Great Minds Creating, Connecting and Innovating to Move the Planet Forward

A Breakfast with Change Agents is what I had last week. Great minds—students, faculty, deans, professors, policymakers and communicators came together at GW for a breakfast not only to eat food but to talk about food, climate, and the excitement around Planet Forward. 

Last year, Planet Forward –a multimedia storytelling collaboration – launched Feeding the Planet as a new way to engage young voices around food security.  This year, Planet Forward announced it will organize a program of events to bring energy to the conversation about climate change and food, and part of this a formal consortium of partner schools.

The university consortium will bring topical interest to multimedia capacity-building to advance common issues and creates a network of informed young people engaging with social media, traditional media, multimedia, and idea generation with real solutions and innovation. The goal of the project is to build a cadre of talented innovators who can express their ideas in compelling ways and advance digital awareness of these core sustainability issues. Schools will have the opportunity to advance work on issues such as food security, water, energy, and climate change through events, dialogue and study. Planet Forward will support their efforts by coordinating its network of media and sustainability professional all-stars to give campus constituents the digital media and content-creation tools they need to tell compelling stories of innovative solutions working to move the Planet Forward both on their campus and abroad. Then, using the Planet Forward web portal and partnerships with major media outlets, Planet Forward will help broadcast the schools’ stories to the global audience.  

Already Middlebury, Drake, University of the South (Sewanee), University of Arizona, and SUNY’S College for Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) have joined, and more are in discussion. The schools represent diverse regions of the U.S. from Vermont to Arizona, Tennessee, Iowa and New York.   Faculty at these schools study and teach a wide range of issues from farming to forestry, energy to climate, agriculture to environment. 

  • Middlebury is a liberal arts college that has demonstrated ambitious leadership in sustainability. Not only does its faculty include environmental leaders like Bill McKibben who, with six Middlebury students, started the international climate change awareness and activism group 350, but Middlebury is also hard at work to achieve its goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2016.
  • Located in Tennessee and surrounded by caves, coves and cliffs, waterfalls and wetlands, meadows, ponds, forests, streams and lakes, Sewanee: The University of the South, launched both a comprehensive, integrated sustainability master plan (SMP) for their campus and a Green Revolving Loan Fund that will start with $150,000 to fund sustainable innovations submitted by students, faculty and staff to help achieve their SMP goals.
  • The University of Arizona’s Green Course Guide offers over 300 different courses related to environmental studies and sustainability, and has faculty and students who are working with indigenous groups in Nevada to research how climate change is effecting the groups traditional economic livelihood of lake fishing and to develop water management strategies.  
  • Drake University is striving to be paperless university by 2015 and hosts campus-wide sustainability initiatives such as the “Cleanin Out the DogHouse” initiative that recycled over 27 tons of unwanted items from every building on campus.
  • A student-led team at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry just won the Department of Energy’s national Challenge Home Student Design competition for the creation of an energy efficient and industry-mplementable home design that even has the potential to be net-zero.

The consortium has already assembled a talented group and looks forward to adding additional talent in the coming weeks.

At the launch event, creator & host of Planet Forward, Frank Sesno, who is Director of the School of Media and Public Affairs, brought compelling speakers and moving presentations that highlight the major achievements of the project and the vision for its future.  A group of students reported about their work with Mary Njenga, a Kenyan scientist developing “biomass briquettes” to create cleaner, cheaper cooking fuel.

Another group of students reported on their work on nutrition and early childhood in Guatemala and how storytelling brought about change.

Kathleen Merrigan, Executive Director of Sustainability at GW and former US Deputy Agriculture Secretary, spoke about the power of Planet Forward.  She made a unique call to action around empowering women and their potential to help feed the planet. Lydia Bothan of Land O’Lakes Foundation explained why her foundation is supporting Planet Forward and the importance of bringing young people to the table to engage around food security.  And Dennis Dimick, Executive Editor of the Environment for National Geographic gave a powerful video presentation showing the New Food Revolution. Starting this month and continuing through the end of the year, National Geographic is focusing on food and the challenge of feeding the global population with moving photographs, stories and reporting on farming, water supply, climate, and agriculture.

We all left with energy and food for thought – ready and prepared to move the Planet Forward. 

How do you move the Planet Forward? Tweet us @planet_forward or contribute to the conversation with your own story.