Julian Dautremont-Smith, higher-education sustainability advocate, answers questions
What work do you do?
I’m the associate director of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. AASHE has a staff of two, so I have a hand in almost everything the organization does.
How does it relate to the environment?
AASHE is a membership-based association of colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada that are working toward sustainability. Our mission is to promote sustainability in all sectors of higher education — from governance and operations to curriculum and outreach. We serve as a central clearinghouse for information about campus sustainability, and we also provide professional development and networking opportunities for campus sustainability practitioners.
What are you working on at the moment?
One exciting initiative I’m involved with is the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment. The goal is for more than 200 college and university presidents to jointly commit their institutions to becoming climate neutral. It’s modeled after the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement led by Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and complements the student-led Campus Climate Challenge. President Bernie Machen of the University of Florida has already publicly committed to be one of the first signatories, and another 10 presidents have expressed support. We’re still finalizing aspects of the ACUPCC based on feedback from presidents, so very little information is publicly available about the initiative. Watch for a major launch in early 2007.
Another major initiative I’m working on is the development of a rating system for campus sustainability. Modeled after the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system, this initiative aims to define “campus sustainability” and establish a common standard for measuring it. The rating system will recognize sustainability leaders and stimulate friendly competition among campuses. We intend for the rating system to incorporate both environmental stewardship and social responsibility in campus operations as well as in governance, curriculum, research, campus culture, and community engagement.
How do you get to work?
I work from home, and my desk is about a foot away from my bed. It’s a short commute.
What long and winding road led you to your current position?
As an undergraduate, I spearheaded an initiative that resulted in Lewis & Clark College becoming the first campus in the U.S. to meet the greenhouse-gas emissions reductions called for in the Kyoto Protocol. After graduating in 2003, I spent a year in Barbados on a Fulbright Scholarship studying sustainable development for small island states. I was hired by AASHE soon after returning to the U.S.
Where were you born? Where do you live now?
I was born in Elizabeth, N.J., and now live in Portland, Ore.
What’s been the best moment in your professional life to date?
The success of AASHE’s inaugural conference last month at Arizona State University was enormously gratifying. With over 650 participants, it was the largest campus sustainability gathering to date in the United States or Canada. It was a terrific culmination to our first year in operation — a year that has seen our membership quintuple.
What environmental offense has infuriated you the most?
I’m tremendously frustrated with the way the Bush administration downplays the scientific consensus on climate change.
Who is your environmental hero?
Student activists who make time in their busy schedules to work for a better world are my heroes. Students have been major drivers of change both on and off campus.
What’s your environmental vice?
I fly. While AASHE offsets its emissions, it would be better to avoid creating them in the first place.
How do you spend your free time (if you have any)?
I enjoy reading the news, watching movies, hiking, and playing sports.
Read any good books lately?
All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror, by Stephen Kinzer, is a fascinating and engaging read that describes the U.S.-assisted overthrow of Iranian leader Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953 and shows how this historical event has affected recent U.S.-Iran relations.
What’s your favorite meal?
Pad Kee Mao, a spicy Thai noodle dish with basil.
Which stereotype about environmentalists most fits you?
I generally walk or use public transportation to get around. (I don’t own a car.)
What’s your favorite place or ecosystem?
Coral reefs — for their ecological importance and incredible beauty. Unfortunately, reefs are severely threatened by global warming and other human impacts. And it would blow my whole carbon budget if I were to fly to visit almost any of them.
If you could institute by fiat one environmental reform, what would it be?
Two of the most pressing challenges facing the world today are ending poverty and stopping global warming. To help achieve both of these goals, I’d place a small tax on all foreign-exchange transactions (known as a Tobin tax) and use the revenue to fund the spread of sustainable energy in the developing world. Such a tax would limit the destructive impact of speculative capital flows while raising $100 billion to $400 billion to invest in clean energy.
Who was your favorite musical artist when you were 18? How about now?
When I was 18, I was really into Rage Against the Machine and punk music. Sun Kil Moon, Antibalas, Streetlight Manifesto, Sigur Ros, Ozomatli, Rainer Maria, My Morning Jacket, and The Mountain Goats are in frequent rotation these days.
What’s your favorite TV show?
An Inconvenient Truth has raised the profile of global warming and convinced people of the need to take action.
Which actor would play you in the story of your life?
Well, we don’t look alike, but if it were up to me, I’d have Matt Damon take the part.
If you could have every InterActivist reader do one thing, what would it be?
I’d encourage readers to calculate — and then offset — their annual greenhouse-gas emissions. It’s surprisingly cheap.