the time and how to be efficient in that envelope of the limitations that our solar array created, that a lot of the solutions were about not using energy in the first place. Senator Heinrich:  When you start realizing how incredibly wasteful internal combustion engines are, you realize why we have the climate challenges we do today. We came up with solutions at the time that now are just baked into solutions at scale in the economy. Things like regenerative breaking that made the Prius such a unique car when it first came out, we were doing that to recharge our batteries to, you know, make sure that the brakes put that energy back into the batteries instead of burning it off as heat, using LEDs, which were really not known at the time to do all of our signal lights on the car, using materials like carbon fiber. So much, I think of the solution is finding the places where you don't need to use that energy in the first place, rather than try to overcompensate in your generation. And then today, I think today's teams are just light-years ahead of where we were. They realize that the whole point of this racing technology is to drive change and to change what's possible. Lee Ball:  Yeah, I agree. These students are really amazing and, you know, we're using physics students and computer programmers and sustainable technology students and business students and communication students. They really do have this this goal that's greater than just trying to solve a technical problem. So it's so amazing to hear that you're one of the pioneers on S&T's Solar Car Team. We may have competed. I know we competed in a race together with App State's Team Sunergy in the past. And gosh, I hope that we could find ourselves at a finish line someday in the future as kind of a reunion that would be great. Senator Heinrich:  That would be a lot of fun. Lee Ball:  I would like to talk about the Great American Outdoors Act for a moment. The opportunity to fully and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund and restore our national parks is exciting for so many reasons. As you know, this will provide funding to infrastructure and repair projects that have been neglected for a really long time. What other long-term impacts will this have on these precious resources and how will this legislation support the communities where these parks are located? Senator Heinrich:  You know, the infrastructure on our public lands, and as much as I love our national parks, one of my roles in that legislation was to broaden the investment in infrastructure to other public plans, to include our national forests and our national wildlife refuges and our Bureau of Land Management lands. And this is in the changing rural economy in America today one of the biggest, fastest-growing driving forces in rural economies is the use of our public lands for outdoor recreation. And whether that's hunting and fishing or mountain biking or camping, or all the other things that go on on our public lands, they are a huge driver of rural economies today, and a huge source of sustainability within those economies. And so there's been this giant shift in a century from rural economies being completely dependent on resource extraction or commodities to today's economy. Senator Heinrich:  And this legislation is really the first time that we've made investments that recognize that. And I think it's an enormous opportunity, and it's also an opportunity to realize, my goodness like, public lands and wildlife are some of the only things that we've been able to come together around in this very divided time in our country's history. And having gone through, you know, stay-at-home orders and quarantines and all the things associated with COVID. I mean, I know I personally realized how critical time in the outdoors is to my own personal health and mental well-being. And I think a lot of my colleagues came to that same conclusion and that created an opportunity to pass something that wasn't just incremental change, but was a sort of generational opportunity for investment and created a tool that is really a very, very broad tool, the land and water conservation fund. That's what we're going to use to make sure that every kid has a park within walking distance. And yet it's the same tool that we can use to protect ecosystems and to address the biodiversity crisis and to protect the landscapes. So I really think this legislation, as much as it's a product of the moment, will be looked back on as one of the greatest conservation accomplishments of this century. Lee Ball:  So I'm fascinated by the dynamic that since COVID, we have seen so many people go to these spaces, to a point where they're, they've been overwhelmed. So, you know, there's certainly a negative aspect to that, but you know, the positive as a sustainability educator, you know, people are getting into nature, you know, it is so good for their health and well-being. And also, I think, that gives them a stronger connection to these spaces. And I think that they'll fight for these spaces. Senator Heinrich:  And Lee, I think it's really important to realize that we can turn that negative into a positive. Because, like we've all seen, the people who, frankly, have not been in these spaces historically show up, who don't have the same, you know, decades of experience and leave no trace ethics. And we need to teach that and we need to use it as a teachable moment, because there are spaces that are being impacted enormously right now by people who don't have the tools to treat those places with the respect that they deserve. But this is also our moment, as you said, to turn those folks into advocates for those places. And I think that's the opportunity here. Lee Ball:  Will this fund and support some environmental education to combat those problems? Senator Heinrich:  This legislation does not. And I think, you know, we've really been in dialogue with the Outdoor Industry Association and other recreational interests to figure out ways to do that sort of education. I think the overwhelming sort of response to COVID and the use of our public lands really caught all of us by surprise. You know, in New Mexico, I'm pretty used to being out in many of these places by myself, then we just saw that change dramatically. So we're still coming up with the solutions to that challenge, but a lot of really creative people are at the table. And I do think it's an opportunity to broaden the constituency for our public lands. And one of the things that we're, I'm really proud of our state is that, at the state level, we now have an outdoor equity fund that is designed to get communities and kids who have not had the ability to sort of access their public lands tools to be able to do that in communities that are less affluent. And that is something I think we need to learn from at the national level and try to scale to make sure that all of our communities have responsible access to our public lands. Lee Ball:  You mentioned bipartisan success during a time of this very unprecedented divisiveness in our country. In addition to our two North Carolina senators, Thom Tillis and Richard Burr, were co-sponsors on the bill. Can you talk about the importance of finding an opportunity to collaborate together on something within this highly toxic environment? Senator Heinrich:  Success breeds more success, and when you can work together across party lines to get something done, what it does is it builds trust. A lot of that trust used to be baked in to Washington, D.C., because families would come back here and would, you know, play baseball together. And the commuter Congress has really sort of destroyed that. So, you know, when Newt Gingrich really changed the way that the House, in particular, was run and expected all of his members to travel every week, it disrupted the fabric that allowed people to really know each other well. And so for a couple of decades now, we've really struggled with a level of partisanship that is indicative of people not knowing and trusting each other. And when you can find ways to work together, you rebuild that. I'm really proud of the fact that when I came to Washington, D.C., as a member of the House of Representatives back in January of 2009, public lands and wildlife were partisan, and there were, you know, what I call faux think tanks here in Washington, D.C., that were really driving an anti-public land, sell off public land narrative that many Republican members of Congress embraced. Senator Heinrich:  You had people like Rob Bishop and others who were making that the dominant narrative in the Republican Party. And that is totally shifted in a period of 10 years. And we've realized that these are the places that bring us together. They're not the antithesis of democracy. They're actually one of the greatest accomplishments of democracy. And it turns out that, you know, Republicans like to hunt and hike and fish and do all those things just as much as Democrats do. And so that's brought us together in a way that very few issues have. And it's departisanized this issue to the point where we've been able to get done in one Congress what we couldn't get done in a decade before. The Great American Outdoors Act is not the only piece of public land and wildlife legislation that we've been able to move in this Congress. Senator Heinrich:  We actually passed the John Dingell Act that, you know, in New Mexico, we protected I think 240,000 acres of wilderness in places like the Oregon Mountains- Desert Peaks National Monument, places I've been working on for decades. And today we're getting ready to pass the ACE act, which is a piece of legislation that bundles together a number of different wildlife programs, one of which is my legislation for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act that will help us address the crisis in biodiversity and the fact that many of our wildlife species are imperiled right now. And we've been able to do those three bills in one Congress. And I've never seen that kind of progress in a single Congress before. So boy, if we could departisanize climate change the way we have public lands and wildlife, we'd be able to solve some of these problems. Lee Ball:  I really appreciate your work on these issues and really reaching across the aisle and finding that common ground because, you know, it's a great model and hopefully we can do this with climate change. I'm seeing traction here in our state. We take a very similar effort as far as trying to build relationships and trust. It's just so important. And, you know, my friends that have different backgrounds, it doesn't really matter as long as we can, you know, agree that a lot of these decisions are going to be extremely good for the state and for our economy and for the people and for the environment — there's all these mutualisms that we can identify and, you know, politics aside, work together to, you know, to really help, you know, our state or country and the world. So I just really appreciate you just being out there, willing to reach across the aisle and do this work. It means a lot. Senator Heinrich:  Well, and once we build, you know, real job bases in these clean industries and solar is a great example of that, onshore wind is a great example of that in many places, then it does departisanize issue. Because when your neighbor or your cousin works and has a job and is able to put food on the table and really believes in their career, then you know, those communities organize around protecting that. And I've seen that with solar in terms of my advocacy at the federal energy, at the FERC — the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. I would be testifying next to the Republican governor of South Carolina, for example, who also got that there were jobs associated with this stuff. So, you know, I do think as soon as you can create a really viable job base and many of these jobs are going to be in deep red states. I mean, you look where wind is creating sustainable jobs in my state, and it's not an Albuquerque. You're not going to put a wind turbine up in the biggest city in the state. It's in small communities like Corona, where they haven't had that level of investment since the railroad showed up. And so, you know, when you start to add seats in classrooms because of that industry and add tax base and be able to invest again in the community. Boy, that just changes everything. Lee Ball:  So let's expand on this a little bit. You know, the climate crisis is arguably one of the most important issues of our time. You serve on the Senate Democrats' Special Committee on the Climate Crisis, which recently published "The Case for Climate Action: Building a Clean Economy for the American People." The report outlines how we can work together to reduce carbon in the atmosphere while also providing lifelines to communities. How do you think climate action at this scale will contribute to building a stronger and more resilient economy in the United States? Just kind of building on what you said, this can be really transformational for us. Senator Heinrich:  Yeah, I think it's the future foundation of our economy in many ways. I think sustainable energy is going to create electricity that is so much cheaper than we ever could have imagined. We're still seeing declines in the cost of these distributed generation. That's going to open up opportunities. I think that, you know, just the distributed nature of many of these solutions means opportunities in places that didn't have opportunities before. So I really think that if you look at where investment is moving in the economy today, there is a nascent recognition that these are the opportunities for economic well-being and growth. And you're seeing capital move from traditional solutions that we now know are causing many of the problems we have to solutions that are really focused on being clean from the start. And I think that's encouraging. You know, we're going to have to ... I think businesses are starting to realize that there is no throwing anything away — not into the atmosphere, not the plastic that we now know ... Senator Heinrich:  We all consume every week because we're throwing away so much plastic that all of these things have to be a closed loop. And even within agriculture, the growing understanding that we've got to stop treating our soil like dirt and start treating it like an ecosystem again, that that's part of the solution to climate change and to sequestering carbon dioxide out of the air and getting that carbon into living matter in our soils, and money and investment are following those ideas. And so, if we have investment, then we can scale those ideas. And that makes me hopeful that maybe my kids will inherit the kind of economy and the kind of planet that they really deserve. Lee Ball:  I would love to spend a whole other podcast talking about circular economies and the difference between soil and dirt. Healthy soil is certainly going to be one of the solutions to our climate crisis. The debate on Tuesday night spent more time on the climate crisis than any previous presidential debate in history. These issues are extremely important to first-time voters, as we've talked about. Do you think other generations are starting to feel a similar sense of urgency? I mean, Chris Wallace didn't even intend to talk about it and he is not a young first-time voter, and, on the fly, he thought it was an important thing to bring up. Senator Heinrich:  Well, I think that's a good indication, but I will say that I don't think that Chris Wallace's generation, or even your and my generation, have the urgency broadly that we need. And it's no,t once again, that that urgency is not linear. The closer you get, the younger you get, the more passionate people are about demanding change and the speed of that change. We need to really recognize that this is the single most critical issue that we face. And it's not in front of us the way that COVID is every day, but if we don't deal with it now, this is one of those challenges that can run away with, to where you can't get to the solutions fast enough. So I really think that this is the challenge of our time, and we have to rise to meet that. And I hope that you and I both get exposed to young people who I have complete faith in being able to solve these solutions, but our generations also need to solve them now, so that we don't wait too long. So that those young people can inherit enough runway to get this done. Lee Ball:  Yeah. And that's part of their frustration because, you know, they, for whatever reason, quickly understood what ecological overshoot means and where so many others don't really ... did not, cannot grasp that. But they're not necessarily all in positions of power or they're not, they don't have jobs where they are decision-makers. They're looking to us to be able to, you know, work on these issues and integrate these solutions into what we do every day. And I understand their frustration. It's, you know, it's difficult from where they sit. They do a good job, you know, being loud and they do a good job, you know, trying to do the best they can to work their way into, you know, these rooms where decisions are being made and I applaud that effort. But, at the end of the day, you know, a lot of the people that have the ability to make these complex solution strategies don't have the literacy that they do. And and they're frustrated. I'm frustrated. I spend a lot of time focusing on sustainability leadership among decision-makers. I feel like that's a good leverage point at the moment. But again, you know, it takes a while and we don't have a while. And again, I think that's what fuels a lot of their frustration and anger. Senator Heinrich:  Yeah. And I think the more we can channel that and give them productive outlets where they can see the results of change, to make that generation realize that in their own home, they have likely a parent or two parents that they can work on to become those sustainability leaders. And that immediately they begin to have impact because they don't have to wait to work on the people around them, to be better about coming up with these solutions. They can educate the people in their own family who have that power right now, and it just builds their capacity to have more and more change as they come up through their education and get into their professional careers. Lee Ball:  So, we've made it to the end of our podcast. I'd love to talk to you all day. I know that you, you know, have a pretty big job to do and have a lot on your agenda today. So, really in closing here, in addition to, you know, the youth and all their passion and urgency, what are you really excited about these days? And as you look towards the future, is there anything that encourages you encourages you to think that there might be more bipartisan support for climate action? Senator Heinrich:  Yeah. I think one of the things that gives me hope for the future is that right now the Republican Party is looking for a way to get right on climate. And because they've been historically so dependent on financial support from fossil industries, that's a real struggle for them. And they haven't quite figured it out, but it's a big change from the denial that we had just four years ago. And so you see a lot of members right now trying to find ways to find places where they can be for climate change action without endangering their, you know, their very existence in a position of leadership. And that's a hard place to be for them, but it's so much healthier than just where they were four years ago. And I think there are a lot of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle who want to get to a place where they can work on these issues much more intensively. And we just need to find those leaders who are willing to stand up and be willing to work with them and create the incentives so that they don't, you know, don't lose their job for doing the right thing. Lee Ball:  Yeah. I imagine the money is shifting too. I mean, you know, now that clean energy is starting to, you know, literally make millions of billions of dollars. You know, I doubt they're entirely supporting Democrats. Senator Heinrich:  No. And in many of the places where those industries work, the political structure is Republican. I mean, many of the places that are producing the enormous amount of wind generation that we see in the United States right now, most of that is in states like Wyoming and Iowa and, you know, the Dakotas. And so it is, you know, we're seeing that shift from this being an ideological issue to being more of a representation of where the economics are, but it can't happen quickly enough. And we need more willingness to recognize just how big the changes that we're going to have to make are, and we're going to have to get together and work together to make it happen. Lee Ball:  Well, Senator Heinrich, thank you so much for your hard work, dedication and tenacity on behalf of our country's people in magnificent places. It was really special to have you on the program and to hear all about the great things you're doing for this country. Take care, be well and stay safe. Senator Heinrich:  Thanks so much for having me, Lee.
010 David Karlsgodt discusses sustainability on college campuses
Sep 30 2020
010 David Karlsgodt discusses sustainability on college campuses
Appalachian's Chief Sustainability Officer Dr. Lee Ball is joined by David Karlsgodt, Brailsford and Dunlavey’s director of management advisory services and host of the Campus Energy and Sustainability Podcast. Topics covered include the future of sustainability on college campuses; how the pandemic is impacting, and will continue to impact, sustainable practices in higher education; and jazz music.     Transcript Lee Ball:  Yeah. So today we're with Dave Karlsgodt, and he is the director of energy advisory services for Brailsford & Dunlavey Inc. And you know, David, we've been trying to get you on this podcast for quite some time and, you know, welcome.   David K.:  Well, thanks, Lee. It's really nice to be on the show.   Lee Ball:  Yeah. This is my "Find Your Sustain Ability" podcast and you and I have talked a long time about getting you on my podcast since you had me on yours, I think, over two years ago. So, it's been a long time coming.   David K.:  Yeah, it's kinda hard to believe it's been that long. But yeah, I had hoped to come out to see you this summer, but I don't think that's going to happen.   Lee Ball:  No, that's not going to happen. We'll talk about the pandemic a little bit later. I definitely have, you know, I'm curious to get your feedback and little insight on what you've been thinking and what you've learned.   David K.:  Well, I'm glad to be there virtually, if not physically.   Lee Ball:  Yeah. So Dave, you're the director of energy advisory services with Brailsford & Dunlavey Inc. and, you know, you had a career with Fovea before that. And I like to start a lot of my podcasts by asking a little more personal stories of my guests, just to find out how you got on your path to helping in the sustainability space and climate action. So, if you don't mind, just tell us a little bit about your personal story, and how'd you get into this work, and why do you care so deeply about sustainability and climate action?   David K.:  Absolutely. Well, I suppose like lots of people in sustainability, I have a nonlinear path to get here. I'd like to say it's unique in the sense of, you know, not having a traditional path, but I don't think a lot of people have a traditional path in sustainability. I actually grew up in Western Montana in a little town south of Missoula called Hamilton. You know, surrounded by mountains, ranches, wilderness, you know, it was a pretty idyllic childhood in many, many ways. So, I certainly gained an appreciation for the environment and just the natural world when growing up. But I really didn't appreciate it either because it was all I had ever known at that point. I went off to college at the University of North Texas to study jazz, which was an amazing school for music and ... but I did really miss Montana quite a bit and learned quickly that the urban sprawl of Dallas was not, sort of my native environment anymore. But I had a great time learning music. As I was wrapping up college, I spent some time working on cruise ships and kind of got to see the world. And also kind of got to see the world economy. We always called the cruise ships sort of the world economy in a tin can. And that gave me some perspective on, you know, just how the world works, both good and bad, and I got to see some amazing places. And I also saw some fairly nasty parts of humanity as well, you know, just kind of the waste and the sort of inequities in the world. So I suppose all of that kind of added up to maybe where I've landed today, but before I became a sustainability professional, I was working as a software developer, which I always joke was my ... the way I got out of poverty after being a musician for a while. And then through that work, I was introduced to, I think my first big project was with the King County Housing Authority, which gave me a chance to work with large public institutions and kind of learn that world a little bit. You know, spent a lot of time doing the more traditional marketing — sales, support, software, things like that. So, things that were technically interesting but not necessarily fulfilling. And as time went on, I was looking for something a little bit more interesting. I had a software business with about 14 people working for me and a business partner. And about 2010, my family took a kind of a hiatus and we took a trip to Costa Rica for three months when the kids were really small. And after I came back, a friend of mine introduced me to my business partners at the time or, you know, soon-to-be business partners. I didn't know that yet ... who were just starting to work with universities on climate action planning and utility master planning. They were having some good success, but they were struggling in the sense that they were having to reinvent things every time. So they were doing some fairly technical things with a lot of information, a lot of data. This is about the time that the term big data started becoming used in the lexicon. So they had high aspirations for being able to visualize all this information. And the premise was, if you could show people what was going on, then you could make big change. So, they were working with Michigan State, I think it was the first big client that we were working with. And I was brought in for my software development skills, really, to help automate some of the work that they were doing, which is really kind of how I got started. And from there, I just had to learn and learn and learn to try to keep up with all the engineering and the finance and the, you know, the politics of universities and all of that was fairly new to me at the time.   Lee Ball:  Well, all right. So I've never met one sustainably professional that has the same story, which is always fascinating. I'm seriously thinking about scrapping all the rest of the questions and talking about jazz for the rest of the show. That would be fun. So, I am going to have to ask you a question about it. So, what was your instrument or instruments?   David K.:  Well, I started as a saxophone player and, as a jazz musician, you also have to learn how to play flute, clarinet. Later I got into composition and arranging, so my degree ended up being in jazz arranging. So my final for my school was writing an entire concert of big-band music, which I just found the other day when we were in Montana, visiting my parents, which was kind of fun to listen to after all these years.   Lee Ball:  Are you still playing some music? Have you picked it back up during the pandemic?   David K.:  Yeah, I have been focusing more on piano, mostly because it's something I can get off a conference call, walk upstairs and play for five minutes, you know, grab some coffee, come back downstairs. I don't have to get a reed wet or, you know, form a band. I can just kind of play by myself for a few minutes. So it's more of a mental break for me now, where, you know, back in the day when I was focused on it 24/7, it was, you know, it got to be a job at some point, which is part of the reason I got out of it. But, I've been able to find the joy in it again, which is great.   Lee Ball:  A lot of people have been, seems like, collecting hobbies during the pandemic. And I played percussion for years, but I've never had a drum kit. It's always been a dream. And, for my birthday, I was able to acquire a drum kit. And so, that's been keeping me busy the last, you know, since March 1st, this long pandemic we've been experiencing. So, but I'll gravitate towards jazz.   David K.:  How's the family dealing with that drum kit?     Lee Ball:  It was made very clear that it was highly encouraged from the very start. So, yeah, I, you know, I definitely find myself playing soft sometimes. And then, you know, with jazz is, you know, comfortable in that space playing soft, but you know, when I know there's no one around and I can close the windows from the neighbors, that's when I tend to, you know, rock it out a little bit. But yeah, you know, I think it's, you know, it's jazz that allows me to just kind of go with the flow and improvise and, you know, it's fun and it keeps me engaged and interested instead of just like playing like a rock beat by myself or something, you know, with nobody else.   David K.:  Yeah. I do miss that interaction of being able to play with other folks.   Lee Ball: My son is a good songwriter and singer, and we've been able to collaborate some, so that's been great.   David K.:  Excellent.   Lee Ball: So I have multiple questions after, you know, after that. I'm really curious about people's connection to sustainability, just because, we're in the business of trying to get people to care more, a lot of the times as sustainability educators. And so I've really soul searched as to how I ended up in this profession. And I'm always curious how others ended up in this profession, and it never ceases to amaze me how often someone like yourself grew up surrounded by nature, and you had this innate connection that really never went away. And so many other people, you know, unfortunately, they may grow up in a very urban environment that is devoid of the ability to have those connections and they just don't have them, and I feel very privileged in that regard. And then you've, you know ... also interested in how people maintain it over time. So you clearly have, you know, maintained that connection over time.   David K.:  Yeah, no, it's taken me a while to really appreciate the gift that I had growing up where I did, you know, just the experiences I had as a young kid and the ability to go home to Montana for Christmas or summer vacation. We just got back from spending a couple of weeks out at my parents' cabin on Flathead Lake, which is one of the most beautiful places in the world in my opinion. So absolutely, I think that's true. One of the things that I've realized though, more recently in an interesting trend, I think not disconnected from some of the changes we're seeing around us, you know, since the George Floyd incident has been the nexus of that natural world connection, which I think, you know, is very much a lot of people are privileged to have that experience when you do, but there are a lot of parts of the world that just don't have that experience. And so seeing those two kind of threads coming together, that combination of social justice and the natural world, I think is super exciting. And it's something that I think for me, personally, has taken a while to really fully appreciate.   Lee Ball:  Yeah. Yeah, I agree. I was actually talking about this yesterday with someone, you know, we have this deep need to have connections to people. We evolved with connections to nature and people, and so, it really needs to be combined. I think that we're missing something if we're just with people or we're just with nature, we need to bring it all together.   David K.:  Yeah, absolutely. I've I think I really appreciated, like, so I went from Montana to Dallas and I really did not like the sprawl, I know, sort of the endless freeways and that aspect of the Dallas-Fort Worth area. And at the time I was there it was growing like crazy, like every little bit, there was a new strip mall or a new kind of ring of a freeway that was going in. But then I did spend kind of off and on through that period of time, a lot of time in New York City. And, you know, while that's even, of course, one of the most urban places in the world, I really appreciated that for the community aspect of it too. And I think, for me, I, you know, in the back of my mind, I had this kind of appreciation for the beauty of the urban and the beauty of the rural, where I grew up. And it was kind of bouncing back and forth between the two of those things, which is part of the reason I ended up in Seattle, which I think has kind of the balance of those two things much more than most cities do.   Lee Ball:  I hope the future of cities, you know, pay more attention to biophilic design and biomimicry, can really weave those together. Because I think that humanity would greatly benefit from that. So Dave, you have a podcast as well. You've been doing it for quite some time. Can you tell us a little bit about your show?   David K.:  Yeah, absolutely. It's called the Campus Energy and Sustainability Podcast, and I think I started the first episode in 2017, so we're starting our 3rd full year. Originally, it was Rob and I, my business partner at the time, were looking for something just to, you know, it was really just marketing that we were trying to find a way to get the word out there about the work we were doing. You'd read all these business books and they'd say, oh, hey, you know, write articles or, you know, send email newsletters. And all of that felt a little bit empty to me. So that basic premise of the podcast was, "Hey, I was not a trained professional. I didn't, you know, I hadn't gone to engineering school and I hadn't gone to, you know, study science or what you would think more of a traditional background for what I was doing. So the podcast became a way of me really just kind of learning as I went and being able to interview folks to really dig into a particular topic. The show's essentially a long-form interview format. We'll pick a topic. It's a pretty wide-ranging group. I mean, it just has to have something to do with campuses and something to do with energy or sustainability and not necessarily all three at the same time. So through that lens, I've been able to interview folks as focused on things as like a small project in Iowa, looking at landfill gas, or I talked with a retired Marine colonel who had worked at the national level on a strategic plan for the country, not a sustainability plan, but like a strategic plan. So kind of everything in between. Most recently, we did an episode series called "Changing the Climate for Women." So I had two interns that worked for me last summer, two women that were young journalists, and they were able to interview four different sustainability professionals and kind of get their stories. So, it's ranging from engineering topics to, you know, social justice topics to, you know, strategic design or even, you know, finance or anything in between. So it's been a lot of fun for me because I get to just kind of follow what's interesting to me, where I see the trends going, try to align it to my work as best I can, but sometimes it pushes me into new directions I would never have expected.   Lee Ball: Yeah. Great. Yeah, they're are a lot of fun. I feel like I'm just kind of barely getting started and you know, people like you that came before me have learned a lot, your professional approach I really appreciate. Dave, what was the first college or university you worked with? You mentioned Michigan State. But there might be others. I'm interested in what you've learned from those early experiences and how those lessons might be relevant now.   David K.:  Yeah, absolutely. When I first was introduced to Rob McKenna, my business partner and Mike Walters, who was the other one that had started up the company that I joined at the time. They were working with Michigan State and they had been working through like a long-range planning exercise for them. So it was kind of a combination of a climate action plan and a utility master plan. So I got brought in on one of the larger universities in the country. So fairly complex technical system, definitely a complex political dynamic, just the number of people, the number of apartments, the scale, I mean just the size of it; it's basically its own little city in East Lansing. So I, you know, the good part about that was I got to really dig in and spend probably, you know, the better part of a year, just thinking about one really complex system and learning it inside and out. The downside of that is because their system is so unique to them, a lot of my assumptions about how things worked and how universities operated was colored by the way that Michigan State ran, which is, you know, there was a lot of similarities when we went to other places, but it wasn't necessarily the same approach. But that said, you know, it was a real gift. We were working through the CFO's office, which was great because when we asked for things, you know, everybody said yes, because everything ran through through his office. He was the one that, that essentially controlled the operations on campus. So we got to do some great things, including helping getting them off of coal. You know, we did a lot of the early planning that led to that step. They were looking at renewable energy back when, you know, way before the prices had come down to what we know today. So they had gotten into anaerobic digesters and they were looking at wind and solar. And so I got to spend a lot of time just thinking through how do you make the case for those different technologies? How do you, how do you think about layering in new ways of doing business within a complex organization? We did lots of work on energy efficiency. They were even putting in a particle accelerator at the time. So, you know, kind of a huge energy load to run electrons through a giant refrigerator to do cutting-edge science. So we had, you know, major reliability issues. So it was like everything you could ask for as a model or cutting your teeth on something interesting.   Lee Ball:  They've since installed quite a bit of solar on campus, photovoltaics.   David K.:  Yeah. They, I think at the time it was one of the largest on-site installations of a solar carport system. And I think that ASU (Arizona State University) may have beaten them now on some on-site solar, but, you know, that's great. That's exactly what we want to see. You know, from when we started, it was a matter of could they afford to get off coal and, you know, talking to them now it's night and day. I mean, it's amazing. There's the old expression change happens slowly and then all at once. And I remember that there was a point at which there was a meeting that I can remember being in where you could tell that the entire leadership team just realized, "Oh, we've got to make these big changes." And they saw a way to make it happen. And the next thing you know, they have a completely different system than they did before.   Lee Ball:  So you mentioned, how schools are uniquely different with operations and politics. And, you know, you just also mentioned ASU, which is not to be confused with App State.   David K.:  I guess I should be careful with my acronyms here!   Lee Ball:  We're officially App State here, Appalachian State, but you know, you and I have talked a lot about climate action here at App State. What do you think our biggest challenge is?   David K.: You know, I think for most universities at this point, especially those that are not in the, you know, very warm parts of the Sunbelt, it's thermal energy. And even in the Sunbelt, I think that's true to some extent. We've got at least a solution set now that's viable for electricity. I mean, there are a variety of ways you can clean up your electricity. What we haven't really solved, at least, well, we've solved it, but a lot of places haven't implemented ways of dealing with their thermal energy. So we're right now, most campuses, they burn things to make steam and then they use electricity to cool off things at the same time. So you're wasting energy twice. And the real change I see is campuses that are moving more from a steam system to a hot water-based system, which both greatly improves your efficiency, but it also allows you to use a bunch of different technologies that are not possible when you're trying to heat things up to the level of steam. I think we're just at the very beginnings of that. There are a handful of campuses that have made that switch. I think, you know, Stanford was sort of the classic that people have been talking about now for years, but was always kind of poo-pooed as this big, giant expensive thing that only Stanford could afford to do. But, you're seeing campuses like Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. I mean, I would not say that's a state that's known for its liberal overspending on systems or whatever. I mean, this is a very much a place that they're making a business case to do something for a variety of reasons. But I think it's the thermal energy is the simple answer.       Lee Ball:  Right. When I sent you the questions I almost put in parentheses, hint, hint, our steam plant. And I actually deleted it because I was like, I want to see if he keys in on that. And obviously you did because of your vast experience in our conversations, but you're right. We're a mountain campus. And regardless of being in the mountains, you know, even in Charlotte, it's a big challenge for the other universities within the state. You know, as I think about solutions for climate action, I can imagine, you know, a solution for purchasing electricity, for transportation. Although there are challenges, it's more difficult to imagine how to decarbonize our steam infrastructure. We currently burn natural gas, but we're, you know, we're looking at, we recently did a small study to look into opportunities and yeah, we'll see if electric boilers are an option someday and we can switch everything to electric and continue to decarbonize our electric portfolio. That would be great.   David K.:  Yeah. And you know, and it's not really electric boilers that are the answer, and I think that's a little bit of a misnomer. What dropping the temperature allows you to do is trade heat. I think that's the one that people forget about if you're cooling buildings and heating buildings simultaneously, moving heat from one place to another is way more efficient than it is making it twice. That can handle, say 20%, 30% of your load in a climate like Boone, which is, you know ... why are we wasting? We're, you know, we're wasting that much energy itself. Systems that you're using today are even more than that. The other options are, you know, you have ground source heating, which really uses electricity to move heat from the ground. So same idea. But then you also can do things like thermal storage. So that allows you to have a, you know, time shift things. So you can use electricity when it's cheaper at certain times of the day to either cool or heat, which you can't do in a steam system because you need things at a certain temperature. But I think the more interesting piece of that is just how much more efficient your buildings work, how much better the buildings feel. Like I know in my own house I've put in a heat pump recently and just the consistency of the heat ... just it's a better, it feels better. You don't, like, before I would wake up and I'd have an oil furnace that would blast heat in the morning and then it would shut off and then it would get cold and it turns on and it blasts. And it's just a better way, a better operating system to work from.   Lee Ball: Yeah. I go electric boilers in my mind because I think of all the infrastructure that might have to change, that would be just like an easy switch, but you know, nothing is easy in this world. Yeah. Have you ever walked, I'm sure you've walked into, you've been in buildings that have true thermal heating, like in-floor heating or, you know, in a wall somewhere, some sort of a radiator. And it's always so comfortable. It's such an even way to heat a building.   David K.:  Yeah, and I think that this idea of there being a simple switch, like the electric boiler that we're going to find in our ... I know biofuels has been kind of touted as that like, "Oh, we just need to switch out whatever our traditional system is, switch out the heating or the fuel source and we'll have kind of the silver bullet solution." And I think, if anything I've learned after 10 years or so of working in this space is that nothing is easy. And usually what it is is it's, you've got to pile up like 15 different reasons to do the right thing. And typically the reason that you started with is not the reason that will make the decision. You know, lowering carbon emissions for Michigan State was certainly one of their goals. And it was certainly something that our leadership team was thinking about. But ultimately the reason they made the decision was because it was less risky. It was, you know, they had operators and, you know, and like people retiring and just like systematic change that was happening all around them, that it was just a better decision for where they were at the time. Where carbon emissions, for example, where it's just a piece of it. So I think this idea of getting off of steam, it opens Pandora's box of all these different questions that you need to answer. Usually it gets into like how are you maintaining your buildings? How are you dealing with your deferred maintenance? When you're building new spaces, are you thinking about how they'll talk to the other buildings? Are you building a network of buildings that are adding to the ability for your system to get better over time, or are you just adding more sprawl — the Dallas-Fort Worth area in the '90s kind of concept? And we need to be thinking systematically. And so I think that's, again, one thing I've really learned working through all these different college campuses.   Lee Ball:  So you really identified that space we work in and try to identify this mutual opportunities. You know, mutualism is sustainability professionals, you know, I think ace in their back pocket so that, you know, we can, you know, "Oh yeah, there's a business case too." And it probably could be even stronger than some other case we're trying to make.   David K.:  Absolutely. I mean, if one thing I think we've really been having to hone as a skill set for our team right now is because we're promoting these ideas that require pretty significant amounts of capital to switch out systems, you have to be able to make a business case that aligns it with the institutional mission. If you don't do that, nobody cares. I mean, people just won't even, they'll just laugh at you or just kind of roll their eyes or they may say, "OK, well, I really think climate change is important, so we better do this, but we can't afford it right now. We can afford it maybe in 10 years." And so they'll put a plan in place, kick the can down the road and leave it for the next person to kick the can down the road. And I think what I'm learning now is we need to frame these problems as solutions to a whole bunch of things that can't just be to do less bad. They have to be, to build a better future that people want to be a part of.   Lee Ball:  Yeah. Just a more generous future ... I liked your analogy. I was thinking we need to pick up the can and turn it into something and recycle it.   David K.: There you go. Exactly. Yeah, instead of just keep kicking it because we've been kicking the can for a long time now. It's been, our whole society is based on this idea of kind of extracting and building out and sprawling out and extracting more and more. And we just have hit the limit. We can't do that anymore.   Lee Ball:  So we're clearly at a very crucial time right now, you know, with a very short amount of time to get the climate crisis steered in a different direction. But now we found ourselves in the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, so we have this collection of crises. And so let's talk about the pandemic a little bit. Do you see this as an opportunity for climate action and higher ed and how is it also affecting your work at the moment?   David K.:  Yeah, as you would expect it's mixed. I think one thing I've realized is it's at a different timescale than climate change. You know, the pandemic, as long as we've all been in our houses, it feels like it's going on forever. In the grand scheme of things, it's a relatively short blip on the historical map. So I think that's one element that's different, but I think what it did, at least what I'm observing, is it woke people up to all sorts of things that we had been ignoring, in some cases for centuries. Some of the social justice action that you've seen, I think came out of that because people had a chance to sort of sit and ponder and think and get out of the business of their day-to-day life. So I think that aspect of it has kind of opened up opportunity, whether or not we seize it, I think is to be determined. I think the thing that I am most concerned about for higher ed is I think there will be a lot of institutions that don't survive it. They were not set up to deal with not having revenue for a year or even having a drop of 20% of revenue for a year, let alone shutting down all together. So I think you're going to see a lot of smaller colleges and universities that weren't really set up for the long haul really struggle, but maybe that's OK. I mean, I think the idea that we have an educational system that was based on going home in the summer to work on the farm, which there are people that do that and I grew up in a community where people did actually do that, but I think in the majority of the U.S., at least, that's not really how we operate any more. So, why are we still using this business model that predates the country, really, now? I think the pandemic in a lot of ways is bringing some of those trends that were already underway. I mean, colleges and universities were already trying to reinvent their business models. This is just forcing it to happen much faster than I think it would have otherwise.   Lee Ball:  Yeah, I've really appreciated the reconciliation that seems to be happening since George Floyd was murdered on the streets in front of the world, essentially. And we have an opportunity now to not only reconcile, but to bring a more diverse perspective into our work. Because I mean, as you know, the sustainability movement has largely been white and not a lot of people of color, and we need everyone's perspectives that we can get because there are brilliant people out in the world. And I feel like we have such a small amount of time and if we can just get more people interested in sustainability, I think it will help. I think a lot of people are realizing that sustainability has been intertwined with social justice from the beginning. Obviously, social justice movements came first, but ever since the '80s, when the sustainability movement emerged, social justice has always been a very strong part of it. I think now, though, more people are realizing that.   David K.:  Yeah, it's hard to ignore. It's also just completely shattered preconceived notions about what's possible. Right? I mean, just the speed at which everyone's had to adjust to a new reality. I mean, who would have thought, you know, that we would have clean air in certain places just like overnight? I mean, that's always been this idea of, well, it's not possible because we need industry. We need these things. So yeah, people are suffering, but you know, we have to have it because progress requires it. And I think the pandemic has shown us, in a very short order, "Hey, there can be a different world." And I think that's pretty early days. I think the idea that we're going to go back and bounce back to the way things were, I don't believe that at all. I think this is our, the equivalent of, you know, I think of my grandmother went through the depression and World War II and sort of how those events in her life completely shaped the way she saw the world and approached things. That, I think, will be for our collective generations. You know, with all those that live through this, we won't see the world the same way that we used to. That's not a bad thing. We were not really on a good path. We had not achieved a space where the world was working for the majority of humans. I mean, certainly some people were doing just fine, but you know, that said, I mean, I guess I'm, I'm excited for what comes next. I think we'll probably still have lots of things to grapple with and problems to deal with. And I think that's always true, but I think we'll have an opportunity to sort of rethink the way that we want to build things.   Lee Ball:  I agree. I'm very hopeful. I am an optimist, I will admit, but I see a lot of other people that are hopeful as well. This is an opportunity to seize upon, you know, especially with our campus infrastructure. Currently, obviously, few of us are on campus in these buildings, but when we do return, I think that the way we return is going to be smarter. We're going to use the spaces more efficiently. We're not going to keep buildings on just for one event. We may see that teleworking sticks as well. And we just may not need to have as much infrastructure and we can hopefully focus some of our resources to support faculty and student learning.   David K.:  I think, we've been talking a lot about the concept of asset utilization, which is maybe not the most exciting term, but the idea that we have built these spaces that really only get used maybe nine months out of the year. And even at that, they're not fully utilized throughout their time, maybe four days a week. So that's a lot of material, a lot of energy, a lot of stuff that we have in place just for this experience. On the other hand, I think you're seeing people really miss that in person experience and, you know, campuses in particular are these magical places where people come together and it can form a community, at least for a portion of their life. I think that's invaluable. I think back to my own experience as a musician at the University of North Texas and the people I met and the experiences I had, and I could not have done that remotely. You know what I mean? So there is something there. It's not like I think everybody's just going to telecommute and we're all gonna Zoom call our way into the future and live in our own little compounds. But at the same time, I think you're right in that we don't necessarily need to get on an airplane every time we need to talk to somebody. We don't necessarily need everybody to have all that square footage just to use some portion of the year. I think you're going to see people have to be a lot smarter about it, initially, for just resource constraint perspective. But I think once we've seen what's possible, you know, we can rethink how we want to structure things. Lee Ball:  I agree. And App State is a special place surrounded by mountains and it, you know, people come here for a reason. So, I am confident that people will keep coming here for many decades come.   David K.:  Yeah, absolutely. And that's what's fun about working with campuses, right? Is that universities in general ... it's they can talk about what do they look like in a hundred years because they probably will be around in hundred years and most of them that were around a hundred years ago. Unlike, you know, working for for-profit companies, they have a bad quarter or they may not be around or they may get absorbed by somebody else. So it definitely gives you a long-term type of thinking at least I find really fascinating to live within.   Lee Ball:  If only we were able to build and design with 100 years in mind.   David K.:  Exactly. Well, I think, you know, you're starting to see the financial industry realize this too. I mean, you're starting to see people looking for ways to invest money into college campuses over 50 year timeframes. You know, this is, they see that, right? That's a good investment. You want people that are building things for the long haul. Like we're hitting that limit, in all of our systems where the short-termism just doesn't get you anywhere. So, you know, that's another aspect of working with colleges that I've had to really come to appreciate, it's just that long scale. It can be really, really frustrating because they're very, very slow to make decisions, colleges. They pride themselves on being these beds of innovation and thinking, and within their walls, they are, like there's a lot of smart people thinking of a lot of great ideas, but they don't apply it necessarily to themselves. You know, we were talking about steam systems, the industrial revolution was built on steam. And we're still using that technology as our core. That is not innovative, right? That is very much a legacy technology. But again, you know, some of the newer ways of thinking, came out of universities too. So they have this kind of dichotomy of thinking that can be kind of frustrating to work in at times because you see the answer, you see a step forward, but there's a lot of risk aversion to try to keep that institution around for the next hundred years, which is also justified. Right? So it's, you can't fault those in leadership for having that perspective.       Lee Ball:  You've mentioned some innovative technologies and kind of district heating with hot water and smarter buildings and kind of systems thinking related to the design of multiple buildings. What are some other innovative technologies that you're following at the moment?   David K.:  Yeah. Well, I guess one that I'm, one that I think may be coming down the road, which probably is not so much on college campuses, but maybe in the macro economy would be the use of hydrogen. I think that's actually coming around this time. I think, you know, back in the George Bush administration that was an idea that was very much a, well in 10 years we'll have hydrogen, but it's always 10 years away. I'm feeling a little bit more confident that that's actually coming now, given that we're starting to solve some of the easier problems as I mentioned before, and we have ways of getting electricity produced cheaply, renewably. I mean, most parts of the country, new solar and wind are way cheaper than any other source. Even just to run a coal plant, it's cheaper to build new wind than to run a coal plant right now. So I think those types of technologies that can concentrate energy based off renewable energy, that's probably where things are going. Some of the other things that I'm seeing are just business model innovation, which does not sound that exciting. Like we have the technology today to solve these problems. It's not like we need a new flux capacitor to be invented. We just need to figure out ways to buy the things we already have. And unfortunately, since most of the technologies that are lower carbon, higher reliability, you know, have this, this kind of long-term thinking embedded into them, they're capital intensive. Usually they're like wind and solar, you pay for them upfront and then you get energy for free forever, more or less. I mean, there's some operational