TEA Newsletter – 16th Edition – Summer 2014

Table of Contents

I. Welcome Letter from the Steering Committee
II. Tufts Institute of the Environment Update
III. Recent Events at TIE: TELI 2014, WSSS Symposium 2014, TIE BBQ
IV. Storytelling Initiative
V. ROGUE Initiative
VI. WSSS Travels to Aida Refugee Camp
VII. Student Innovation Feature: Entrepreneurship and the Environment
VIII. Upcoming TIE Events

Happy Summer from the Tufts Environmental Alumni!


This spring featured a number of on-campus events relevant to alumni in the environmental field. In March, TEA hosted its annual career night, a networking and educational event for current Tufts students. Panelists included Karin Chamberlain (F99), impact and community investment analyst at Clean Yield Asset Management; Andrea Bowman (EG06), environmental engineer at GEI Consultants; Kevin Welsh (A02), senior international advisor at the FAA Office of Environment and Energy; and Ann Gisinger (G10), director of business operations at the Environmental Business Council, and was moderated by Mark Taitz (A71). The panel offered students considering career paths in the environmental field a wide range of views and advice.

As always, the spring semester was a very active time for conferences on the Tufts campus, many of these featuring an environmental theme. In March, TIE co-sponsored the ninth annual Tufts Energy Conference, titled “Shifting Dynamics in Emerging Markets.” The conference included a keynote address by Rachel Kyte (GMAP02), World Bank Special Envoy for Climate Change, as well as a variety of panels focused on energy in emerging markets, from adoption and diffusion of appropriate technologies to natural resource-related conflicts.

In April, the Water: Systems, Science and Society  program held its annual symposium, with the 2014 theme “Water and Cities: Shaping the Flow of Our Urban Future.” The conference featured four panels addressing the complex array of interrelated issues linking global urbanization and water resources.

TEA is currently in the process of expanding steering committee leadership to new geographical areas beyond Boston – so please let us know if you are interested in joining us!

All the best,
The TEA Steering Committee
Lyn Lustig, Ann Gisinger, Jane Parkin-Kullmann, Alison Simcox, Zachary Crowley, Mark Taitz, Hannah Kahler, Claudia Schwartz

Back to top

Hello from TIE!

Wishing a happy summer to all our environmental alumni! Whatever season it may be in the part of the world you are in, we hope you get at least a little time for rest and relaxation!

This issue of the newsletter seeks to highlight an exciting new trend in environmental studies at Tufts: student entrepreneurship initiatives. TIE is lucky to have generated a number of student ideas for initiatives and pilot projects with an environmental focus, and is lucky to have been able to support students to put some of these ideas into practice.

Highlighted in this newsletter is a recent student-initiated project at TIE, the Storytelling Initiative. This project, developed by students from schools including UEP and Fletcher, uses the medium of storytelling to relate the experiences of dislocation of the Maya Achi people as a result of the construction of the Chixoy Dam in Guatemala, beginning in the 1970s. The project confronts many of the complex issues surrounding large-scale development projects in emerging markets.

TIE has always sought to foster horizontal cross-disciplinary environmental research across the university, and it is now encouraging vertical cross-disciplinary collaboration through the student-initiated ROGUE (Research Opportunities for Graduate and Undergraduate Exchange) program. ROGUE will match graduate students with undergraduate assistants to conduct environmental research, benefiting the graduate students while at the same time increasing undergraduates’ opportunities for practical research experience while on campus.

Entrepreneurship has become an increasingly important approach to addressing some of the world’s most pressing environmental challenges, both domestically and abroad. We sat down with Andrew Lala (F14) and Tommy Galloway (F14), recent winners of the inaugural Tufts Fletcher D-Prize, to learn more about their innovative solar distribution business.

We hope you find this newsletter interesting, and look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Back to top

Recent Events at TIE: TELI 2014, WSSS Symposium 2014, TIE BBQ


TELI 2014

In May 2014, TIE hosted the latest installment of one of its signature initiatives, the Tufts Environmental Literacy Institute (TELI). The workshop’s theme was “Health and the Environment: From Local to Global,” and over the course of the four days the connection between the local and global aspects of environmental issues became increasingly clear. A variety of thought-provoking presentations demonstrated the complex linkages between environmental and health issues. Professor William Moomaw set the stage for the week by offering an overview of climate change from a global perspective. Stephanie Seneff, Senior Research Scientist at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, presented the results of her research on the connection between the chemical glyphosate (found in many widely-used herbicides including Roundup Ready) and various medical conditions including autism. Janet Forrester, Associate Professor of Public Health and Community Medicine at the Tufts Medical School, presented on alternative approaches to solid waste disposal and implications for preventing infectious disease. She then led the group on a tour of an “Ecocyclet” facility in Massachusetts, a closed-loop, zero-discharge wastewater system which uses wastewater to grow valuable plants. On the final day, participants had the opportunity to engage in an intimate discussion with filmmaker Eric Grunebaum, producer of the film.

“The Last Mountain,” a feature-length documentary about the environmental and health consequences of coal mining, with a focus on the method known as “mountaintop removal.” The film centers around Coal River Mountain in West Virginia, and a community campaign to save the mountain. As always, TELI participants grappled with complex issues without easy solutions, which they will take back to their students at their respective academic institutions.

WSSS Symposium 2014

On April 11, 2014, the Water: Systems, Science, and Society (WSSS) program hosted its annual symposium. The conference’s 2014 theme, “Water and Cities: Shaping the Flow of Our Urban Future,” reflected the intimate linkages between water resource issues and the world’s dramatic recent urbanization trends. The conference featured four panels and a keynote address by David Warne, Assistant Commissioner of the Bureau of Water Supply of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection.

The symposium, which drew students, academics and professionals from the public, private and non-governmental sectors, stimulated a number of insightful multidisciplinary discussions. The conversation during the day’s final panel on regional systems planning ranged from lessons learned from Massachusetts water policy in the Ipswich River, to regional water planning in Amman, Jordan, the Niger River Basin, and the Brahmaputra River Basin. Dr. Patrick Ray, a researcher from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and former World Bank consultant, went into depth into some of the particular challenges of water planning in the Brahmaputra Basin, known as “Asia’s water tower.” Water planning in the Himalayan region is extremely difficult, data are scarce, and no multilateral agreements currently exist among the riparian states. Conversations such as these highlighted the value of interdisciplinary as well as international approaches to the water resource challenges that urban centers face.

Claudia Schwartz F14 

Annual TIE BBQ

TIE hosted its annual end-of-the-year barbeque in May, a great chance for students, staff and faculty to unwind together after a year of hard work!

Back to top

Storytelling Initiative

One of TIE’s most recently-launched projects, the Storytelling Initiative, presents a compelling and unique combination of environmental research and the medium of storytelling. 
“Chixoy: The Story of a Dam,” is inspired by the empirical research of a TIE fellow recipient, Noah Cohen-Cline, on the impact of hydroelectric dam construction on the Maya Achi language in rural Guatemala. Cohen-Cline wrote his master’s thesis at The Fletcher School on the impact of hydroelectric dams on indigenous language retention.

The story of the Chixoy Dam and the Maya Achi language touches on a variety of interconnected issues and aims to facilitate discourse around development, renewable energy and indigenous rights. It follows a fictitious character named Maria Eme Yix Ulak, created to depict the experience of dislocation of the indigenous (Mayan) peoples as a result of the construction of the dam on the Rio Negro/Chixoy river, posing the central question: “Will Maria keep her cultural identity in the Chixoy aftermath?” Through the eyes of the central character, the story follows indigenous life in the region before and after the construction of the dam, which began in 1976.

The subject matter touches on many deeply-felt issues and many questions that the international development community is struggling to answer to this day. The construction of large-scale hydroelectric dams has both positive and negative impacts for developing countries. Unfortunately, the negative impacts of dams tend to fall disproportionately on poor and marginalized communities, who are more likely to be living within flooding distance of rivers, on which they often rely for their livelihoods and way of life, and the advantages tend to disproportionately fall on urban dwellers or those at higher income levels. However, it is generally understood that access to modern forms of energy is an essential step to overcoming poverty for all in lower income countries. This project seeks to address just some of the complex network of issues related to this paradox.

The project chose the medium of storytelling in order to promote the academic research project in a more accessible way for wider audiences. The focus of the research on the cultural impacts of dams is unique, as the economic and environmental impacts of dams have been relatively deeply investigated while the cultural impacts have been comparatively overlooked. TIE hopes to continue this type of innovative research and dialogue process in the future.

Claudia Schwartz  F14

Back to top

ROGUE Iniative

In addition to promoting opportunities for collaboration across the university’s disciplines, TIE is also promoting opportunities for graduate/undergraduate collaboration, through the budding Research Opportunities for Graduate and Undergraduate Exchange (ROGUE) program.  

ROGUE has several objectives: to support the environmental research of graduate students by matching them with undergraduate research assistants; to enhance TIE’s presence on campus; and to foster a community of vertical interdisciplinary research. The program is intended for graduate students seeking assistance with their professional research or capstone project, and undergraduate students seeking professional development as research or field assistants.

The program, slated to begin its pilot phase next year, will start by reaching out to undergraduate students interested in environmental research. These students will fill out surveys regarding their skillsets and submit their resumes, and graduate students similarly will submit surveys regarding their research needs and abstracts regarding the nature of their projects. These submissions will be reviewed and matched, and if both parties approve, an initial meeting between the members of the research team will be facilitated. The research team will go on to submit a grant proposal to be eligible for stipend support. TIE itself will be involved only the facilitation process. The research partnership process will also include a final evaluation of the experience by both team members at the end of the project. Both graduate and undergraduate students are enthusiastic about the program’s potential for success.

Claudia Schwartz F14

Back to top

WSSS Travels to Aida Refugee Camp

Recently, Tufts students involved in the WSSS program traveled to the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, Palestine, to learn more about water quality issues there. 

The Water: Systems, Science, and Society (WSSS) program, housed at TIE, is one of the Institute’s signature interdisciplinary programs. It was established in 2004 as a graduate research and education program to provide interdisciplinary perspectives and tools to manage water-related problems around the world. Given this mission, it is no surprise that the program draws students from across the university, from The Fletcher School to the Department of Civil Engineering to the Urban and Environmental Planning School.

Graduate students participating in the WSSS program complete the program’s requirements in addition to the students’ other degree requirements, and receive a Certificate in Water: Systems, Science, and Society in addition to their graduate degree. WSSS coursework includes courses focused on four core educational areas, cross-cutting seminars, as well as an interdisciplinary research or a practicum/internship component.

One group of students enrolled in the practicum component traveled in March 2014 to Aida Refugee Camp, in Bethlehem, Palestine. Led by Professor John Durant, the students worked with a local community-based organization, the Lajee Center, to provide tools to improve water quality and provide community-wide education and training. The project focused on training students in the 14-16 range as potential future water technicians and advocates.

In the camp, which currently holds more than 4,700 people, water is scarce and of questionable quality. Supply is intermittent and unreliable; in the summer, camp inhabitants can never be sure when they will receive water, as it sometimes runs through the pipes as rarely as once every three to four weeks. Camp inhabitants typically store water outdoors in large plastic containers for long periods of time, increasing the risk of contamination. When the camp residents run out of water from their rooftop tanks, they must fill bottles from the central tap in the camp and carry it to their homes. The students involved in the WSSS practicum tested several water samples to examine water quality and met with a variety of local organizations to learn more about water distribution within the camp. On returning to campus, they compiled their observations and analysis into a report to be shared with the wider Tufts campus.

 Claudia Schwartz F14 
Back to top

Student Innovation Spotlight: Entrepreneurship and the Environment

Many of the world’s environmental and development challenges have already been solved. At least this is the argument increasingly promulgated by some of the leading thinkers in the entrepreneurship community, such as the founders of the D-Prize, an annual competition to develop innovative distribution strategies to fight poverty. Like many others, they argue that basic solutions to environmental and development challenges, like the solar lantern, have existed for two decades. The challenge is to successfully distribute these technologies to those who need them most. This is why entrepreneurship is such a key component to tackling today’s most pressing environmental and development issues.

Tufts understands the need for entrepreneurship. This commitment is evidenced through the university’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Program, housed in the Gordon Institute. The ELP is intended to combine academic knowledge with hands-on applied experience, and encompasses courses in entrepreneurial leadership studies as well as an annual $100K Business Plan Competition. The 2014 $100K competition showcased the true depth and breadth of entrepreneurialism within the Tufts community, with the social and classic entrepreneurship competitions featuring six teams each, drawn from across the Arts and Sciences, Fletcher, Engineering, and Dental Schools, as well as recent alumni. Many of the teams’ projects featured explicitly environment-related topics, including EvapTainers (profiled in the previous TEA newsletter); Clair de Lune, a solar distribution company discussed in further detail below; Rugged Communications, a solar-powered telecommunications service for remote areas; GearCommons, a peer-to-peer outdoor gear rentals service, and Spectrasilk, a biotechnology venture intended to eliminate the need for a cold chain.

In addition to the $100K competition, this year Tufts had the honor of becoming the host of one of the first partnerships between the international D-Prize competition and a university: the Fletcher D-prize, a unique social entrepreneurship competition combining Fletcher’s interdisciplinary, holistic approach with the D-Prize’s proven track record of finding and funding poverty fighting ventures. 2014 was the inaugural year for the competition at Fletcher, and the selected winning team features an environmental component. “Clair de Lune,” led by Andrew Lala and Tommy Galloway (both F’14), is an innovative distribution platform for solar lanterns, which utilizes already-existing bus infrastructure and cultural remittance practices in the West African country of Burkina Faso. The TEA Newsletter recently sat down with Andrew and Tommy to learn more about their work and inspiration.

Clair de Lune
According to Lala, the pair began by approaching the problem from a different perspective from the traditional “kerosene is bad – bad for the environment, bad for health” lens. In Lala’s words, it is clear that cheaper and more environmentally sound alternatives to kerosene already exist; “we have all these technologies already, but nobody’s using them.” The key question is, “why not?” As Lala explains, as inhabitants of developed countries, these technologies automatically “make sense to us” – but they don’t typically make sense to the customer at the bottom of the pyramid, to whom these products represent a major investment of effort and expense. The key is to examine the local cultural context and begin to ask questions, such as how cell phones have been able to expand so rapidly into rural areas.

Lala, who worked for two years in Burkina Faso in the US Peace Corps, observed that consumer goods such as cell phones typically make their way back to villages as in-kind remittances purchased by middle class families in urban areas, who typically support one to three rural households with as much as USD 10-20 per month. After discussing his observations with Galloway, who had noticed the same thing while working in rural Myanmar, the two realized that this phenomenon represented a possible solution to the distribution challenge of solar lanterns in rural areas: to essentially “piggyback” onto these existing remittance networks, as well as the private bus networks that already carry consumer goods from the cities into the rural areas.

The mission of the D-prize distribution challenge is to produce solutions that have a demonstrated ability to scale rapidly: to reach 30,000 people in two years. Galloway and Lala believe their idea has this potential to scale because of its relatively low marginal costs; they are essentially “outsourcing last mile connectivity.” Now that they have won the challenge, as well as the audience appreciation award at the Tufts $100K, their next step is to travel to Koudougou, Burkina Faso in June and July of 2014 to begin hiring staff.

According to Galloway and Lala, environmental concerns are not actually the issues at the forefront of their customers’ minds. Their customers see solar lanterns as an advantage over kerosene lanterns not because they are “green” or “clean,” but simply because they allow them to keep shops open later, or keep lights on for children to study later, at no additional cost. Any alternative option such as kerosene, charcoal, or open fires, requires marginal costs for any additional time utilized, whereas solar energy does not present this challenge. Yet as Galloway and Lala explain, this does not mean that environmental benefits do not matter to their customers; once they are able to incentivize uptake and adoption, they believe that customers may begin to see the environmental advantages later – “every step we take makes it easier for [our customers] to see the benefits.”

Claudia Schwartz F14

Back to top

Upcoming events at TIE and TEA:

Check out upcoming events at TIE here!
Back to top