Doug Miller C'12
A College junior pursuing a double major in Philosophy, Politics, Economics (PPE) and Environmental Studies, Doug is at the forefront of innovative student sustainability initiatives across campus. In 2009, he founded the Green Acorn Business Certification Program, which provides incentives for local businesses to incorporate sustainability into their business model, and later that year delivered a presentation on his Production & Transportation Facts label at The Economist magazine’s Carbon Economy Summit.
His film 5:25—An American Ratio Calling for Change, about U.S. energy policy, was recognized in 2008 with an honorable mention in C-SPAN’s national Student Cam Competition. Doug currently serves on the executive board of the Wharton Undergraduate Sustainability Association and collaborates with the Penn Environmental Group on various projects.
Read on for our interview with Doug.
On Campus Green: Sustainability seems to be a recurring theme in your extra-curricular activities and groups here at Penn. Were you always interested in environmental and sustainability issues, or did that passion develop over the past couple years?
Doug Miller: My interest in sustainability issues began early in my academic career, during an environmental science class my freshman year of high school. In particular, it was during a final project on green building that I discovered my future career path in sustainability. Sustainability, and in this case green building, seemed so logical, cost-effective, beneficial for human and environmental health; it became ingrained in my mind that anything unsustainable lacks foresight and, more significantly, quality. From that point forward I began to read books and newspaper/magazine articles on the subject, developing my knowledge in the subject. During my senior year I wrote an environmental policy paper and made a film for a C-SPAN competition about energy policy in the US that won a national honorable mention. At Penn, my interest in sustainability has taken multiple forms.
OCG: Of which project that you’ve worked on here at Penn are you especially proud?
DM: I am especially proud of the Green Acorn Program because I founded it; its presence is growing on campus, and it has provided me with numerous beneficial skills and experiences. I believe that it has already made an impact in terms of encouraging businesses to conserve resources and students to support certified businesses...and there is significant opportunity for this to expand in the future. In terms of my education at Penn, I have gained real-world experience in starting a business-like entity, marketing, working with business owners, consulting, leading a class, and being interviewed.
OCG: What factors went into your group’s decision to focus the Green Acorn Certification Program on encouraging the sustainability efforts of campus businesses instead of say… College Houses, on-campus office buildings, or fraternity and sorority houses?
DM: I honestly never thought of having the program certify College Houses or on-campus facilities. During my internship at the Baltimore Office of Sustainability I worked on designing a green business certification program for Baltimore, and I used a lot of the research and planning for that program in creating the framework for Green Acorn. The reasoning behind having the program certify businesses is that students visit local stores every day, often multiple times a day, and therefore can demonstrate a significant 'demand' for green businesses by making their purchases at certified stores. Businesses will hopefully soon get the signal that students want them to be 'green', or else they will not make as many purchases there. The thing about on-campus facilities is that 'demand' for sustainability cannot be developed at these places...since students have no choice to use certain buildings and there are only so many housing options. And all the housing on-campus will be filled, whether they are green or not. But students do not have to make their purchases at every store around campus; they can demonstrate their demand for sustainability by going to certified stores and not going to stores that do not meet certification standards. This is not the case for on-campus facilities; students will still go to Van Pelt to get their library books, Williams Hall for their language courses, and Huntsman for (most of) their business courses.
By and large, though, the reason we focus on businesses is that we believe that a sustainable economy can only develop if businesses adopt sustainable practices and if consumers make sustainable purchases. Our aim was to contribute to Philadelphia's aim at becoming a more sustainable city by encouraging businesses and consumers to make decisions that improve the natural and human environment. If the everyday business owner can grasp and embrace sustainability, then our economy will soon become vastly more sustainable. Also, since Penn is an educational institution, it seems that part of its education should be to teach good consumption habits that work in the best interest of the students' future.
OCG: You worked for Baltimore’s Office of Sustainability over the summer of 2009. Did you do get to do anything sustainably exciting over this past summer?
DM: This past summer, I was a research assistant for two (very different) studies. First, I joined an environmental science study in Puerto Rico on the impact of urbanization on tropical streams. Second, I joined a Wharton study (and worked until early November) addressing the impact of shelf stocking (how much of a given product is on the shelves in a store) on sales. Both of these research positions taught me about the respective fields I worked in, how to execute a formal study, and to appreciate the time and effort that goes into executing a study. This will prove beneficial if or when I initiate my own studies in the future.
OCG: Your Production & Transportation Facts label that you presented at The Economist’s Carbon Economy Summit is an incredibly simple way to convey information about a product’s environmental impact to consumers. What inspired you to come up with the concept?
DM: While I was brainstorming for my idea to submit to this event, I asked myself two questions. First, how do we continue to raise living standards for people worldwide? Second, how do we ensure that our high standards of living are sustainable for the long-term?
The global market economy, more than any other entity, has the capability to either solve or worsen the looming climate change and natural resource crises. A market solution for these issues is two-pronged. First, producers must be given the incentives necessary to develop sustainable business models. Second, consumers need new tools in order to drive changes in their purchases. In other words, this solution needs to come from both the top-down and the bottom-up. My proposal for a Transportation & Production Facts Label gives both producers the incentive and consumers the ability to make decisions that minimize their environmental impact. The label puts on display various factors that determine the environmental impact of a manufactured good. It also increases the transparency between producer and consumer.
OCG: When you’re not focusing on the big picture with group projects and initiatives, what simple actions do you take to reduce your own personal environmental impact?
DM: I focus on using as few disposable goods as possible. I do not see a point to using products just one time (for just a few minutes) and then throwing them away. Essentially, my goal is to continue to reduce that amount of trash that I produce each week… and I am pleased to continue to approach almost no waste for landfills.
OCG: Do you have any “unsustainable” pet peeves?
DM: My biggest pet peeve is how people associate sustainability with political ideology. While various solutions to environmental problems will have political connotations, sustainability should be a non-political issue. It’s in the best interest of everyone—rich, poor, white, black, American, foreign, conservative, liberal—that solutions are developed to looming natural resource, water, energy, and climate change issues. Because our environment and natural resources are directly tied to our economy, people from all viewpoints should come together and determine the best solutions available to emerging problems.
OCG: Provided you have the time, what are your hobbies outside of class and group meetings?
DM: I am a very physically-active person. I enjoy being active and find that it makes me more productive and keeps me stress-free. I run outside along the Schuylkill path every day, lift several times a week, and am a starting defensive-midfielder on Penn’s club lacrosse team.
OCG: Have you given any thought to what you want to do after graduating from Penn?
DM: The field that appears to best fit my interests—how to make business models more sustainable—is consulting, and more specifically sustainability consulting. In the field of consulting, I hope to gain a detailed understanding of how companies and supply chains work so that strategies for making sweeping changes that provide environmental (and monetary) benefits can be developed. This once again exposes my belief that sustainability will be driven by businesses. Policy can only go so far and move so fast…and can only get so much done since sustainability continues to be an ideological issue. Once businesses of all forms adopt practices beneficial both to their bottom line and the environment, perhaps government can leave party politics behind and make common sense reforms that would benefit the American people.
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