2015 MIT Sustainability Summit: Farming, Food, and the Future

Nolet, Sarah

Sarah Nolet, SDM ’15

By Sarah Nolet, SDM ’15

MIT students recently organized a conference focused on using systems thinking to reshape global agriculture to meet the climate, population, and resource challenges of the 21st century.

The event: The MIT Sustainability Summit is a student-led event that takes place every year during Earth Week on the MIT campus, drawing more than 350 attendees ranging from professionals to academics and students. The summit has emerged as a premier issue-driven event, featuring discussions with thought leaders and expert practitioners.

2015 theme: The seventh annual Sustainability Summit, held at MIT’s McDermott Court on Friday and Saturday, April 24-25, focused on the complex problems facing local and global agriculture systems. Summit talks centered on examining food and farming challenges through the lens of the “circular economy,” a systems-thinking approach focused on building a flourishing, sustainable world by intentionally cycling resources between production and consumption—in other words, from farm to table and back again.

“As a student-led event that is joined by leaders in the public, private, and civil sectors, the MIT Sustainability Summit is a perfect illustration of how we can all come together to foster collaboration and create lasting solutions to poverty,” said Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America, who delivered a keynote address at the event. “Oxfam America believes that together we can stand against injustice and recognize our ability to hold the powerful accountable. Through collaboration with corporations and by empowering consumers, we can influence decisions that promote sustainable food systems and increase global food security. The most important step toward that goal is bringing public and private sectors together, and that’s why this summit is so.

Focus Areas and Featured Speakers

Conference content was divided into three core focal areas:

  • Rethinking consumption
  • Creating resilience in production
  • Enabling the transformation to a more circular economy

Keynote speakers and panelists with backgrounds from across academia, industry, and the public sector addressed such questions as:

  • How can innovation and technology help us move beyond a single-use model of agricultural products?
  • What are viable ways to promote and harness the functions that biodiverse and resilient agricultural ecosystems naturally provide?
  • What is needed from individuals, businesses, and governments for a more sustainable, circular agricultural system to take hold?

Featured speakers included:

  • Fedele Bauccio, cofounder and CEO, Bon Appétit Management Company
  • L. Ann Thrupp, executive director, Berkeley Food Institute, University of California at Berkeley
  • Paul Matteucci, operating partner, US Venture Capital Partners
  • John Lienhard, director, Abdul Latif Jameel World Water and Food Security Lab, MIT
  • Raymond C. Offenheiser, president, Oxfam America

Other highlights:

  • In-kind food sponsorships from Ben & Jerry’s, ABInBev, Boloco, and Stonyfield
  • Sustainably sourced food from MIT Sloan startup Foodium
  • Friday night networking happy hour and MIT Waste Research and Innovation Night

My role: As marketing codirector, I was responsible for social media, email marketing campaigns, live audience Q&A, on- and off-campus marketing efforts, and ticket pricing and sales. I am really proud of how the marketing team did this year: We held a kickoff event with local startups and students from across MIT, the summit sold out a week before the conference, we continued to sell tickets at the door through Saturday morning, and we more than tripled our social media engagement. I believe we are starting to create a recognizable brand for the MIT Sustainability Summit.

Looking ahead: I am thrilled to be managing codirector of the 2016 MIT Sustainability Summit. Organizing the summit this year was an amazing learning experience. I not only improved my social media marketing and graphic design skills, but more importantly my communication and leadership skills. I also made some amazing connections and lasting friendships. I believe that creating a more sustainable world is the critical challenge of our future, and I’m thrilled to be at MIT where we have a unique opportunity to bring business and societal leaders together with academic researchers and students to drive innovation and meet this challenge.

2015 Sustainability Summit Team

SDM ’15 Sarah Nolet (fourth from right) poses on campus with the 2015 MIT Sustainability Summit leadership team.

About the Author

Sarah Nolet, SDM ’15, is passionate about using technology to create a more sustainable global food system. She is currently conducting research on organic farming in India while also pursuing a Sustainability Certificate from the MIT Sloan School of Management. Nolet was a three-sport varsity athlete and All-America soccer player at Tufts University, where she double majored in computer science and human factors engineering. Nolet loves all sports, building rock walls, speaking Spanish, and deep woods backpacking.