Christine Crago Develops Sustainable Solutions for Social Problems

Tue, 12/18/2012

In a college town known as the "Nature and Science City" of Los Baños, Philippines, Christine Crago grew up surrounded by forests and lakes. Growing up in that environment instilled in her a love for nature, and led her to pursue the field of environmental economics.

 

As an assistant professor of resource economics, Crago combines her interest in social issues with an affinity for quantitative measures; the appeal is in applying economic tools to contemporary problems. She states her research is motivated by the need to promote sustainable energy sources and consumption practices in the developed and developing parts of the world.

 

Jointly selected by Commonwealth Honors College and by the Isenberg School of Management's resource economics department, Crago joined the faculty at UMass Amherst in 2012. She teaches offerings in both departments. Through teaching, she aims to "guide students in the right direction and give solid grounding in the theory and methods they need to be successfully."

 

Her first course, the two-semester honors research course "Implementing Sustainability and Social Responsibility in Today's Economy" offers seniors an opportunity to develop their honors thesis or project within a small peer group. The course helps students develop the tools to define and quantify sustainability. They explore what sustainability really means in a business, organizational, or regulatory context — how to measure sustainability and how to make a decision about whether or not to pursue a sustainability project.  She explains, "When you talk about sustainability and social responsibility it requires the whole picture of not just looking at a financial cost-benefit analysis, but taking into account the environmental amenities and social aspects of a certain project. That kind of scrutiny is relevant and useful in today's business settings."

 

By design, the course brings together students from different disciplines such as economics, engineering, and marketing and places them in collaborative projects. This kind of experience, says Crago, holds immediate significance for students. The students not only offer perspectives from their own fields, but also have the opportunity to compare how other fields contribute to the solution.

 

With degrees in economics and in agricultural and consumer economics, Crago's own research examines public policies designed to preserve the natural environment. She assesses if the strategies are efficient (they achieve goals at the lowest cost to society) and effective (they actually work) in meeting environmental goals while also satisfying human demand for basics such as energy or transportation. Her work has focused on examining the economic and environmental impacts of biofuels and the policies that promote them. Now, she has begun to study what incentives would be most useful in getting American households to conserve energy and invest in energy efficiency. Crago is considering incentives such as feedback, a "moral nudge" strategy of comparing neighboring households, as well as more traditional financial incentives, such as government subsidies, for reducing energy consumption.

 

Crago earned a bachelor's degree with honors from the University of the Philippines Los Baños.  She holds a master's degree in agricultural economics from Michigan State University and a PhD in agricultural and consumer economics from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She has published several journal articles and contributed to the Handbook of Bioenergy Economics and Policy.