Atkinson, EDF to fund Cornell-led sustainability projects

Through an on-going partnership between the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), four Cornell faculty members have received new grants for three regional sustainability projects with global implications.

Funded through Cornell Atkinson’s Innovation for Impact Fund, the individual projects will study: agricultural nitrogen runoff; the development of financial models to promote tropical forest conservation; and ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for consumer product supply chains.

“These are three topics of global importance,” said David Lodge, the Francis J. DiSalvo Director of Cornell Atkinson. “The projects may be local, but they are examples of urgent global issues to the Cornell faculty and EDF. We have teamed up with an organization that can help guide the research and leverage the results into more sustainable practices, products and policies.”

Robert Howarth, the David R. Atkinson Professor of Ecology and Environmental Biology, and Eileen McLellan, EDF’s lead senior scientist for agricultural sustainability, will be the principal investigators for the grant, “Hot Spots of Nitrogen Loss in River Basins.” EDF scientist Alison Eagle will serve as the co-PI.

While nitrogen is key to sustainable agricultural production, nitrogen losses can create environmental problems. When nitrogen washes into water, it can be transported downstream to estuaries and coastal seas, depleting oxygen levels in the water, spawning algal blooms and wreaking havoc on drinking water, fisheries and recreation. By mapping nitrogen hot spots in the upper Mississippi River basin and the Chesapeake Bay, the investigators will identify areas where agricultural management improvements can deliver the greatest environmental benefit.

John Tobin-de la Puente, professor of practice at the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management and at the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs; and Ruben Lubowski, EDF’s chief natural resource economist, aim to increase institutional investors’ contributions to tropical forest conservation and restoration.

While tropical forests offer environmental and economic value, private institutional investors can do more to protect them, according to Tobin and Lubowski. Their plan is to create financing models to motivate institutional investors to help fund tropical forest conservation and restoration.

The economists will organize a one-day workshop this fall, with nongovernmental organization partners, to develop new financial products in order to discourage tropical deforestation and forest degradation.

Principal investigators Kieran Donaghy, professor of city and regional planning; John Carruthers, associate professor of city and regional planning; Suzi Kerr, EDF’s chief economist; and Joseph Rudek, EDF’s lead senior scientist, will organize a series of workshops for stakeholders to find ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the consumer product supply chain.

Supply chains in the agricultural sector are complicated and responsible for high levels of greenhouse gas emissions. The research group’s aim will be to develop a user-friendly tool that manufacturers and retailers can use to examine the greenhouse gas emission profiles in these supply chains.

The workshops would focus on aiding companies that make, market and provide supplies for consumer products in the agricultural sector and to develop supply chain greenhouse gas reduction goals.

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Jeff Tyson