Content vs. Concern: Facing the challenges of research in sustainability


[Photo from Kivu Green Energy.]

Working towards sustainability, especially in an international development context, takes forethought, patience, and humility. It means taking time to understand the social, political, and economic context in which sustainability problems are framed, and working to understand the assets and concerns of the individuals and households that make up the community that work is being done in. Moving too quickly can result in sustainability programs and policies that are ineffective, create unintended side effects, or exacerbate problems that the community is already wrestling with.

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What can energy sovereignty learn from food sovereignty?

As a part of Arun Agrawal’s International Environmental Policy course this Winter, I took part in the first of several ‘debates’ in our classroom on topics that represent ongoing conversations in the development and environmental policy conversation. Our prompt was to argue, pro and con, the truth and validity of the following statement: “Technology is the solution to food insecurity.” As someone with a whopping single high-school debate tournament and a “Did Not Place” result under my belt, I felt more capable than ever.

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#WhatsNext? After #WeAreStillIn for Michigan

This post investigates the University of Michigan’s position in the generational challenge of climate change. We’ll do that through asking three questions: What responsibility do we have to act?, Will the University meets its #WeAreStillIn commitment? and Are We Acting to Support a World that Warms Less than 2 Degrees? I’ll pull in information from the University of Michigan’s Sustainability Office as well as the 2015 report from the University of Michigan Greenhouse Gas Reduction Committee.

The results are, well, a little daunting. If we don’t change something, the University of Michigan will not meet its 2025 commitment and we won’t contribute to an under-two-degree world. In short, we’ll renege on the #WeAreStillIn commitment we made in October. If you’re interested in the story or the gory details, dig in below.Read More »

Let’s go way back: ENERGY STAR’s Datatrends

So–let’s be honest here. A lot of this website is going to be a compendium of the projects I’ve worked on over the years. There’s a lot of work that I’m proud of, and I wanted to create a place where I could reflect on that work, post my own thoughts & research, and react to the world! But first–uploading the stuff I’ve worked on that I’m proud of over the years.

The first leadership opportunity I got at ICF International was on ENERGY STAR’s DataTrends series. It looks like this actually hasn’t been updated since 2014–when I was working at ICFI–but it’s a blast from the past to look back at these. Working as a consultant had serious benefits, including the ability to take on public-facing projects and learn things (regressions! Econometrics! SAS! Access!) on the fly, but it also moved at a blistering pace. The DataTrends documents are still online, although who knows how much longer they’ll be up. Some of the claims–especially those made in the Snapshot–which I didn’t work on–are a little dubious:

  • The document implies that using ENERGY STAR’s Portfolio Manager alone might save energy on buildings, but we’re not able to make a causal link. It’s more likely that energy savers are more likely to use Portfolio Manager!
  • The second page extrapolates that Portfolio Manager users might continue to save linearly, but that’s what we might call out of sample–there’s just no way we could know what’ll happen in the future!

Still–energy efficiency holds an incredible opportunity for saving money and emissions, and the urban poor stand to benefit the most. Portfolio Manager is a way to make those savings visible, and I’m proud to have started my career supporting it.

What… what is this place?

[The picture above is actually from a short film called ‘The Reward’ from a team of animators at the Animation Workshop in Denmark. If you haven’t seen it, check it out.]

So–why does the world need another website? What am I doing here?

In truth, part of it is self-promotional. I’m proud of the work that I’ve done over the last few years, and I want to be able to direct people’s attention to them. So–I hope you’ll like the work you see here! I’m proud of it.

I also think this type of project is just good practice for citizens and thinkers. Honing ideas and then communicating them to a general audience is incredibly important, and I’ll be able to do that here. I’m hoping to post quick takes, some quantitative research, and incomplete thoughts or works in progress. Mostly I guess I’ll be sharing new posts on Twitter or Facebook (and LinkedIn), so follow me there (buttons above!) if you’re interested.

Thanks, everyone. I’m excited about this!