Earth Week Address

I greatly appreciate the efforts of the Earthworks club and all the students who organized this year’s Earth Week events, following on the success of the past two years’ programs — which generated a lot of interest and productive debate. 

Since then, interest in the issue of sustainability has certainly continued to grow. I would say that it is certainly one of THE topics across companies, campuses and board rooms. For example, I recently served on the keynote panel at the annual SME convention with the theme of “Stewardship and Sustainability: Getting It Done in the 21st Century” that attracted hundreds of mining industry attendees from all over the world.
 
As I said at that conference, to achieve sustainability in our resource development industries, we know that projects will increasingly require consideration of the impacts on local communities and the environment — which means using the best available technologies to minimize a project’s impact on the earth’s resources and the surrounding environment. In the short term, this will undoubtedly mean a stronger focus on conservation — building energy efficiency into a project design and perhaps incorporating current renewable technologies.
 
In the longer-term, it may mean developing projects that exclusively use renewables — with little or no carbon impact. It also means designing projects that minimize waste as much as possible, or figuring out how to re-use the waste. 
 
Of course, sustainability goes way beyond energy — it’s about sufficient water resources, food crops, and disease control — all the elements important to helping humankind thrive. It’s certainly a global challenge — and one that faces many cultural and societal barriers around the globe.
 
This means today’s engineers and managers must incorporate a very multi-disciplinary approach — one that looks at both the “hard” technical aspects of a project and incorporates the “soft” aspects of culture, public policy, and community relations. If you will, a collision of engineering with socioeconomics.
 
Colorado School of Mines has many roles to play in helping address sustainability issues.
 
First, as part of our educational mission, we must give our students the best tools to deal with environmental issues in a responsible and professional way:
by integrating sustainability principles into as many  courses as practicable by ensuring that the curriculum for engineering students is broadly multidisciplinary, including the life sciences, liberal arts, economics and business classes. And by promoting the idea that in their design courses students are exposed to a “hands-on” project that includes considerations of the environment, public policy, local communities and economics. 
 
Second, through our research mission, we must advance the applicable science and help develop new technologies.
 
We certainly should be looking for transformational solutions through cutting-edge research. But I would point out that while we are looking for the transformational solutions in the renewables arena, we should not lose sight of the large scale impacts that incremental improvements to existing operations and technologies can have to improve energy efficiency and conservation, address water waste, and more. 
 
Third, I believe engineering colleges and universities must also become more engaged in the public policy debate surrounding sustainability issues. We must ensure that decisions are based on peer-reviewed scientific analysis and not popular “junk science”.
 
Fourth, we must look at sustainability issues on our own campus. I know that the Sustainability Committee is working hard to develop a plan to evaluate alternatives for future improvements. And I am excited to see the concrete progress we are already making in areas such as recycling, fleet fuel reductions, water conservation and automated building controls.
 
I believe that sustainability — like higher education — is a bridge from the present to the future. It is our responsibility as scientists, engineers and educators to address the grand challenges implied by our civilization’s quest for a sustainable, comfortable and material standard of living. To not do so misses a critical, and arguably irrecoverable, opportunity.  
 
I am very pleased to see our students taking such an active interest in this issue and congratulate you on your efforts in organizing and participating in this informative program of Earth Week activities.
 

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Last Updated: 04/25/2017 08:37:31