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Washington alumni hear about Cornell's 'culture of sustainability'

Cornell is cultivating a "culture of sustainability" with faculty expertise in climate change, food safety, energy, environment, poverty and the green economy, and "some 14,000 acres of forest and natural areas committed to sustainability research on topics like biochar and producing biodiesel from the dining halls' 6,000 gallons of waste oil."

So said Mike Hoffmann, professor of entomology and director of the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station, and other faculty members affiliated with the Cornell Center for a Sustainable Future (CCSF), addressing about 100 Cornell alumni and researchers at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., April 27.

All these issues can be described as "system problems for which sustainability is the appropriate response," said Frank DiSalvo, the J.A. Newman Professor of Physical Science and director of the CCSF.

Cornell leads the way, he said, with President David Skorton's commitment to carbon neutrality, the LEED Gold design of Weill Hall, composting of 8,000 tons of food waste per year as well as the recent selection of Cornell by the U.S. Department of Energy as a site for one of the Energy Frontier Research Centers. The latter, he noted, "represents a large expansion of activities in batteries and fuel cells that are already going on at Cornell."

He also pointed to Cornell's "hydropower plant, Lake Source Cooling and Combined Heat and Power Plant projects as living laboratories for Cornell research," and highlighted the CCSF's work to foster multidisciplinary sustainability research across energy, environment and economic development, within and beyond Cornell.

Also on the panel were Jeff Tester, the Croll Professor of Sustainable Energy Systems and CCSF associate director for energy programs, who said he recently relocated to Cornell from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology because of Cornell's "commitment of the entire institution to sustainability"; and Anurag Agrawal, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and CCSF associate director for environment programs, who noted that his "dreams are coming true with Cornell fostering growth in my own areas of expertise and helping bridge to partnerships in vast areas of sustainability."

In the hour-long question-and-answer session, the panelists addressed queries ranging from student engagement with sustainability and learning from indigenous cultures to geothermal energy, wind power, carbon offsets and controversies on biofuels.

The event was organized by Bob Day '56; Kim Jones '98, MBA '02, and president of the Cornell Club of Washington; and David Dieterich, CCSF partnerships director.

Mark Lawrence is the Web and communications manager for the Center for a Sustainable Future.

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Blaine Friedlander