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Panelists: Policy changes, partnerships and proactive action on all levels are vital in sustainability effort

Achieving a sustainable world will require increased awareness, policy changes and an inclusive approach, said Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp Oct. 28 on campus. And Cornell is ideally positioned to lead the current discussion and help shape the next generation of leaders.

Krupp spoke on the panel, "Creating Sustainable Futures for All: Challenges and Opportunities for the World," in Alice Statler Auditorium. Frank DiSalvo, director of the David R. Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future (ACSF) and the John A. Newman Professor of Physical Science, moderated the discussion.

The event preceded President David Skorton's announcement of a historic $80 million gift by David R. Atkinson '60 and his wife, Patricia Atkinson, to support sustainability research, education and collaboration through the ACSF.

"Great universities like Cornell need to speak up about global warming. There's an ethical dimension here," Krupp said. "There's also the opportunity for Cornell to be involved in a way unique in American universities -- to create the examples and the constituents that make policy."

Panelist Armando J. Olivera '72, president and CEO of Florida Power and Light Co. and a Cornell trustee, echoed the need for new legislation that supports sustainable practices in the corporate world.

"My vision is to have an electric sector that produces electricity in a sustainable way," Olivera said. "[That] means wind, it means solar; some of you may not agree, but it does mean nuclear ... It also means more natural gas." But without supporting policies, he said, renewable energy can't compete in the marketplace.

The right policies will create jobs and spur economic development, Olivera added.

Panelist Rich Delaney, senior vice president of international operations for PepsiCo, said that corporations must recognize their responsibility to the environment, both locally and globally. "We need to make sure that we minimize both our carbon and our water footprint wherever we operate," he said, by building more sustainable offices, factories and transportation networks; creating more recyclable or reusable products; and helping communities overcome their environmental challenges.

Economic development is also a critical piece of the puzzle, said panelist Sheryl WuDunn '81, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, business executive and a Cornell trustee.

"We need to look at a broader sustainable model that includes development," WuDunn said. Women play a key role in economic development around the world, she added, noting the importance of addressing gender inequities in promoting development. And environmentally sustainable practices can be incorporated into economic development, she said, but only with increased awareness.

Attention must also be paid to making agricultural practices more sustainable, Delaney noted.

Meeting such a wide range of challenges will require action on all levels, the panelists agreed, from individuals making changes to their daily lives to industry, academic institutions and NGOs that form partnerships; and finally to governments that enact necessary legislation.

Cornell, and specifically the ACSF, shows unique promise in addressing each of those areas, said Krupp.

"By busting down the silos in universities ... and bringing in companies and NGOs, you can create partnerships that create examples in the real world -- that make it easy for the president and the senators to do the right thing," he said.

"We have got to understand that this is a multiyear struggle," Krupp added, and it will require commitment and collaboration across the political spectrum. "We have to be listening to solutions that other people propose," he said.

DiSalvo concluded with a summary of the panelists' key points: the need for awareness, collaboration, persistence, knowledge generation, new policies, more sustainable agriculture and individual participation.

"That's a lot to think about," DiSalvo said. "This is a discussion that must continue ... in many venues, and probably for many decades, if we're really to get where we hope to go."

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Blaine Friedlander