Category Archives: Service

Retreat to Bald Head Island

BHI conservancy logoIn mid-August, I headed down to the southeast coast of North Carolina to join a two-day retreat of Davidson’s Environmental Studies Department.  We decided to get off campus and meet up at the Bald Head Island Barrier Island Study Center, which is near Wilmington, NC and a beautiful place to have a retreat.  It was a great opportunity to hang out with my ENV colleagues more, and also get some work done on some pressing departmental business.

Our first class of majors is graduating this year, for example, and are beginning their set of capstone courses this fall.  So we spent a good amount of time talking through the plans for these courses and the students’ associated capstone projects.  As a new department and new major, there are a number of these types of issues that it was really helpful to have a chunk of time to focus on.  We also had a little bit of time to walk on the pristine beach and get a tour of the research facilities that the Bald Head Island Conservancy manages.  There are a lot of possible research possibilities for students there, both in the natural and social sciences, and we look forward to exploring them more in the future.

image of Bald Head Island

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Talk on the Politics of Sustainability for CTI

The Charlotte Teachers Initiative (CTI) is an initiative focused on strengthening teaching in the Charlotte area.  It hosts a wide range of seminars for teachers led by college professors in the region as well as special events on particular topics for both teachers and the public.  I was invited to speak at one of these events in October on “Exploding Canons: Sustainability in Charlotte and Beyond.”  It was preceded by a reception and information expo with tables from dozens of sustainability and education related organizations from the area, and moderated by Rob Phocus, energy and sustainability manager for the City of Charlotte.

I was one of several speakers from Davidson College, UNC Charlotte, Wake Forest University, and two Mecklenburg public schools, and started off the event with a presentation on the “Politics of Sustainability.”  I talked about the transition from “government to governance” in the context of environmental issues, and the idea of multi-scale polycentric governance that Eleanor Ostrom and others have described as the current reality of sustainability politics.  I used two case studies from my own professional experiences to explore the challenges of sustainability issues – one from my work in China with the Nature Conservancy and one from my work as a Co-Founder of GoodGuide.

governance graphicThe audience had some great follow-up questions and comments, and overall I thought the event went really well.  I particularly enjoyed meeting some of the teachers and faculty members who have participated in CTI, and learning about all of the organizations that are working on sustainability-related projects in the Charlotte region.

Faculty Series Presentation on “Policy and the Environment”

In September, I gave a presentation as part of Davidson College’s ongoing faculty series on “Policy and…”  Every month over the course of the semester, several faculty and staff members presented on different aspects of policy from the vantage point of their own research and professional work.  My topic was Policy and the Environment, and as the first speaker in the series, I first discussed what we mean by “policy,” tracing the words origins back to no less a source than Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

definition of governanceI then explored its use in the environmental context, and how environmental policy has evolved over the last several decades.  I concluded with a discussion of information-based governance and policy, such as the use of eco-labels and ratings to encourage pro-environment behavior, which has boomed in recent years and is the focus of my  research.

My presentation helped frame the next two presentations, which were focused more on local issues of environmental policy and the preservation of natural forests and habitat from destruction and development.  These faculty panels are great opportunities not only for students to learn more about what their professors are working on, but also for faculty to learn more about each other’s work.  I had some nice conversations with several of my colleagues after this and other similar events about various connections between our areas of interests and expertise.  This is one of the benefits of being at a liberal arts college – there is a real opportunity and possibility of engaging in substantive discussions and even collaborations with faculty from very diverse backgrounds who you would not likely ever even meet at a large university.

Environmental Politics and Presidential Elections

The day after the 2012 election, I had tDavidson Learns Logohe pleasure of leading a class of Davidson Learns, a new lifelong learning initiative serving the Lake Norman area, on environmental issues in Presidential elections.  The talk was entitled “Does the Earth Matter, and in it I took the audience on a whirlwind tour of presidential debates, which was fun because unlike my Davidson undergraduate students, most in the audience remembered these events very clearly.  We watched clips from debates between Bush, Clinton, and Perot, Clinton and Dole, Bush and Gore, and Bush and Kerry, and Obama and McCain, and looked at word clouds from these debates of terms relating to the environment.  We also discussed data and analyses of public opinion related to the environment and presidential candidates.

My thesis was that while environmental issues have never been the most important issue in a presidential campaign, 1) they have influenced some voter preferences and 2) they have been key components of campaign strategy in all of the presidential elections.  This is primarily due to their latent importance to the American electorate.  We had a lively and interesting discussion of these ideas – it was great to connect and talk about American politics and the environment with members of the broader Davidson community, and look forward to doing it again in the future.

Davidson Energy and Sustainability Panel

Photo of panelistsBack when the Democratic National Convention was in Charlotte a couple of weeks ago, Davidson College organized a panel event on energy and sustainability on campus as a non-partisan complement to the events going on downtown.  Moderated by the Sustainability Editor from Bloomberg News, the panel included the Mayor of Charlotte, Anthony Foxx, the CEO of Siemens USA, and the Director of Duke Energy’s Smart Energy Now program.

I was also asked to serve on the panel to represent Davidson and to talk about environmental policy and environmental entrepreneurship.  I was quite honored to be asked to participate in the event, and looked forward to having a stimulating conversation with the other panelists.  I thought it went pretty well — turnout was very good, and people I talked with afterwards – staff, faculty, students, community members — seemed to find it engaging and interesting.  If you are interested, you can see for yourself — below are links to a write-up about the panel in the local online newspaper (written by the Chair of my Political Science Department, Shelley Rigger) and to a full video recording of the event.

You can watch the whole thing if you’d like (it is about an hour long and covers a great range of topics), or you can skip to the good parts; that is, of course, when I am talking 🙂 (9:54, 21:25, 31:38, 1:01:00, and 1:06:13).

Here are the links…

– Daybook Davidson | VIDEO: Energy Panel Electrifies Davidson Crowd in Duke Family Performance Hall

– Energy panelists face tough questions from college audience |

Responsible Consumption Working Group

researching products in the storeThis spring I worked with several students and staff in creating a “Responsible Consumption Working Group” on campus.  The idea of it was born out of a talk I gave last fall for an event students organized on “responsible consumption,” and there was enough interest in the concept that we decided to create this group to actually work on testing out and implementing the idea in our lives.

Our organizing question has been whether or not we can come up with innovative new strategies to make buying more environmentally and socially responsible products easier and more fun.  Some of the ideas we have been testing out have included picking out our own issues we want to research but then meeting monthly to compare notes, sharing our results with each other online, and deciding to research and make a decision on what to do about product category within a specified amount of time.  So far we’ve made some great progress, and our group was recently featured in the Davidson Journal, Davidson College’s alumni magazine (  We plan to continue our work this fall — stay tuned and get in touch if you are interested in joining us!

SRG Bolder Innovation Executive Forum

photo of panelistsI recently served on a panel on sustainability at the Sterling Rice Group (SRG)’s second annual forum on innovation in Boulder, CO.  I shared some of my research on consumer preferences for different forms of eco-labels, and also talked briefly about GoodGuide.  I was joined on the panel by Ivan Barkhorn, Managing Director of Redstone Strategy Group and Catherine Greener, Co-Founder and Principal of Cleargreen Advisors, who shared some of their perspectives and experiences related to corporate sustainability.

I participated in the rest of the event as well, and very much enjoyed the other speaker’s perspectives on innovation, which came from a wide range of both business and academic backgrounds.  The talk about Galileo and innovation by an astronomy professor was particularly memorable.  SRG is also doing a lot of interesting work itself on understanding the factors that drive consumer demand and society’s evolution, and did a great job of organizing the forum — it was implemented very professionally and creatively.

To learn more about the Forum, visit

Panelist at Career Event for Cal Undergrads

I recently participated in a panel put together by Cal undergraduates associated with the Berkeley Energy and Resources Collaborative (BERC).  They had asked me to talk about my career path, and were interested in any advice I might have regarding their own futures in the environmental field.  I was joined on the panel by two other graduate students from the Energy Resources Group and Boalt Law School, and we had a good discussion with the students who were there — mostly juniors and juniors from a wide range of majors but all of who shared a strong interest in the environment.

Questions ranged from what courses to take to the best ways to find relevant jobs and get into strong graduate programs, and we each provided answers based on our own personal experiences.  I tried to encourage students to take as broad a range of courses they can, from intro anthropology to intro economics, while still focusing on an area that they are really interested in.  While specialization is important and valuable, for undergrads there really is no substitute for a broad-based liberal arts education.

ESPM Graduate Student Survey Report

Yesterday I sent out the final version of the ESPM Graduate Student Survey Report to our student listserve, which I had been working on off and on over the last week with several of my classmates. Last spring, I coordinated the design and release of this survey of all ESPM graduate students as an effort to identify the key priorities and issues of students within the department. The survey includes both quantitative and qualitative questions assessing the quality and importance of 12 key areas relating to graduate student life, from advisor relationships to the financial support.  It includes sections summarizing the data and comments for each of the department’s three divisions, and an Executive Summary that I authored explaining the survey’s purpose, methods, and results. We haven’t yet decided whether we will release the report publicly, but if we do, I’ll try to post a link to it here.