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The Appalachian Energy Summit, held in mid-July in Boone, North Carolina, had the 2017 theme, “Perspectives: Policy & Practice.” This theme highlighted the interdisciplinary approach necessary for the successful deployment of efficient and sustainable energy.

Three topics from the summit—education, community, and leadership—were discussed in detail, all of which relate to energy in unique ways. The summit’s main ideas of the topics were presented in relation to the deployment of energy-based technology, though they can be applied to almost any industry.

Earth-centric Education

Engaging children in the discussion surrounding energy is as important as policies or finance mechanisms in greening the grid. Erik Assadourian, Senior Fellow at the Worldwatch Institute, spoke on the concept of earth education: transforming cultures, especially at elementary levels, to promote sustainable living.

Coupled with rethinking how we educate, adapting schools to our physical and ever-changing environment is key to this initiative. This may come to fruition in the form of schools powered by renewable energy or adaptively engineered infrastructure (i.e. floating schools). Schools utilizing the natural environment for educational lessons, whether surrounded by water or land, can enable children to build a connection to the earth—teaching them to have a stake in its wellbeing.

Community and Environmental Empowerment

At the community level, framing environmental issues as public health issues is imperative for encouraging and empowering people to take action. Speakers Gina McCarthy, head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Obama administration, and Majora Carter, urban revitalization strategy consultant and real estate developer, stressed this idea. Revitalizing communities through strategic urban planning and development can help communities retain talent, reduce crime, and form environmental connections. Communicating with trusted and accurate information is key in encouraging communities to make small changes and promoting self-efficacy.

Along with community empowerment, policy can directly and positively affect a community in several of ways. While the technology exists, support is needed from constituents. When support is garnered, a community can be transformed by utilizing the proper communication tools, advanced technology, and progressive policy.

Effective Leadership

Leith Sharp, director for executive education for sustainability leadership at Harvard University, discussed just how critical documentation is. When leaders of an organization come together to speak on the implementation process of an idea, it is usually stated that a certain amount of steps were taken and, in turn, achieved. A relatively linear process is described.

But in reality, implementing an idea or project is met with many challenges and setbacks. Rethinking how we document the implementation stages of a project is vital; it should be realistic and accurate so the process can be learned from.

To promote diversity of ideas, strict hierarchies should be broken down. Mixing command-control and adaptive operating systems at optimal times allows for project deployment to be more successful. According to Sharp, this can alter the pattern of disengagement that plagues approximately 70 percent of U.S. workers.

The unique pathway an idea takes can vary depending on the shareholder environment. Therefore, understanding the exact situation is crucial. Goals, especially surrounding sustainability, are more successfully deployed and implemented when all employees have a shared purpose. Thus, it helps to know and resolve the risks before going to higher-ups.

This conference served as a great opportunity for both students and professionals. More information on the energy summit can be found here.


Andrea Kopaskie is a recent graduate of The University of North Carolina, where she earned a degree in Environmental Science with a concentration in energy and sustainability.