The PSEG Institute for Sustainability Studies’ “Green Teams” took their message global this summer, advocating for communities and industries to adapt greener solutions – connecting to science at Princeton’s Plasma Physics Lab, joining sustainability initiatives at the United Nations, and digging in at the grassroots level in a city park.
At the Green Teams’ final presentations, Rick Thigpen, senior vice president at PSEG, praised the interns’ work to create sustainable, livable and resilient communities and industries.
“You recognize this as a global problem and a profound problem,” Thigpen told the students. “Preaching the gospel of sustainability is something to be proud of. It really is serious business.”
The Green Teams program is based at Montclair State, where the PSEG Institute for Sustainability Studies supports research and community projects, including climate change in New Jersey, and energy and water studies globally. It has been a key platform for launching students into internships, green jobs and graduate programs.
Community partners sponsor teams of undergraduates who provide research, analysis and marketing to shift corporate culture. This year, 40 undergraduates came from 18 different colleges and universities, bringing with them diverse interests and majors, from STEM to business and public health to anthropology.
“You have the opportunity to use these experiences to be the catalyst for change, the pusher, the leader because this [climate] crisis is real,” says Angela Ortiz, Energy and Sustainability policy manager at PSEG.
Justin Bates, a Montclair State senior Physics and Mathematics major, says the “culture of teamwork” was key to the projects’ success. “We could not have produced the work we presented without each other.” For example, a team with diverse talents in computer science, psychology, writing and environmental science managed to create voice technology to provide New Jersey Natural Gas customers with energy efficiency tips.
Encouraging the group at the kick-off event in early June, Timothy Carter, president of Second Nature, a nonprofit committed to accelerating climate action, told the interns: “We can make a difference if we have a vision.”
Much of the environmental work by the interns benefited the Garden State, but the experience embraced global sustainability partnerships and strategies, with the group attending a United Nations forum, sitting alongside diplomats, UN officials and education experts sharing experiences and strategies on achieving the sustainable development goals, known as SDGs. Those goals are a call for action by all countries, and address poverty, hunger, gender equity, clean water and sanitation, affordable and clean energy, climate action, and peace and justice.
“There is nothing more important to the young people in the University than the awakening of the imagination,” said Provost Willard Gingerich. “As academics, the challenge we face is awakening it around the challenges that the SDG agenda present to us.”
Gingerich spoke during the UN’s Higher Education Sustainability Initiative event, which explored the ways higher education institutions are engaged in meeting the sustainable development goals’ specific focus on quality education, decent work and economic growth, and partnerships. The University and the PSEG Institute for Sustainability Studies have supported this global initiative since 2016, with the Green Teams completing more than 100 projects focused on 13 of the 17 goals, according to Gingerich.
“There is nothing more important to the young people in the University than the awakening of the imagination. As academics, the challenge we face is awakening it around the challenges that the SDG agenda present to us.”
The paid internships are supported by the PSEG Foundation, academic and corporate partners and a grant from the National Science Foundation, and offered in partnership with New Jersey Higher Education Partnership for Sustainability.
In a separate project headed by a graduate assistant, the PSEG Institute for Sustainability Studies “has mapped every one of the more than 325 academic programs at Montclair State University, including master’s and PhD programs, against all 17 of the SDGs,” Gingerich says.
The University is now engaged in a campaign to ensure that the University faculty members who deliver the programs understand and highlight the impact of the curriculum on the SDGs that relate to their curricula. “We expect the initiative will promote engagement of the core values of all academic departments with those of the UN 2030 Global Agenda,” Gingerich says.
In meeting the needs throughout New Jersey, the Green Teams partnered for 10 weeks with New Jersey Natural Gas, Artificial Intelligence; New Jersey Natural Gas, Renewable Natural Resources; The City of Newark; Newark Science and Sustainability Inc.; Sussex County Municipal Utilities Authority; FoamCycle; PGIM; PSEG; and Montclair State University.
“We are grateful to all involved who helped make real-world educational opportunities available to our diverse group of talented students leading to positive real-world change,” says Amy Tuininga, the Institute’s director.