Think Globally, Act: An Introduction

The phrase “Think globally, Act locally” has long been the rallying cry of youth for social change. Recently I’ve wondered whether its actual meaning has been lost in the shuffle, becoming as clichéd as a Vin Diesel movie. How many … Read More

By / August 6, 2008

The phrase “Think globally, Act locally” has long been the rallying cry of youth for social change. Recently I’ve wondered whether its actual meaning has been lost in the shuffle, becoming as clichéd as a Vin Diesel movie. How many of those who proudly don this slogan on their bumper are merely “Thinking globally, Thinking about acting locally?” If you’ll lend me your eyes for a few minutes every other week, I’ll do what I can to help you bring about substantive change, on any scale you have the time or energy to commit to. Now, I don’t claim to be all knowing on all things environmental. Part of the beauty of the cleantech industry is that it is so new, and is changing so rapidly, that no such resource exists. Right now I’m reading Voluntary Carbon Markets, a book which not 12 months ago was considered the authoritative document on the subject, but is now simply considered out of date and out of print. In its stead is an industry blossoming in the face of a dwindling economy, populated by brilliant businessmen and women who jump at the opportunity to share their knowledge with even the most direct competition… because when you look just below the bottom line, you’ll find that we all have the same shareholder. _______________ When I arrived at Babson College last fall to begin my MBA I had a few cleantech business opportunities that I was exploring, but like nearly everyone else in the space, I was an industry rookie. I met Clinton White, the then Co-President of the Babson Energy and Environmental Club, who shared with me his vision of erecting a wind turbine smack dab in the middle of the athletic fields. Knowing full well that there exists no bureaucracy like that of an educational institution, I was pretty sure that he was delusional at best, but was happy to sign on for a challenge, and see what I could learn from the project. To be honest, on any given day throughout the last year, I probably would have estimated our chance of success at around 17%, right up through the moment those blades started spinning this past Earth Day, when I was quite certain it was some sort of heat induced optical illusion. I mean seriously, how could three pesky MBA students convince the understandably skeptical administration at a Business oriented school to erect a 35 foot structure which, due to marginal wind conditions, may not even pay for itself over the 25 year life of the project? _______________ For generations, colleges and universities have been hotbeds for social change, representing the most feasible opportunity for young people to act locally. As an undergrad I didn’t realize the power of student organizations until my senior year, and even then I didn’t see much value beyond the surfing and culinary clubs. Six years later, I find myself with the opportunity to pass on what I know to those who care to hear, just as Clinton and so many others have done for me. And what I know is this:

  • The electricity in your dorm or office isn’t really free, so turn off your lights, computers, and video game consoles when you're done using them.
  • Buy a coffee mug and a Nalgene, and then bet the “over” on the number of coffee cups and plastic bottles you don’t throw in a landfill this year.
  • Buy a cloth shopping bag and never have to answer “paper or plastic” again.
  • Pop an empty two liter bottle into the toilet tank and save half a gallon of water with every flush; it doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist to suggest that once this planet finishes fighting over oil, the next great war will be over water.
  • Insulate your windows, close your curtains at night and open them during the day (vice versa in the summer). Bundle up a bit if it’s not too cold.
  • Quit kicking cigarette butts in the street (or just quit cigarettes).
  • Wash your clothes in cold water, dry them on a clothesline if it’s nice out.
  • Carpool, or better yet, get yourself a nice bike (this summer I’m on pace to pedal more miles than I drive).
  • Take the bus, train, or your god given feet.
  • Sell your SUV, spit on a Hummer. Then, make use of the resources around you.

The Babson Energy and Environmental Club is the largest, most active student group on campus. We operate as a business, with a mission statement and an executive board chock full of talented MBA’s looking to really make a difference. Last year we raised over $25,000, held environmental business information sessions, venture capital forums, and put on the largest student run cleantech conference in the Northeast. While the wind turbine was easily our most visible and recognizable success, those 5,500 kWh of clean energy produced each year represent only a small piece of an ongoing environmental overhaul. In reality, the Babson Wind Turbine is not the environmental solution for this particular university. Unfavorable wind conditions yield an installation operating at a 20% capacity (put in perspective, the best wind conditions usually yield about 55% capacity), and overly strict zoning laws in Wellesley, MA restricted us to a 35 foot tower. But as Batman would undoubtedly agree, as a symbol, the Turbine could be so much more. We contended that if the turbine’s presence could inspire the average student to reduce his or her consumption by a meager 1%, the actual net present value of the project would be well over $850,000. And with that, we were rolling. In the end, even the three pesky students who sat in that conference room last December, pitching a business opportunity hinging on ancillary benefits, could not have predicted the widespread impact of our work. When the Sunday Boston Globe exposed the value and potential of our project, the publicity sent shockwaves through the campus. The groundbreaking ceremony brought a State Representative and a State Senator, who in turn brought a Senatorial Certificate of Environmental Achievement. More publicity, more opportunities, and more traction for the dozens of other sustainability projects we’ll be pushing across desks this fall. And to date, it’s been a career driver for three opportunistic MBA students. So if you’re sitting in your dorm room in any of the thousand schools out there with much better wind and/or solar resources than that of Wellesley, wondering how to enact substantive change, head down to the facilities management office. Those folks will be your biggest allies, and will undoubtedly be stoked on the opportunity to reduce their energy bills. Explain to them that while the average homeowner evaluates such investments on a 5 to 15 year payback period, universities need to be planning for the next century. Look into LEED certification, power purchase agreements, or even renewable energy credits. Write a proposal, and run it by everyone who will listen, especially professors. Touch base with Net Impact. Truly harness the power of the people. Campus level opportunities exist whether you’re a current student, recent graduate, faculty member or longtime alum. It won’t always be easy, it won’t always be fun, and it will definitely take up more of your time than you anticipate. It will however, be a rewarding, inspiring experience; one that will allow you to find real world application for the skills you’re learning (or learned) in class.

So go on… buy a coffee mug, build a turbine.

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