Friday, June 20, 2008

Stanford Symposium Update

Sustainable Places: Leadership in the Public and Private Sectors
Stanford University, March 4, 2008

Mallika Kumar

This symposium brought together sustainability professionals, policy leaders and Stanford faculty to discuss practical solutions to manage carbon emissions, water usage and energy efficiency.

The first panel discussion, moderated by James Sweeney, Professor, Stanford University and a member of Governor Schwarzenegger’s Council of Economic Advisers, focused on sustainability efforts, incentives and challenges in the private sector. The panel comprised of Christina Page, Director, Climate and Energy Strategy, Yahoo, Joseph Stagner, Executive Director, Sustainability and Energy Management, Stanford University and Peter Williams, Chief Technology Officer, Big Green Innovations, IBM. The panel outlined several initiatives undertaken at their respective organizations to combat climate change such as usage of green screens which tracks electricity use, passive cooling to reduce the heat load from servers and deploying new technologies to reduce electricity consumption. Monetary benefits, company policy, brand management and personal commitment were identified as the primary incentives for technological innovations. Employees are also given several incentives to motivate them to reduce energy consumption. For instance, Yahoo set a target of reducing the company’s energy consumption for a month by 20% and the reward was a sumo wrestling match between the Yahoo co-founders!! All the panelists identified the need to understand one’s impact and leverage points before moving forward on sustainability. Misinformation and long-term behavioral changes were identified as the key challenges in the quest for sustainability.

The second panel discussion, moderated by Felicity Barringer, National Environmental Correspondent, The New York Times, focused on municipal and state leadership. The panel comprised of Larry Goulder, Professor, Stanford University, Dian Grueneich, Commissioner, California Public Utilities Commission, San Francisco Mayor, Gavin Newsom and Mary Nichols, Chairman, California Air Resources Board. The panelists discussed the need for uniform regulations at both the state and federal levels and for coordination between the states. For instance, most states do not have any building standards but California has decided to adopt a zero net energy building standard. This lack of uniformity could result in leakage and movement of industries from out of California. The panelists also outlined several strategies to raise public awareness about climate change such as programs in schools, taxes on pollution and lower payroll taxes and an instrument to calculate carbon dioxide output in real time on the MUNI bus.

The symposium was sponsored by Stanford University’s Woods Institute for the Environment and the Energy Crossroads.

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