The 2020 UNC Clean Tech Summit served a variety of purposes. It was a forum for catalysts of environmental change to: share their ideas, provoke discussion about a sustainable future, and ultimately allow UNC students to gain a better understanding of their potential roles in this future. As an English major who is also passionate about the environment, I was looking for these answers. In fields seemingly dominated by STEM, I wasn’t sure where my humanities-based skills would fit.
Scott Farling, a leader in plastics recycling and chemical engineer by training, responded simply when asked the strongest indicator of success in the environmental field: “passion.” He emphasized to “follow what you’re passionate about. Artists can be just as valuable as chemical engineers. Passion drives success.”
Farling founded the Ocean Plastics Recovery Project, an initiative off the coast of Oregon which focuses plastic collection, outreach, research, and education. He researches bioplastics as fuel and chemical recycling techniques, where a background in chemical engineering is necessary. In addition, he also works with artists, writers, and filmmakers to help convey his messages to the public. Farling has partnered with Oregon public schools to implement curriculum focused on engaging students to advance their ownership of sustainability and promote future careers in the environment. In these classes, while the science of plastics is addressed, an underlying theme of the lessons enforces positive collaboration, communication, and problem-solving skills.
I walked away from the 2020 Clean Tech summit with a newfound understanding of careers in any environmental industry – everything is connected. In a time where innovation and sustainable solutions are crucial, academic and industry silos are being broken down. Advancing renewable energy will rely both on improving technology and communicating necessary policy changes to state and local governments. A successful smart city requires both an understanding of energy storage and the social implications of decisions made. Creating clean tech solutions will only be successful if we can empower and engage communities to adopt them. Every skill is useful and necessary with the passion to support it.
Clean Tech Intern, Spring 2020