Mon, 02/04/2013

On Thursday January 24, 2013, Commonwealth Honors College alumni and their guests braved the cold weather to attend an alumni networking event in Boston.  Attendees enjoyed refreshments provided by the University of Massachusetts club while hearing a new UMass Amherst professor and an alumna speak about sustainability.


Professor Christine L. Crago from the department of resource economics, one of the outstanding new faculty hired last year in an innovative new process, spoke about the sustainability initiatives on the UMass Amherst campus, including the UMass Amherst Permaculture Gardens, the award-winning central heating plant, LEED certification in new construction projects on campus and the campus’ recognition as a leader in sustainability efforts with a Gold rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.  She also described several honors student projects proposed for her honors capstone course, “Implementing Sustainability and Social Responsibility in Today’s Economy.”  Many of these projects involve looking at areas on campus, researching ways that the structures or systems can become more energy efficient, and developing a cost to benefit analysis.


Nicole Tocco ’06 spoke about her experience working as an East Coast Fellow for Bon Appétit Management Foundation, the non-profit arm of the sustainable food service provider Bon Appétit Management Company. Tocco described the complicated nature of implementing sustainability in a meaningful way throughout a large company.  For example, the company decided to decrease its overall greenhouse gas emissions through what they call a “Low Carbon Diet” program.  Since beef is one of the largest ways that the food system contributes to climate change (through the emission of methane gas from cows), Bon Appétit knew that it needed to reduce its beef and cheese purchases in order to make real change.  Over 3 years, the company reduced its beef purchases by 33%.  This happened through the creativity of thousands of chefs and managers that make purchasing and culinary decisions on a daily basis, who were encouraged to increase the amount of vegetarian and vegan options, reduce the portions of beef in certain dishes and substitute beef for other meat at times.


The alumni attendees were from a wide range of majors and careers.  Some were working in green energy, infrastructure engineering, sustainability offices or other sustainable businesses.  Others attended with a general interest in the topic.  Each speaker took time to answer the many thoughtful questions from the attendees, and both their talks stimulated a lively discussion afterward. 


Commonwealth Honors College hopes to host more of these topic based alumni events in the coming year.  Please be in touch with us at if you have any suggestions for upcoming topics.