On Saturday, May 3rd, I attended the first of two-days at the 6th Annual MIT Sustainability Summit. Since 2009, a representative group of MIT graduate students have volunteered and organized this two-day summit. The students represent all five schools (Management, Engineering, Architecture and Planning, Science, and Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences) at MIT. Each year, this group brings together prominent speakers from a vast array of fields to discuss sustainability. Coastal Cities-Sustainable Future was this year’s theme and certainly impacts everyone, whether you have family, friends, or a special connection to a coastal city.
Graduate student volunteers from all 5 schools celebrate the end of a successful conference. (Photo from http://sustainabilitysummit.mit.edu/photos/)
I was surprised (and thrilled) to see the speaker line-up. Government and industry experts such as Shawn Rosenmoss, Senior Environmental Specialist at the San Francisco Department of the Environment; Aisa Tobing, Senior Advisor to the Governor of Jakarta; and Brian Harrington, Chief Marketing Officer of Zipcar were all present. I was not sure what to expect at this event because it was the first professional conference I had ever attended. It did not take long to see the magnitude of such an event; there were over 300 attendees from 12 countries and 16 states across the US.
(Left to Right) Shanker Sahai of Greenbean Recycle, Johnny Gold of North Shore Recycled Fibers and Shawn Rosenmoss of the San Francisco Department of the Environment discuss the future of waste management. (Photo from http://sustainabilitysummit.mit.edu/photos/)
After a few introductions and the morning keynote speaker, I chose to attend a panel session called “Waste management—Diversion from Landfills—What's Next?” This discussion featured three waste management professionals discussing how their company or government field is dealing with waste and recycling. I found Shanker Sahai, founder and CEO of Greenbean Recycle, to be particularly interesting. Greenbean Recycle is a software company that aims to increase recycling through its reverse vending machine technology. The machine instantly shows you the amount of energy you’ve saved based on the number of cans you’ve recycled. Sahai has also developed the technology to credit participants PayPal accounts or student IDs, direct depositing cash. You can read more about Greenbean Recycle here. During the discussion, Sahai spoke about his mission to make recycling a rewarding experience in which the person gains something. It seems unfortunate in this day and age we need a rewards-based system to make recycling seem worthwhile. Keeping this in mind, I do believe that the instant gratification of witnessing the impact of your recycling is rewarding. Greenbean’s program has already increased recycling among college students.
Shanker Sahai’s Greenbean Recycle machine is featured above at Tufts University. Last month at Tufts, students saved 147.32 kWh by recycling their cans and bottles in Greenbean Recycle. (Photo from http://www.openpr.com/news/213198/Greenbean-Recycle-Launches-Second-Machine-at-Tufts-University.html) (Data from https://gbrecycle.com/)
Today, climate change is having dramatic effects on global sea levels. Major cities across the world such as Boston, New York City, Los Angeles, London, and Shanghai are projected to experience devastating flooding over the next few decades. By 2100, many of these cities will be submerged under a significant amount of water. One of the main points I took away from this portion of the conference was the dire need of urban innovation to accommodate the influx of people moving into these areas. Moving forward, it is imperative for the federal, state, and local government to cut overall energy consumption, and source energy from sustainable sources like solar and wind farms. Additionally, we (as a society) need to reduce and reuse virgin materials and increase recycling nationwide. San Francisco serves as a great model to follow. As of May 2013, San Franciscans diverted 80% of their waste from landfills, the highest rate among any state. Other cities are on the right track, but there is much work to be done.
At this conference, I obtained more than just a couple of business cards. In addition to listening to numerous prevalent industry leaders, the Summit taught me that sustainability can be seamlessly integrated into any career, in any field. You don’t have to follow a specific path to get involved in sustainability. Rather, the speakers emphasized the importance of following your passions and letting the rest fall into place.
As a business student studying under UVM’s new Sustainable Business Theme, I’ve noticed a great emphasis being placed on incorporating sustainability into the curriculum. Knowledge of sustainability and environmental consciousness are quickly turning into necessities to succeed in business. In the corporate world, for instance, social responsibility is a rapidly growing field. With increasing pressure from shareholders and consumers, many companies are creating or expanding upon their corporate social responsibility (CSR) departments. CSR affects all aspects of business operations, from finance to IT, and from supply chain to marketing. Hearing from experts in each of these fields during the MIT Sustainability Summit has validated my view of the role sustainability plays in a business setting. It has opened me up to an array of career paths and options. One thing is for sure: whatever your passion may be or wherever your career aspirations may lie, environmental sustainability will in some way affect you. With the help of UVM’s emphasis on sustainability and events like the MIT Sustainability Summit, students like myself can actively pursue a socially responsible business career.