UMass Net Impact

Using business and our careers to tackle some of the world's toughest problems.

Leave a comment

Picking up Speed in the Wind Industry

        Similar to, perhaps, all renewables, economists have long worried about the feasibility of wind energy amidst a market saturated by coal, oil, and natural gas. For years, the wind industry has scrambled to claim the best properties across the United States, such as remote prairies and mountain ridges that would make significant wind speeds, 200 feet above ground, accessible. However, new developments in technology are allowing the wind industry to take enormous strides which may soon position them to compete with the market prices of conventional energy on the national scale. New innovations have enabled turbines to be built taller and with longer blades. Because of this, vast new opportunities in terms of locations for wind farms have opened up. Therefore, locations which were previously passed because wind speeds at 200 feet were not strong enough can now be reconsidered for turbines which achieve between 300 and 400 feet!

     For example, in 2008, the state of Michigan had no wind farms at all, but recent construction has now established enough machines to yield more than 1,000 megawatts and power hundreds of thousands of homes. In fact, in a few areas of the country, wind energy has already seized the competitive edge with prices falling as low as 4 cent per kilowatt-hour, dramatically cheaper than any conventional forms of energy. Still, prices for wind power remain relatively high throughout most of the country, and the best prices tend only to exist in regions where the prices of diesel and other options are very high, such as in Alaska

     Having recognized this, companies such as Altaeros Energies have chosen Alaska as the locale to pilot their new wind energy collection technologies. Altaeros will soon embark on the first commercial effort to launch a buoyant airborne turbine. This turbine will consist of a white helium-filled inner-tube-like-balloon which will surround a rotor and float at 1,000 feet in the air. Through cable transmission, hope are that the turbine will feed the electricity necessary to power more than a dozen homes. Although such a feat many not seem practical for national implementation yet, it is tremendously hopeful to witness so many new businesses jumping on the opportunity to provide an alternative that is both cheaper and greener.

By Erin Shaughnessey


Leave a comment

United States of ‘Merica

Picture a man riding his Rascal scooter along the side of a highway. This man is aggressively obese and heading in the direction of a combination KFC-Taco Bell. His total disregard for traffic laws and his own well being is displayed on his face as he stink eyes the passing motorists. Jammed into his tattered seat cushion is a faded American flag. The flag flaps proudly and majestically as if the scooter is a Colonial war-ship and the gentleman is the noble captain of the USS Rascal. Well, this imagery is exactly what I saw one Saturday afternoon. As I drove past this sight, one solitary word resonated in my mind: ‘Merica.

For those who are unfamiliar, ‘Merica is a word that can be defined as: any action, object, or moment that exemplifies the utterly unique American condition. The term is best understood when heard in the wild. For example, seeing someone eating a five pound hamburger and then washing it down with a liter of cola; that’s grounds for ‘Merica. Thinking about painting red-hot fire flames on your family’s ’04 Chrysler minivan? Go for it! Because that’s ‘Merica too. Upon first glance, these actions may seem socially unacceptable, excessive, or downright ludicrous; and that’s exactly right. Proclaiming ‘Merica in the presence of these actions signifies your non-judgmental acceptance of the predicament. Think of ‘Merica as the modern man’s Namaste. The absurdity in me sees the absurdity in you.

Later that Saturday afternoon, I began to ponder. I questioned: should this association with our nations colors be cause for concern? Has the American flag become nothing more than a joke? Has its usefulness been reduced to dorm-room décor and twitter page backgrounds? Why is it that I see the Stars and Stripes more on clothing than on flagpoles? Back when flags were reserved for the homes of hard-working families and small businesses, the flags stood for resilience, brotherhood, and the pursuit of happiness.

So when did the flag become viewed in such a casual way? According to a report by Brian Spyros of WBOC News, Sales of American flags skyrocketed post September 11th. It’s possible that this saturation of seeing the flag everywhere has desensitized us to its core values. This has opened the door to comedic interpretation and light-hearted Tomfoolery. An outsider may view these circumstances as insulting to their nation and its values. However, I feel ‘Merica should not be viewed as a derogatory term. In fact I feel it should be celebrated. The term shows the flag is not “too good” to be the butt of the joke, it’s not “above” the common people, in fact, it IS the common people. Furthermore, I would go as far to say that the values of ‘Merica coincide with the traditional American values. Is fighting through a platter of “Dragon Hot” chicken wings not resilient? Is the action of you and your roommate cutting the sleeves off ALL of your t-shirts not brotherhood? Is pursuing happiness in a Rascal scooter not still the pursuit? If you want the American flag to symbolize ridiculous excessive behavior, than by all means, go for it cowboy. Being American means that no one can tell you how to eat your slice of American pie. If you want your slice with all the “fixin’s” and wrapped in a bacon bowl; then I just have one word for you: ‘Merica.

by Dan Carroll

Leave a comment

North Dakota’s Oil Drilling Concerns

Next to the big state of Texas, North Dakota is the second largest producer of oil in the United States. Located within North Dakata, Bakken field was estimated to have produced over 10% of the US oil supply and averaged to produce over one million barrels of oil in a day. However, the reoccurring natural flare ups at the drilling areas have increased raising environmental concerns. The flare up’s are not only a waste of natural and valuable gas but a harmful additive to the environment. The concerns though have been appointed to the state regulators, the Industrial Commission and North Dakota is planning on to decrease the amount of gas being released into the air.

            The capturing of the natural gas is becoming very imperative because it is estimated that Bakken field will increase their production by 40% by the end of next year. The rapid growth calls for stricter natural gas capturing; this can be done increasing the assembly of the gas- gathering pipelines and processing plants. The funding of these future projects is stemming from production and property tax credits, low interest loans, and help from local business in exchange for tib bits of their gas production. North Dakota is taking the responsibility into their own hands in hopes of being able to produce more oil but at the same time create less waste for the environment.

By Elaina Falcone



Leave a comment

Inventions for the 90%

Today’s world has a lot that needs fixing. The world is in need of a generation full of empathetic change makers who are willing to use their time, skills, and talents to collaborate and tackle the world’s most difficult problems. While developed countries are moving forward with the latest version of the iPhone and vacuums that clean your house for you, the developing world is getting left behind. Poverty and disparity are things that desperately need to be solved.

The world’s brightest minds work to create inventions for the richest 10% of the globe to enjoy, while people living in third world countries struggle with poverty, disease, and starvation. Many of the day to day issues that the world’s poor must face are easy fixes that could greatly improve health and quality of life globally. Currently, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design museum is celebrating inventors who have chosen to work for the rest of the 90% of the world.

Many of the inventions currently on display at the museum help provide a way for the world’s poor to begin sustainable businesses. Cheap, human powered water pumps allow farmers to grow crops even during the dry season. A Q-drum that can hold 20 gallons of water and be pulled by a rope cuts down the labor and time it takes women and children to fetch water, enabling them to spend more time doing other productive things. While these are just a few examples of the inspiring and innovative inventions the museum is displaying, they represent the huge impact collaboration and simple inventions can make.

By, Angela Miller

To see other inventions being displayed at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum follow this link: 

Leave a comment

Progressive Marketing

            Many businesses have the opportunity to have the public’s eye. What businesses do with this privilege is up to them. I am always inspired when a company uses the power of media and advertising to support a cause or make a positive statement.  Whether the statement is “this is what we believe” or “this is now the reality of society today and we are going to support it”.  Advertising has the ability to inspire people. 

            New York Times recently wrote an article about Banana Republic’s new ad campaign that consists of your average beautiful models wearing trendy clothing and also a real-life gay couple.  A celebrity gay couple (Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent) but still a real life gay couple.  At least to me this should not be a big deal. I mean, I do not know why this has not been a normal thing for a long time now. New York Times writer Stuart Elliot says, “Decades ago, the Banana Republic campaign would have been alone in a sea of ads with heteronormative casting” but today companies are starting to realize that relatable and realistically diverse advertising is the way to go.  Considering, “who knew that after all these years, we would discover a whole new generation of explorers that needed outfitting in a new way, who would insist on doing not what they should, but what they loved” (New York Times). As I consider myself a part of this “new generation of explorers”, our media should represent the world we live in, for relatable purposes. I will be less likely to want to go to a store where all of their models look nothing like me and are the essence of photo shopped perfection (but this is a topic for another day). 

            Banana Republic claims that their goal is to show their clothing more realistically on more realistic people and couples: “The point of the casting was not to be provocative, said Trey Laird, chief creative officer at Laird & Partners in New York…Rather, the goal was ‘to reflect our world and how we live’ he said, ‘in a true, genuine way’”(New York Times).  In my life, I have grown up believing you can love whomever you want to and wear whatever you want to. As viewers we choose our reactions to advertisements, pictures, slogans, and any company’s ideals.  I love that clothing companies are using their advertising and media power to portray our world positively.  As a “net impactor”, I support any business that uses their marketing voice to make a positive difference so all I have to say is GO BANANA! 

By Olivie Newell



Leave a comment

The Conflict Between Sustainable and Established Energy

            Ask anyone you know which type of energy is better, wind-powered energy or coal-powered energy, most people will chose the sustainable option. The world is currently going through a green phase. Many places are updating the way they receive energy, including Germany. In a recent publication of The Economist an article entitled “How To Lose Half A Trillion Euros” discussed the ups and downs of sustainable energy.

            It is clear that continuing with our current form of energy will destroy the world. We need a clean, sustainable form of energy that will help us to continue the lives we enjoy but also preserve the world. However, is the way we are doing this the best way possible?

            Germany has been a trailblazer in the realm of sustainable energy. According to a German law, energy from sustainable sources (such as wind and solar power) must first be bought by the grid. Unfortunately, sustainable energy still isn’t enough to full the grid. Therefore, unsustainable sources must be used to fill the rest of the grid. However, unsustainable energies cannot be produced at half power. Power plants using nuclear fuel or brown coal are designed to run full blast and cannot easily reduce production. So, as demand is being filled by sustainable energy, the old utilities are left with a supply greater than demand: a surplus. In fact, in June of 2013 the surplus was so great that suppliers of non-renewable energies were paying grid owners to take their electricity.

            As people become more sustainably aware the demand for renewable energy increases. The old utility companies cannot fulfill this desire. However, they are still producing at their maximum capabilities due to the non-profitability of decreased production levels. So the question is, how can we solve this?

            Yes, we need sustainable energy, but we need to change the way we go about getting it. Currently, sustainable energy isn’t at the level we need it to be at to completely replace the established utilities. Solar and wind powered electricity also varies with the weather. This could cause fluctuations in the amount of power supplied to the grid, and even cause brownouts in parts of Germany and Europe. In order to prevent widespread electricity failure the previous, non-renewable, utilities are still necessary.

            A completely sustainable future is still possible, but it will require certain changes in the methods we are using and manufacturing of sustainable energy.

By Jessica Auger

Leave a comment

The Impact of Technological Developments on the Environment: A Mixed Bag

Recent advancements in technology have l reduced the harmful effects of fossil fuels, while other advancements have done the opposite.

One area that technology has had a positive impact on the environment is within the coal industry. In an effort to meet the EPA’s looming new emission limits, coal fueled power plants have been reducing carbon dioxide emissions using a process that extracts pollutants from coal to sell rather than burn or dump. The largest coal plant to adopt this technology is Southern Co., which estimates the process will bring down its carbon dioxide emissions to a level lower than the limit proposed by the EPA.

Adding to the coal processing technology’s impact, increased solar power efficiency has plummeted the costs of solar energy. Over the past three years, the once extremely pricey photovoltaic (PV) solar power technology, has reduced in cost by a whopping 62 percent. A price drop that has brought solar power costs close to fossil fuel cost levels in nearly half of the world! As a result, 90,000 homeowners and businesses installed rooftop PV systems in 2012, and in 2013 an additional 100,000 followed suit.

                The advances of coal and solar energy technology are effectively mitigating environmental harms from fossil fuels, however, these improvements have come alongside other advances that pose new feats. One such feat is the Iraqi region of Kurdistan’s newly built pipeline that will easily transport once hard to move oil reserves into Turkey. The pipeline is expected to export 400,000 barrels of oil during 2014, then jump to 1 million barrels by 2015, and finally to 2 million barrels by 2019. The new pipeline will now help pile onto the emissions total as Kurdistan taps into what experts call the world’s last “easy oil”.

Although Kurdistan has its hand on the last easy oil, thanks to the advancement of fracking technology the rest of the world is starting to tap into what were once inaccessible shale oil reserves. The monopoly that the United States has enjoyed on shale oil is drawing to a close as a record 400 shale wells are expected to be drilled beyond U.S. borders in 2014. Shale oil has boomed in the United States and the same is expected to happen in China, Russia, and throughout Europe in the coming years.

                In light of these advancements, it is apparent that technology’s impact on the environment has been a mixed bag. It is certainly true that technology has been working to solve many of today’s environmental issues, but it is just as true that technology has also been working to proliferate them.

By Adam Benvie


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.