October 10, 2013

A Sea Change in Sustainability

Mary Powell, CEO of Green Mountain Power

In the wake of new documentation over the last several years showing melting glaciers, projections of sea level rise, and increased frequency of extreme weather events, among other changes, the Colleges of the Fenway (COF) worked together to raise environmental awareness among their respective communities during the 2013 New England Campus Sustainability Forum on September 20.

The event saw the collaboration of faculty, staff, and students from the six Colleges of the Fenway, including Wentworth, working together to enhance understanding of complex issues of sustainability as they relate to natural resources and the environment.

“The level of devastation that we have had with recent storms is unlike anything that we have ever seen before,” Mary Powell, CEO of Green Mountain Power, told the audience in a packed Watson Auditorium.

Powell played the role of keynote speaker for the event’s morning session, expanding upon the topic “Sea Change: A New Paradigm for Strength, Resiliency and Success in a Rapidly Evolving Climate.”

Relating a colleague’s message that “this climate change is going to kill us,” Powell discussed the role of a college in righting the environmental ship and creating a sustainable future.  “We can all talk about it. We can sit here and come up with great programs, but at the end of the day if we don’t help facilitate a dramatic culture change within our institutions we’re in trouble,” she said.

This year’s event featured keynotes from Powell, in addition to Tufts University professor Julian Agyeman. Agyeman, an environmental social scientist, originated the “just sustainability” concept, which urges a better quality of life while also “living within the limits of supporting ecosystems.”

Other events during the forum included workshops on assessing the financial value of renewable energy, managing climate risks relative to campus investments, and assessing campus vulnerability to climate impacts, as well as various panel discussions. Event locations were spread out among the COF schools. Opening remarks were given by Wentworth Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Russell Pinizzotto, Massachusetts College of Art and Design President Dawn Barrett, and various forum organizers.

“Sustainability is a top priority for us in higher ed. It must be,” said Barrett. “We need to educate students to make choices that will positively affect our future. We must educate them to nurture the environment.”

Though Powell warned her audience of the dangers that exist on planet Earth, she did leave room for optimism, provided people play their parts.

“We can change things if we put forth the effort,” said Powell. “I have a tremendous sense of hope that we’re going to move swiftly enough to make a real difference.”

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