Read the full article from Sustainable Business Oregon.
[3Bl]ooming Honcho is a series of conversations with the next wave of business leaders in Oregon. This emerging class has a keen focus on integrating sound business practices with sustainability. They keep an eye on the triple bottom line (a measurement of organizational performance based on human, natural and monetary capital, aka 3BL) while nurturing successful organizations in the new economy — and they’re poised to lead this vital shift in the way we do business. [3Bl]ooming Honcho conversations are led by SBO Associate Editor Mason Walker.
In this edition we're speaking with Fletcher Beaudoin about the role of universities in driving sustainability and how they interact with the business community. Fletcher holds a Masters in Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy from Columbia University and currently serves as the partnerships director for Portland State University's Institute for Sustainable Solutions. Fletcher is 27.
Mason Walker: The Institute for Sustainable Solutions at Portland State really kicked off in 2008 with the $25 million Miller Grant for sustainability. What were the origins of the grant?
Fletcher Beaudoin: The James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation sought to invest in an institution that could profoundly shape the region in the coming years. Asked independently of each other where the Miller Foundation support could make the greatest impact, PSU topped the list for all members of the foundation’s board of directors. After discussions with individuals across the university, the foundation recognized PSU’s commitment to sustainability, their history of effective community partnerships and faculty excellence in the broad array of disciplines related to sustainability. The institute was really established to advance PSU to be a driving force toward a more sustainable region.
MW: Where does ISS fit into the greater ecosystem at Portland State?
FB: PSU chose not to house sustainability studies within one department or program but rather to infuse it across all curricula. ISS serves as the hub for academic sustainability initiatives. We help develop and advance sustainability curricula and research across campus that builds on the university’s existing strong scholarship. This also includes building tight partnerships with the operations staff at PSU, partnerships that facilitate applied sustainability research and curriculum on campus.
We’re currently focused on health and equity, ecosystem services and urban sustainability. My role is to support PSU's extensive sustainability partnerships in ways that help increase the positive impact we have on the community.
MW: What happens when the grant well runs dry? Is there a plan for alternative funding?
FB: In this case "sustainability" takes on new meaning. We intend to build on the Miller gift to secure future support for sustainability efforts beyond the grant cycle. The foundation demonstrated incredible foresight in making this a matching gift, hoping to attract additional investment in our work.
This strategy has proven effective as we’ve succeeded in securing new sources of federal support, including a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation to train 25 interdisciplinary Ph.D. students to tackle problems related to ecosystem services for urbanizing regions. We plan to build on this by connecting with philanthropic foundations, corporations and individual donors.
MW: Does ISS have a model for forming public-private partnerships to collaborate with the business community?
FB: The institute’s partnership work builds directly on PSU’s history of community engagement and existing ties with the local business community. There are many doors to enter when approaching a university and PSU has made a concerted effort to centralize some of these relationships.
The office of Research and Strategic Partnerships serves as the central hub for managing major, university-wide partnerships like the one with Portland General Electric. The institute serves as a test bed for how more direct relationship management around sustainability goals can enhance the university’s ability to link student work and faculty research to the pressing questions and needs of the region’s private and public sectors. In the end this allows the university to link with our community and business partners to pursue long-term initiatives and programs that they could not accomplish alone.
MW: What role did you play in the development of the Climate Action Plan at PSU?
FB: I worked closely with the sustainability coordinator at the time, Noelle Studer, to manage the development of the plan and write certain sections. To write the plan we needed to draw on the expertise from a cross-university group of staff, faculty and students, ranging from building maintenance folks to curricular integration staff to transportation experts. It was necessary to gather information from these different individuals, host large meetings to discuss specific topics and delve into analysis for which there was no logical lead.
A major goal was also to involve students and faculty in the development of the plan — knowing that to accomplish these aggressive goals it would be necessary to tap into the energy and expertise of the academic side of the university, as well as the operations side.
MW: How do you measure success of the diverse initiatives you oversee?
FB: We want PSU to be seen as a national leader in sustainability research and education. Key factors for moving down that path include increasing the number of competitive research and curricular grants that we are winning, providing students with more pathways to enter the green economy and leveraging our connections to expand community-based learning and research that helps address the barriers to a more prosperous city and region. These are just a few of the areas that we track closely and look to expand with each coming year.
MW: Where do you see the greatest opportunity for millennials to engage with sustainability in the public sector?
FB: I think that millennials are more likely to be interested in sustainability as it relates to their daily lives. This generation has a fantastic ability to understand how new forms of media allow for creative and collaborative approaches to problem solving.
For example, I helped teach a capstone class this winter where a group of students took on the topic of behavioral change and energy usage on college campuses. Instead of developing a report or a paper on the subject, they decided to develop a short video presentation with a series of dynamic infographics about energy use in a campus building. This presentation provided compelling graphics and information about how energy impacts the average resident, as well as the costs of some of the daily choices students make. They showed the video in a residence hall during an energy conservation challenge as a mechanism to increase awareness and engagement around energy use.
The millennial generation has the capacity to supply tremendous creativity and engaging approaches to enhance our strategies for implementing sustainability initiatives.