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Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business Contributes to SDG Action and Awareness Week

Faculty, staff, and partners of the Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business participated in the week of events focused on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Stephanie Armistead, Brett Howell, and Daniel Uribe discuss cleantech during SDG Week.

The Georgia Tech sustainability community and its partners gathered from March 4-8 for Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Action and Awareness Week. The United Nations SDGs are 17 areas where progress is essential for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future. 
SDG Action and Awareness Week is an initiative of the University Global Coalition, led by President Ángel Cabrera. Its purpose is to increase awareness, showcase the work universities are doing to address the SDGs, and encourage action. 
Georgia Tech’s SDG Week was sponsored by the Office of Sustainability, in collaboration with the Brook Byers Institute for Sustainable Systems (BBISS), the Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business (Center), and other campus partners.  
The Center is pleased to share highlights from panels in which affiliated faculty, students, staff, and partners shared expertise, insights, and opportunities for engagement. 

Campus Puts Sustainability Plan in Motion 

SDG Week kicked off with the “Welcome and Sustainability Next Vision” session, led by Jennifer Chirico, associate vice president of sustainability, and Beril Toktay, Center faculty director. Chirico and Toktay co-chair Sustainability Next, which provides a blueprint to advance all dimensions of sustainability at Georgia Tech. Sustainability Next calls on the Georgia Tech community to be thought leaders, to catalyze innovation, and to lead by example in the practice and culture of sustainability. 
Chirico shared campus updates, including advances in energy efficiency, renewable energy, cleaner transportation, and healthier buildings, to name just a few. The Institute’s first Climate Action Plan – with the goal to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 – was completed (see section below for more information). Other projects included a greenhouse gas inventory, a carbon sequestration analysis, a zero-waste analysis, and the launch of the Living Campus Initiative, which makes campus sustainability data accessible to researchers. 
Toktay reported on educational and research initiatives such as the creation of the Center for Sustainable Communities Research and Education and the launch of the SUSTAIN-X program for student entrepreneurs. 

President Cabrera, John Lanier, Marilyn Brown, Michael Oxman, and Beril Toktay discuss how partnerships can advance the SDGs.
President Cabrera, John Lanier, Marilyn Brown, Michael Oxman, and Beril Toktay discuss how partnerships can advance the SDGs.

 Georgia Tech’s Climate Action Plan

Georgia Tech Climate Action Plan (CAP) contributors shared focus areas and strategies for reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. Panelists included Jim Stephens, interim vice president of infrastructure and sustainability; Greg Spiro, interim executive director of infrastructure; Michael Chang, deputy director of BBISS; Allison Bridges, Center program manager; and Jermaine Clonts, associate director of utilities. Jennifer Chirico moderated the panel. 
The CAP development started with stakeholder engagement across campus. Stephens said, “If you start with inclusion, you’ll have diversity of thought, which will help you create a better plan.” 
Clonts led the greenhouse gas inventory. Georgia Tech is, in fact, one of the largest power consumers in the state. Clonts’s team collected data building by building. They looked at Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions in order to determine where our emissions are coming from and how much we are emitting. 
Bridges reflected on the value of having a social sustainability lens. As climate change will have a disproportionate impact on vulnerable communities, a climate justice framework guides the CAP. 
The leadership team created a CAP that will pay for itself and is achievable. “Collaboration is the secret sauce to getting everything done,” Bridges said. “Don’t be afraid to stand up and get involved.” 

Partnerships Advancing the SDGs 

“Conversations With Cabrera – Higher Education and SDG17: Partnerships for the Goals'' featured a dialogue between President Cabrera and contributors to the book he and Drew Cutright co-edited, Higher Education and SDG17: Partnerships for the Goals. The panelists co-wrote a chapter focused on Drawdown Georgia and the Drawdown Georgia Business Compact (Compact), a Center initiative. Panelists included John Lanier, executive director of the Ray C. Anderson Foundation; Marilyn Brown, Regents’ and Brook Byers Professor of Sustainable Systems in the School of Public Policy; Michael Oxman, managing director of the Center; and Beril Toktay. 
Panelists described the evolution of the Drawdown Georgia initiative, funded by the Ray C. Anderson Foundation. The project resulted in a state-specific roadmap for achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The research team, which included experts from higher education institutions, nonprofits, and businesses, landed on 20 high-impact solutions that have co-benefits for public health, the economy, equity, and the environment. 
In 2021, the Center launched the Compact to activate solutions through business engagement. At present, the Compact has over 60 member companies representing the diversity of the state’s economy. Potential collective action projects relate to renewable-energy generation and afforestation for carbon capture, among others. 

Dean Anuj Mehrotra, Laurel Hurd, Beril Toktay, and Michael Oxman, following the Tech Talks Business event.
Dean Husbands Fealing, Blair Beasley, Carlos Pagoaga, John Lanier, and Suzanna Stribling talk about philanthropy’s role in achieving the SDGs. Photo credit: Valerie Bennett / Ray C. Anderson Foundation.

Philanthropic Impact 
“The Role of Philanthropy in Climate Action and Sustainable Development” included panelists John Lanier; Suzanna Stribling, executive director of the Glenn Family Foundation; Blair Beasley, managing director, environment, at the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation; and Carlos Pagoaga, group director, partnerships, at the Coca-Cola Foundation. Kaye Husbands Fealing, dean of the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts, served as moderator.  
The conversation centered on how great things happen when philanthropy is channeled toward climate change. According to some of Georgia’s most visible foundations and philanthropists, carbon reduction’s positive impact on the environment also has the benefit of making communities better. 
Panelists shared projects that are improving lives: for instance, building parks that help manage stormwater and protect neighborhoods from flooding and funding research that contributes to the development of Georgia’s Climate Action Plan. An investment in the environment, panelists illustrated, is an investment in people and the places where they live, work, and play. 

Innovating for Sustainability 
The “Innovation, R&D, and Sustainability” panel shared bright spots related to innovation and running a sustainable business. Panelists included Michael Chanin, CEO of Cherry Street Energy; Larissa Fenn, director of new products R&D at Rayonier Advanced Materials; and Josh Raglin, chief sustainability officer at Norfolk Southern Corporation. Chaouki Abdallah, executive vice president for research, moderated. 
From railcars with predictive sensors that monitor cargo temperature and moisture levels to automating CAD and video footage to design safer systems faster – there is no shortage of ways to use technology to accelerate climate action and build more sustainable businesses. In many cases, this work all comes down to finding and engaging the right partners. The Drawdown Georgia Business Compact, of which all panelists are members, has proven to be valuable when building connections.

Dean Anuj Mehrotra, Laurel Hurd, Beril Toktay, and Michael Oxman, following the Tech Talks Business event.
Dean Anuj Mehrotra, Laurel Hurd, Beril Toktay, and Michael Oxman, following the Tech Talks Business event.  Photo credit: Valerie Bennett / Ray C. Anderson Foundation.

Tech Talks (Sustainable) Business 

The Scheller College of Business hosted a “Tech Talks Business” event featuring Dean Anuj Mehrotra in conversation with Laurel Hurd, president and CEO of Interface, the global flooring company founded by Ray C. Anderson, IE ’56, Honorary Ph.D. ’11. Interface, which Hurd called “an incredible company,” went through a massive business model shift when Anderson realized that his company’s practices were not doing right by the planet. He wanted the company to be profitable and to do good. “What he pushed for is still at the heart of what we do,” Hurd said. 
Circularity, she remarked, is key to sustainability in the carpet industry. Interface reclaims its products and recycles them as new carpet tiles. 
Hurd reflected on Anderson’s belief that we can’t save the planet on our own. “We can be a beacon for others – to show others it can be done,” she said. Interface has set the sustainability bar high. Its mission is steadfast: to be restorative by 2040. That is, Interface wants not only to do no harm but also to give back more than it takes. 
Insights on Clean Tech
The Net Impact – MBA Chapter, which is supported by the Center, hosted a panel on cleantech featuring panelists Stephanie Armistead, sustainability lead at Chick-fil-A; Brett Howell, executive director and founder of the Howell Conservation Fund; and Daniel Uribe, director of data analytics at Cherry Street Energy (a Compact member). Cadence Martin, president of the Net Impact chapter, moderated. 
The industry leaders discussed how cleantech is driving forward their work in sustainable business. As technology is leveraged to make businesses more environmentally sustainable, there is a large need for innovation and problem-solving. 
At Cherry Street Energy, Uribe’s role is focused on determining when solar or battery power is worth the value. He emphasized the importance of integrating renewable energy into what people need (e.g., reliability). He highlighted the value of collaborating with the utility company that cares about improving the resilience of the grid. 
Armistead shared a Chick-fil-A cleantech example of piloting a solar panel microgrid. Stakeholder engagement across the company was key – even though she was ready to “jump in.” Taking the time to build foundational relationships, she said, “demonstrated a level of respect for other areas of the business.” 
Howell described his work at the nonprofit he founded, Howell Conservation Fund. The organization accelerates environmental initiatives around the world by working at the intersection of business, nonprofit, and philanthropy to drive breakthrough conservation solutions. He reflected on his work, as well as that of the other panelists: “Collaboration is the theme of what we’re talking about tonight,” said Howell. 
In terms of the business case for sustainability, Armistead said, “Nothing drives innovation like sustainability – because we’re always looking for efficiency.” 
Written by Jennifer Holley Lux and Delitha Morrow Coles 

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