Campuses Pushing Green Revolution
By Leonard A. Schlesinger
Hardly a day passes without alarming news about some threat to the environment—global warming, runaway energy costs, pollution, water scarcity, and a myriad of other problems.
That’s the grim news. The encouraging news is that on college campuses across the country students not only are showing greater awareness of these problems, they also are driving change and developing “green” solutions.
At Middlebury College, the student organization MiddShift developed an initiative to make the college carbon–neutral by 2016. University of Virginia’s architecture, engineering, and education students designed a floating classroom that will travel the Chesapeake Bay, teaching students about ecology. Babson students spearheaded and raised funds for an energy–generating wind turbine on campus.
But these student initiatives are only part of the story. The late Peter Drucker, one of the most influential thought leaders on management, observed that “every single social and global issue of our day is a business opportunity in disguise.” At Babson, students are identifying these opportunities and turning them into innovative and profitable businesses, some based on “game–changing” new technologies. And they are passionate about launching more.
- Each year this country buries over 30 million tons of food waste in landfills, where it decomposes and releases a methane–rich gas that is 23 times worse for global warming than CO2. Graduate Shane Eten’s Feed Resource Recovery has a simple solution—provide supermarket and restaurant locations with on–site waste processing systems that convert discarded food waste into a source of renewable energy and organic fertilizer.
- Graduate Jim Poss’ BigBelly Solar tackles energy costs and environmental concerns at the same time. Garbage trucks burn more than 1 billion gallons of diesel fuel in the U.S. alone each year, generating enormous quantities of air pollution along the way. Poss’ BigBelly is the first and only garbage can in the country that uses solar power to automatically compact garbage right at the point of disposal—saving on expensive collection trips and offering a new way of transforming solid waste management.
- Graduate Eric Hudson’s Preserve takes 100% recycled plastics and 100% post–consumer paper and turns them into a range of products for almost every room in your home, saving energy, preserving natural resources and creating an incentive for communities to recycle.
At the same time, colleges and universities are creating a campus culture that nurtures opportunity by teaching leadership skills and providing practical support for student ventures:
- Specialized courses on sustainable development are now increasingly part of the curriculum. At Babson we also have two hatcheries on campus with office and operations space for undergraduate and graduate student businesses.
- Alumni are coming to campus, providing advice to student entrepreneurs on everything from product design to raising capital.
- Internships provide “hands–on” experience while helping companies solve their own sustainability challenges in ways that make business sense. Students use what they learn to create their own ventures.
There’s never been more enthusiasm at colleges and universities about applying entrepreneurial approaches to build a more sustainable world and meet our energy needs. So, when you next read about a threat to the environment or worry about heating your home, keep in mind that students on a college campus are hard at work on the next breakthrough solution.
This article first appeared in The Providence Journal on July 15, 2008.