Creating Change with the NECEC

On Friday, November 4th, the Dynamic Sustainability Lab hosted leaders from the Syracuse University Campus and NECEC, the New England Clean Energy Council, for the signing of a new era of collaboration and student awareness regarding clean energy and the transition to a low carbon economy throughout the northeast. Leadership form Sommerville, Massachusetts based NECEC, Alistair Pim, Joe Curatone, and Michael Meehan, met with Vice President for Research at Syracuse University Duncan Brown and Dr. Jay Golden, the director of the Dynamic Sustainability Lab and the Pontarelli Professor of Environmental Sustainability and Finance at the Maxwell School to host a conversation with young leaders from the lab and across the campus.

Pim and Curatone opened by listening to introductions of the student researchers’ projects ranging from the Renewable Energy Transition in Southeast Asia to using blockchain to track carbon through the supply chain to a number of individual queries investigating carbon finance, the carbon footprint and corporate transparency. One of the largest challenges raised for sustainability was perhaps one of the greatest opportunities for student engagement: communicating messages of environmental action. Curatone described the overwhelming conflict between solutions and actualizing them. He emphasized that bringing all voices equally to the table will expose communities like Syracuse with the best possible outcomes to address them with human values, rather than from an academic or professional standpoint. These issues are not inaccessible as the impacts of climate change affect us all, so their solutions must also be treated as such.

The student researchers were encouraged to pose questions that would help inform their opportunities to make changes on a local scale and beyond. DSL graduate student researcher, Chris Cryan, asked how previously marginalized voices could be best brought into the fold of discussion, to which a conversation of democratizing the climate conversation ensued. Curatone encouraged students to be constant advocates for sustainability in all aspects of their lives. They also emphasized the tremendous importance of information accessibility in media. The problem, as Pim described, is the communication of information from the experts to the populations responsible for doing something about it. As Curatone put it, “leadership is not relying on someone with the transactional authority for change but making the people who provide the value of the messaging align with the allies and stakeholders necessary to making a difference. Everyone owns the work.”

As one of the Dynamic Sustainability Lab’s main focuses regards personal improvement and professional development, Dr. Golden emphasized the importance of internship placements and involvement. The panelists closed with an emphasis of calling for the lab and its partners to develop programs that meet the management expectations of the people on a local level. Community leaders of all ages and backgrounds should be empowered to seek out solutions for their community’s environmental challenges and promote solutions for public integration. University students, he described, were in one of the best possible positions to build careers for themselves whether formally through internships or through independent pursuits such as their projects with the lab, while also serving as ambassadors of environmental protection in the economic transition to circularity.

Looking to the future, DSL explored several individual reflections on how such conversations spur action for environmental change. Director of Sustainability at the Student Association and DSL member, Harrison Vogt described how “our discussions from the NECEC launch reinforced my desire to bring people together to work on sustainable solutions at SU and beyond. It thrills me to be part of the NECEC Partnership, as we are able to be part of a spiderweb of communication that allows us to bring Syracuse University and the energy industry to the forefront of sustainability…My roles within the Dynamic Sustainability lab and as the Director of Sustainability [at the Student Association] coincide as I can use both affirmations together to achieve [our] goal of sustainable action at SU.”

Similar sentiments held by the attendants of the panel reaffirmed the aspirations of the students and provided individual insights into overcoming expertise gaps in their projects. With newfound connections, each researcher was better able to attend to their research projects with a renewed clarity and resolve for solving the environmental challenges facing our community’s energy infrastructure in the future.

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