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The Colgate Maroon-News

The Oldest College Weekly in America. Founded 1868.

The Colgate Maroon-News

The Oldest College Weekly in America. Founded 1868.

The Colgate Maroon-News

TIA Panel Discusses ‘Grand Challenges’ in Sustainability

TIA Panel Discusses ‘Grand Challenges’ in Sustainability
Joshua Repp

The Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation hosted an event titled “The Big Five Imperatives in Sustainability: Opportunities for Local and Global Impact” as part of their Thought Into Action (TIA) Grand Challenges Series on Saturday, Nov. 4. Four panelists from different areas within the field of sustainability led the event, and each gave their personal perspectives on what type of progress is needed to create a more sustainable future.

The panel included moderator Travis Millman, entrepreneur in residence at Colgate University; Aditi Desai, director of partnerships at VoltPost; alumna Katie James ’10, impact consultant and founder at Storyroot; and John Pumilio, director of sustainability at Colgate.

Millman moderated the event and started by giving context on some of the most important challenges presented by climate change. He specifically focused on increased average global temperatures, green energy being only a small contributor to the world’s energy needs, the amount of waste per capita produced and the need to prioritize organic farming over conventional farming. Millman shared 17 goals for sustainable development, as listed by the United Nations, that students could utilize in their entrepreneurial actions.

Desai then presented the work that she does at VoltPost, a startup that converts lampposts into electric car chargers for electric vehicles (EV). Desai focused on the importance of cities as systems that often contribute to negative climate effects on their populations. Politics play a major role in how cities function, Desai explained, especially considering how tactics such as redlining have caused certain areas — particularly communities of color — to be disinvested in. 

“Obviously, within the EV charging space, you would think that you are making a better choice by charging your car, but electricity is made primarily out of fossil fuels, and the reality of that is just because the infrastructure in this country is so behind,” Desai said. “That being said, there is so much money on the federal level that is going toward creating renewable energy sources. For that transition to happen, [there needs to be] aggressive policy and investment that follows it as well.”

Next, James talked about her experiences as the founder of Storyroot, which collaborates with companies to craft stories and shape practices. James specifically focused on the importance of maintaining the truth about company practices and eliminating the use of greenwashing or making misleading statements about company practices to mislead consumers.

“One of the ways that I decide which companies I’m going to work with is through a values assessment,” James said. “Not to say whether they consider themselves to be sustainable in their industry, but to say what […] their commitment [is] to sustainability and accountability.”

James pointed out that no business is completely sustainable; however, because there are so many facets to the production and consumption process including packaging, processing and disposal, there are many areas to consider when making a product more green. 

“[All] of what I’ve said is new. You’ve now learned it, and it’s just about how you continuously improve as an individual, as a business,” James said. “I think one of the greatest things is we are in this consistent state of change — what a great time to be alive, because there is just so much opportunity ahead of us. It’s all about asking the right questions, and there really aren’t any wrong answers.”

Finally, Pumilio presented the different directions he had taken before ending up as Colgate’s director of sustainability. 

“I started developing this [personal mission statement] that, at the end of my professional career, I want to know that I did my part to help ensure that human communities can coexist in harmony with ecological communities,” Pumilio said.

Having helped in many ecological projects around the world, Pumilio gained an understanding of sustainable living that he has brought to his work at Colgate.

“Colgate signed a pledge to be carbon neutral in 2008,” Pumilio said. “The University really didn’t know what it was committing to at the time. It was a general pledge to just say, ‘We’re going to be carbon neutral. We don’t know how much it’s going to cost, and we don’t know when we’re going to achieve this goal.’ So my position was created in order to try to figure out when you could do that.”

Through various sustainability steps taken by the university, Colgate began to make progress toward being carbon neutral and understanding the steps to reach their goals. 

“Some things that we’ve implemented […] are behavior change programs, renewable energy, forestry work, transportation work, fuel switching [and] energy efficiency in buildings,” Pumilio said. 

Pumilio said that, although buildings are still the largest source of emissions, Colgate has done a lot of work to make its newly constructed buildings contribute to the sustainability efforts on campus. Six of Colgate’s buildings have been awarded various Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) awards to recognize their sustainable elements, including Benton Hall, which was named Green Building of the Year in 2019. 

The event concluded with a Q&A session in which the panelists answered questions related to state-wide sustainability reforms and individual efforts for change.

Colgate alumnus Yuni Baker-Saito ’13, the CEO of Chicory, which focuses on contextual commerce advertising, attended the event. After participating in Thought Into Action while he was at Colgate, Baker-Saito got involved as a mentor for Colgate students with ideas for entrepreneurial ventures.

“I’ve mentored a ton of companies that have gone through the program and had a serious impact,” Baker-Saito said. “I got so much out of my mentors when I went through the program and was at Colgate, and it brings me joy to see students who are able to break out of that Colgate bubble a little and bring something to life. That’s a really, really unique experience.”

For Baker-Saito, the process guiding the development of ideas and their eventual fruition is especially rewarding.

“What I love about it is that you see students who are empowered to do things,” Baker-Saito said. “For students that come in who are tentative or don’t know what they want to do, you see that there’s a shift over the entire year where they are bringing something into the world.”

Junior Ryan D’Errico noted that the event was helpful in providing many new ideas to work toward sustainability.

“I thought the event was a wonderful way to learn more about sustainable careers and how they may be interrelated with innovation. Panelist [Katie James] spoke about greenwashing and how no product can truly be sustainable, as everything is produced in the same unsustainable system. This was a perspective that I had not heard before, and I have definitely learned from,” D’Errico said. “The information presented at the panel may help Colgate going forward by drawing attention to the intersection of sustainability and innovation.”

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