Environmental Hero

 

Søren Hermansen led his island to sustainability.

By Stephen B. Collins '74
 

Here’s a recipe for a successful campus lecture: serve refreshments, have a Discovery Channel video crew taping the talk, and invite a charismatic “Time Magazine Hero of the Environment” whose profile on Time’s Web site begins, “It’s amazing what a little free beer can accomplish.”

Søren Hermansen was the environmental hero on campus March 11, meeting with students and other members of the Environmental Advisory Group, getting taped for a TV special, and delivering a public talk. Hermansen gained acclaim when he led the island of Samsö in Denmark, population 4,300, to convert to 100-percent renewable and sustainable energy. In fewer than 10 years the islanders completely eliminated their carbon emissions and, by selling wind and solar power to the mainland, they now claim a 140-percent reduction in their collective carbon footprint.

Hermansen, who spoke less about technology than about changing social values and building consensus, addressed a question from a student about the role of beer in Samsö’s initiative. “Don’t believe everything you read in the newspaper,” he said—then went on to praise the role of coffee, cookies, and yes, sometimes beer, in the countless meetings required for islanders to unite in a common purpose. He also explained that identifying respected community members and making sure in advance that they would volunteer at those meetings helped ensure the project’s success. Hermansen is now a sustainability evangelist, talking around the world about Samsö’s success and running the island’s the Energy Academy when he’s at home.

“I always knew Scandinavians were some of the most civilized people on the planet,” Blair Braverman ’11 wrote in her blog after listening to Hermansen. “And now I have proof.”

 
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