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WPI receives new funding from the Department of Education to investigate ways to build climate resilience through international business opportunities | News

WPI receives new funding from the Department of Education to investigate ways to build climate resilience through international business opportunities | News

New Zealand beach

Climate change is a global issue that impacts all countries. WPI’s research focuses on the effects of climate change and mitigation strategies. The Department of Education (DOE), now supporting this work with a Title VI grant, aims to identify resilience options that will help address climate change problems in New Zealand. WPI will be able to work with businesses, schools, and other organizations in New Zealand and Massachusetts to find sustainable solutions.

The grant will be awarded to Professor Michael Elmes of WPI Business School, who established the WPI Project Center in New Zealand back in 2010. “This is a chance for WPI to strengthen its international business education and global relations as they pertain to the role of the private sector in climate resilience and decarbonization efforts,” said Elmes.

New Zealand: Building inclusive partnerships

Even though the country is still closed to foreign visitors due to the pandemic, WPI already has strong ties to business leaders and organizations in New Zealand, and Elmes plans to connect remotely with a wide range of partners there, including technologists, climate change scientists, and business leaders, including business leaders from the Māori community. The involvement of Māori business leaders is particularly impactful because, as Elmes says, “as indigenous partners, they have a critical role in addressing the challenges of climate resilience and decarbonization.”

This important role comes to the forefront in a key aspect of Māori culture. While many workers and business owners of European ancestry leave New Zealand to seek opportunities in other countries, Elmes says Māori business owners usually don’t plan to leave the country. And culturally, Māori think long term, not just looking ahead years or decades, but keeping future generations in mind by looking ahead centuries. Elmes says it’s an outlook that could be beneficial to the rest of the world as the climate crisis becomes ever more dire.

Elmes also noted that at the moment, most of the U.S. trade and investment with New Zealand revolves around wine. However, the grant’s goal is to broaden the conversation and increase trade opportunities. This grant aims to redefine what international business can do. He says he plans to use the grant to stimulate conversation on more than just global finance and trade, and to “emphasize the essential moral and ethical role that international business has to play, particularly as it pertains to the global climate crisis.”

New Zealand beach

Connecting globally and locally

The involvement of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce in a collaborative effort with WPI underscores the global-local nature of the grant. Tim Murray, President & CEO of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, says, “this grant provides opportunities to share best business practices around issues of climate change and sustainability, around Worcester, throughout the state, and in New Zealand. What’s more, there is potential for additional trade between the two nations, and tremendous opportunity for U.S. companies to bring their technology and services to New Zealand while also gaining knowledge about addressing climate change. I look forward to the sharing of ideas and opportunities back and forth between the Worcester area and New Zealand.”

The global and local connections this project is creating highlight a key tenet in a WPI education: working with the world to solve problems, and addressing challenges at home and abroad. Mimi Sheller, The Global School Dean, has agreed to serve on the Advisory Board. She brings her vast experience in global politics and partnerships as well as the resources of The Global School to bear.

New Zealand is facing climate change threats

New Zealand, an island nation, is especially vulnerable to climate change. Many coastal communities are at risk from rising sea levels. The country has a large agricultural economy with fishing and farming being two of its most important sectors. This makes rising seas and rising ocean temperatures particularly dangerous.

“While the potential impacts of climate change on New Zealand are strong, the interest in creating adaptations and resiliencies there are equally strong—particularly in de-carbonization and alternative sources of energy,” said Elmes. This interest drives both the government and private sectors to take action. Jacinda Arden, New Zealand’s Prime Minister, has committed her country to becoming carbon-neutral by 2050 and generating 100% of its energy from renewable sources before 2035. Also, in legislation that’s the first of its kind in the world, banks, investment firms and insurance companies in New Zealand are required to report the impacts their investments have on climate change.

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“The private sector can play a major role in addressing climate change, and that reality also provides an important opportunity to strengthen international business education,” says Elmes. “This grant will provide WPI students with an opportunity to investigate strategies for dealing with climate change, build climate resilience, and enhance decarbonization efforts in New Zealand through international business relationships. My hope is that this grant sparks our imagination and awareness of what’s possible.”

Contributions and funding

The grant total is $338,927. The DOE will provide $163 344, while WPI faculty and staff will contribute in-kind contributions. These include the participation of WPI professors Ingrid Shockey from The Global School and Joe Sarkis of The Business School. They will be testing and developing curricular materials related the award. Kimberly LeChasseur (Research and Evaluation Associate at Morgan Teaching and Learning Center at WPI) and Caitlin Keller (instructional designer) will provide additional support. Other staff members at the Academic Technology Center will also assist with website design and Zoom conference support.

Supporting organizations include: the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Higher Education Consortium of Central Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Office of International Trade and Investment. The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center.

Expert Database

Michael Elmes, and other WPI experts, can be found at the WPI Expert Database. Faculty members and senior administrators can offer their opinions, analysis, and commentary on a range of issues, including current events, trending topics and breaking news.

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