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‘Green Teams’ Practice What They Preach

Interns with PSEG Institute for Sustainability Studies change culture, address climate change

Posted in: Science and Technology, University

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“Green Teams” sponsored by the PSEG Institute for Sustainability Studies branched out this summer, advocating for communities to adapt greener lifestyles and for industries to innovate greener ways of doing business. They connected to science at Princeton’s Plasma Physics Lab and took their message global, joining sustainability initiatives at the United Nations, and dug in at the grassroots level in a city park.

With the group ending its summer program to reduce the state’s ecological footprints on August 7, Rick Thigpen, senior vice president, PSEG, praised their work to create sustainable, livable and resilient communities and industry.

“You recognize this as a global problem and a profound problem,” Thigpen said. “Preaching the gospel of sustainability is something I want you all to be proud of. It really is serious business.”

Rick Thigpen, senior vice president, PSEG
Rick Thigpen, senior vice president, PSEG

The “Green Teams” program is based at Montclair State University, 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 participating students into internships, green jobs and graduate study.

Community partners sponsor teams of college undergraduates who provide research, analysis and marketing to shift corporate culture. Forty undergraduates came from 18 different colleges, 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,” said Angela Ortiz, Energy and Sustainability policy manager at PSEG.

Justin Bates, a senior Physics and Mathematics major at Montclair State, said 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, was able 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, said, “We can make a difference if we have a vision.”

Global Impact

Much of the environmental work 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, a call for action by all countries, 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 Montclair State University Provost Willard Gingerich. “As academics, the challenge we face is awakening it around the challenges that the SDG agenda present to us.”

Gingerich was speaking during the UN’s Higher Education Sustainability Initiative (HESI) event, which explored the ways higher education institutions are engaged in meeting the SDGs specific focus on quality education, decent work and economic growth, and partnerships. Montclair State 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, Gingerich said.

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 said.

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 said.

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,” said Amy Tuininga, the Institute’s director.