Sustainability & Energy in Chicago

33 people from all corners of the US were invited to the 5th annual Summer Institute on Sustainability and Energy (SISE) in August at the University of Illinois in Chicago. I was fortunate enough to be part of this group that came together to engage in a sustainability and energy incubator and lecture series that addressed the smart grid, digital manufacturing and sustainability in Chicago. Each of the 5 groups had to devise a business plan that was innovative, profitable and solved an environmental and social sustainability issue in Chicago and beyond.

Contrary to initial suspicion about it being a dull series of classroom lectures, each session was engaging and eye opening. It was also very enriching to simply interact with current professionals – venture capitalists, policymakers, engineers, architects, economists, farmers, non-profits and many more.

It was through these interactions that I better understood why academic theory always seems to collide with real world practice.

Speaking with a brutally honest venture capitalist who mentored our project by shutting it down. Thank you Bob. Seriously, thank you.
Speaking with a brutally honest venture capitalist who mentored our project by shutting it down. Thank you Bob. Seriously, thank you.

For someone fresh out of grad school, this perspective was very practical because it showed me what current professionals actually value and how these sentiments affect their decisions. In general, sustainability activists stress the people, the planet and profit but almost everyone else in the corporate world is only thinking about the latter. Hence, the starting points of these conversations tend to be about the money.

The SISE program emphasized technology: BIG Data, Digital Manufacturing and the Internet of Things were concepts mentioned so frequently that it made Smart Cities of the Future seem synonymous with digitization and connectivity of everything. We visited UI Labs, Argonne National Laboratory and other facilities in which they are researching and developing a wide array of technologies that, essentially, are attempting to automate and simplify processes in the urban environment. I.e. Designing cities so that they take care of themselves.

The spirit of entrepreneurship and interdisciplinary collaboration was also prevalent throughout the entire SISE program. For instance, my group consisted of a Vietnamese architect, Indian engineer, African American financial analyst, American biologist and a Colombian sustainability specialist. I was very impressed by the diversity of educational & cultural backgrounds of the people in my group and the SISE participants as a whole.

Delivering our group's final elevator speech at the program's convocation! Lots of fun
Delivering our group’s final elevator speech at the program’s convocation! Lots of fun
Group 1 - Congratulations on 2nd place! The name of our proposed business is Sprout. It would start out by offering healthy and delicious food in compostable packaging to underserved neighborhoods in Chicago. We'd convert food waste into biofuel to help power our factory in hopes of closing the loop on business operations, providing nutritious food to kids, and offering more employment opportunities in a sustainable manner.
Group 1 – Congratulations on 2nd place! The name of our proposed business is Sprout. We offer healthy and delicious food in compostable packaging to underserved neighborhoods in Chicago. We’d convert food waste into biofuel to help power our factory in hopes of closing the loop on business operations, providing nutritious food to kids, and offering more employment opportunities in a sustainable manner.

The multitude of different viewpoints provided for a stimulating conversation throughout the 2 weeks. The tremendous amount of different perspectives opened my mind to new questions and solutions that I had not previously considered.

The nature of the SISE program, with its entrepreneurial and interdisciplinary disposition, required me to think and act outside of my comfort zone. Although it was initially overwhelming, SISE was a refreshingly challenging process that has motivated me to continue fighting the good fight to reverse anthropogenic harm and leave a better world for people in this generation and the next.

It is only together that we can successfully address the world’s biggest and most complex problems. If the green scene is your thing, I highly recommend getting involved in SISE, where divergent disciplines, cultures and mindsets come together to solve the most pressing issues of our times.

 

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2 thoughts on “Sustainability & Energy in Chicago

  1. Really nice post Victor,

    Is that ‘Thank you’ to Bob an ironic one?!

    It’s great to see you’re still working for the betterment of this world. I imagine that the bright light, shirt and tie, and technology are quite a contrast to the simplicity of sustainable living that you experienced at the Panya Project!

    Isn’t it a shame that many of the world can still only envisage a sustainable future with superfluous amounts of technology and lack of human input and change? And that a sustainable future constantly has to be viewed from the narrow perspective of the current status quo of profit and self-aggrandisement? It seems like that was one of your main gripes with this conference.

    I’d love to know your opinions on these issues!

    Max

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great hearing from you Max! I’m seriously grateful to Bob in spite of (and because of) his direct/harsh criticism. And you’re right, I’m definitely not at the Panya Project anymore! But I honestly LOVE the contrast – it keeps things interesting and challenges me to constantly adapt.

      Also, a part of me does indeed feel that digitization and advancing technologies is favored too often over simplicity and life experience. Today, we face complex problems that we are trying to solve with complex technologies that caused the complex problems to begin with!

      Like

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