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MSU selects next director of sustainability to lead its efforts toward climate neutrality by 2050

Russ White, Chip Amoe
Russ White, Chip Amoe

Chip Amoe is Michigan State University's new director of sustainability, and he's leading the Office of Sustainability at MSU.

What attracted you to MSU?

“We’re the oldest land-grant university in the country, and so we've got a great history. You've got great proximity here to our state leaders, and we're doing all the things that are important for sustainability in the future. I truly believe that climate change is the biggest threat that we all face across the entire globe, and that it is the existential threat that we all must address. But here at MSU, we're working on a lot of the things that have an impact, not just on climate change, but sustainability broadly. Everything from packaging to supply chain to agriculture, all these things are critical to addressing sustainability and improving the health of our people and our planet.”

How did you originally get interested in this area and why you're passionate about it?

“I've always been passionate about the planet. I grew up in Michigan. My formative years were in Alpena, and I've lived in Grosse Pointe and Ann Arbor and spent time in Traverse City. I'm really all in on Michigan and its natural resources. It's always been a passion. I started recycling before it was cool and was pushing my parents to do it. I'm the guy who digs the recycling out of the trash in my own home and pulls it out.

Scott Wasserman

“I've always believed that our built environment has a big impact on our health and that as we're redesigning and redeveloping cities, and I had a particular passion about doing that in Detroit, that we needed to do that with an eye towards health if we're going to redesign and redevelop cities. That's what got me into it. I’m an advocate for a more sustainable and healthier environment.”

What’s the mission of the Office of Sustainability? How is it evolving, what is your role, and where do you want to see things go?

“Early on I’m listening and learning. How do we help continue to support the state in its efforts? How do we support businesses and other industries in their efforts? And how do we lead by example? That's really where we're going to be focused early on is how do we lead by example and be a living lab for products, new ideas, and new ways of doing things. And then we want to really be a resource to the state and its industry, giving them practical ways to do things and helping them to implement sustainability because it's going to take more than just us doing it. It's going to take the entire state, the entire nation, and the entire world, frankly, to be able to do this. And if we could provide ways to make it easier for people to make the healthy, more sustainable choice, that's what I want to do to help really expand this because we need to move fast on it. It needs to happen now.”

What are some of your short- and long-term goals?

“Short term right now is really to just get an understanding of all the great work that we're doing on campus. We have our own MRF, which is a material recovery facility for recycling, and our surplus store, which is amazing. Those are some really great things. How do we expand on those? How do we continue to do more with those? Those are some great resources. And then long-term looking at opportunities to partner with other companies to implement new technologies here on campus to leverage the research that we're doing at our campus and really to try to put those in place. Really trying to look at it holistically. And not only that, to really embed sustainability into the culture, to literally lean into that ‘Go Green’ and really make it part of our culture so that it's just who we are as a university.”

Scott Wasserman

As you pursue some of these goals, what are some challenges and opportunities?

“With any large organization, the challenge is always breaking down the silos. I don't care what organization you are, there are going to be silos. And there are going to be opportunities for collaboration. The opportunities are tremendous given our history, where we're located, all our work around agriculture, the land that we have around us, and our communities and satellite campuses in Detroit and Grand Rapids and Flint. And we’ll leverage our Extension programs to really spread that. It's a matter of coordinating and then setting a vision and helping to get us there.”

How do you define sustainability?

“The traditional definition of sustainability is meeting today's needs without sacrificing the needs of future generations. But I really look at sustainability holistically. Climate change is the most existential threat that we face, and that is a big thing. But sustainability is more than that. It's about really creating healthy environments, both internal and external.

“There are going to be a lot of demands on the state of Michigan, especially as climate continues to change and people flock to the state as the respite for a lot of the climate challenges that we have. Sustainability is really that triple bottom line approach of people, planet, and prosperity. If it doesn't save money and it doesn't make financial sense, it's not going to be sustainable.

“I'm open to new ideas and new ways to do things. Two things that I hate to hear are, ‘We've always done it that way.’ I don't want to hear that unless you're coming at it and saying, ‘But we can do it differently.’ And two, I don't like to use the word can't because we can do anything we put our minds to. It's just a matter of resources and having the will to be able to do that, and we know Spartans Will.”

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