Making a difference, here and around the world


Part of the Boldness by Design initiative I put into motion in 2005 was a commitment to a strong environmental stewardship effort that will improve the sustainability of our campus and reduce our carbon footprint. As part of that commitment, we’ve launched the Be Spartan Green program and a number of resource-conservation programs that already have borne fruit.

This desire to put knowledge to work derives from our 19th-century land-grant roots, and our drive to do so extends far beyond the campus. In the 21st century, our work advances sustainable practices as well as economic development around the globe.

With more than 158 partnerships worldwide and some 1,500 faculty members involved in international research, teaching, and service, MSU is known as a leader in building creative partnership structures. Our goals are to build on our in-country resources to serve a broad base of academic departments, colleges, and research interests while we work side by side with communities.

High-quality research that makes a positive difference, both locally and globally, is a critical component of our mission. Another is to advance outreach and economic development activities that lead to a better quality of life for people and communities at home and around the world.

Let me describe a notable recent example — the Carbon2Markets program, led by forestry professor David Skole, which elegantly achieves these goals. The program uses basic and applied research to simultaneously fight global warming and poverty, bettering lives and positively affecting the planet.

By combining sustainable forest management and remote-sensing technology with emerging carbon markets, Dr. Skole and the rest of the Carbon2Markets team are helping small farmers in developing countries grow crops that slow climate change as well as improve the farmers’ standard of living. The MSU team is working with farmers, researchers, and government agencies in 10 African and Asian countries, including Thailand and Laos.

The farmer groups are integrating high-value forest crops such as jatropha, teak, or shea into the crops they’re currently growing through methods that are smart and sustainable. Then the farmers use techniques and standards created by MSU remote-sensing experts to accurately measure and record the carbon stored by the trees and soil. Storing carbon in the soil and plants keeps it out of the atmosphere, which helps slow global warming. This also is one of the first efforts to help small landowners gain access to the carbon-offset market.

MSU was founded on the idea that practical knowledge could be combined with traditional scientific and classical studies. Dr. Skole says that the Carbon2Markets program is the application of more than 20 years of basic research on climate change and tropical forest conversion. In other words, the MSU scientists are applying remote-sensing technology to develop creative solutions to climate change. These solutions involve, educate, and improve the quality of life of people who are counted among some of the world’s poorest—the average annual income in the area of Thailand involved in Carbon2Markets is about $1,200.

Based on a recent reporting trip, we’ve prepared a special report on the initiative where you can delve into text, video, photos, and background material. You can also read about the cap-and-trade approach in a column in the Capitol Hill journal Roll Call by Chicago Climate Exchange Chairman Richard L. Sandor, who mentions MSU among other forward-looking organizations working in local and world carbon markets.

At MSU, I’m proud to say that our efforts to promote environmental and economic sustainability happen right on campus and also extend outward around the world.

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