Moving the Planet Forward

April 9, 2012

GW Moving the Planet Forward April 17, 2012

Government, academia, nonprofit and industry sustainability leaders will come together next week at the George Washington University to discuss the challenges facing the planet around climate change and energy and showcase successful innovative strategies.

The innovation summit, “GW Moving the Planet Forward: Turning Innovation into Action,” will be hosted on Tuesday by Frank Sesno, creator of Planet Forward and director of GW’s School of Media and Public Affairs.

During the half-day event, participants will make “Innovation Challenges” – individual commitments to improve the planet over the next year such as installing a rain barrel or making an office or home more energy efficient.

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray will be joined by Tommy Battle, mayor of Huntsville, Ala., and Mark Mallory, mayor of Cincinnati, Ohio, who will explain how American cities can serve as clean tech incubators. Industry leaders will discuss the future of green jobs, renewable energy, clean technology and data management. Speakers include Aneesh Chopra, former U.S. chief technology officer; Mark L. Vachon, vice president of GE ecomagination; retired Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, president of the American Council on Renewable Energy; and Deborah Wince Smith, president and chief executive officer of the Council on Competiveness.

“By hosting this extraordinary gathering of leaders, GW continues to demonstrate our leadership in the area of sustainability,” said Mr. Sesno. “Our Planet Forward project focuses on innovations that help to solve our planet’s greatest challenges, and our symposium will create a dialogue between campus leaders, participants, individuals and companies breaking new ground with sustainability practices and policies in the areas of private enterprise, urban management, federal government and academia.”

GW’s Planet Forward, a project of the Center for Innovative Media in SMPA, is an online social network where creative and innovative ideas addressing global challenges are featured, discussed and evaluated. Showcasing original video, blog entries and commentary, this social network invites participation and opinion from policymakers, students, advocates and practitioners. Contributors with the most promising and original ideas are featured on a national television show and selected as “Planet Forward Innovators,” earning them a shot at implementing their idea on an ambitious scale.

The symposium, which is sponsored by the GW Office of Sustainability, the Office of the Provost and Planet Forward, will also feature GW experts including George Washington President Steven Knapp; Doug Guthrie, dean of GW’s School of Business; and Melissa Keeley, assistant professor of geography, public policy and public administration and interim director of GW’s Environmental Studies Program, whose research focuses on urban sustainability and green infrastructure.

“GW’s vision for sustainability is to create resources systems that are healthy and thriving for all,” said Meghan Chapple-Brown, director of GW’s Office of Sustainability. "I'm seeing sustainable innovation sprouting up all over GW, and it will be highlighted at this exciting Innovation Summit..”

Last month, President Knapp, along with eight other D.C. university presidents, signed a pledge to reduce energy use and promote greener college campuses. The pledge, which is a partnership between the Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area and the District of Columbia to advance sustainability, is the first of its kind in the nation. As part of the pledge, GW committed to reducing its potable water use by 25 percent through plumbing enhancements and reducing its direct expenditures on bottled water by 50 percent by 2016. Other commitments include reducing solid waste by 30 percent through increased recycling, purchasing at least 15 percent of total food and beverages from sustainable sources and expanding its two urban vegetable gardens that provide fresh food to Miriam’s Kitchen, a nonprofit organization in Foggy Bottom that provides nutritious meals, case management and art therapy to the homeless.

In February, GW launched a new undergraduate sustainability minor, which was developed by faculty across the university. The 18-credit minor, which will not be housed in one particular school but rather overseen by the Office of the Provost, will offer courses in all of the university’s schools and colleges. All GW undergraduate students are eligible for the minor, regardless of what school they’re in or their major.

And GW continues to work toward its Climate Action Plan – unveiled in 2010 – that aims to reduce the university’s greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2025 and reach carbon neutrality by 2040.

“The university is committed to being a model of sustainability,” said Ms. Chapple-Brown.

The summit kicks of GW's celebration of Earth Week, which will conclude with a university-wide fair on Friday, April 20 on Kogan Plaza.