Andres Clarens, a professor in the Department of Engineering Systems and Environment and associate director of the Environmental Resilience Institute at the University of Virginia, is one of 21 fellows from North American academic institutions chosen to participate in the 2021-2022 Earth Leadership Program.

Formerly called the Leopold Leadership Program for conservationist Aldo Leopold, known as the “father of wildlife ecology,” the program gained prestige over two decades for its cohort-based training model, which includes a “collective leadership framework” emphasizing collaboration and crossing boundaries between stakeholders.

Applicants come from a cross section of disciplines as high-performing, mid-career environmental researchers who want the tools to turn their research into policies and applied technologies that will move the needle on environmental issues important to them.

The Earth Leadership Program refers to this concept as “knowledge to impact.”

Portrait of Andres Clarens, UVA professor in the Department of Engineering Systems and Environment

Andres Clarens is a professor in the Department of Engineering Systems and Environment and associate director of the Environmental Resilience Institute at the University of Virginia.

Clarens, a prolific and widely published researcher in engineering for management of carbon emissions that drive climate change, worries that traditional modes of translating science into practice are not getting through.

“To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we must decarbonize rapidly across the economy and that can only happen with new technologies and new tools for assessing our progress,” Clarens said. “I want to develop the skills to most effectively partner with decision-makers. I believe that the research questions we are asking in our lab will also be more robust and more impactful if they are formulated with an understanding of the fundamental gaps in our knowledge but also with input from the users of that knowledge.”

The Earth Leadership Program is designed to teach fellows how to involve and co-design solutions with these diverse constituents.

The cohort meets as a group in the spring for an intensive training retreat to start the year, then members spend the next months practicing newly acquired skills. They come back together for a final session the following June to integrate takeaways from the practice year, learn new tools and refine how they will apply the training as environmental leaders.

The group also will emerge from the experience connected to the 200-strong network of Leopold alumni.

The Earth Leadership Program launched under the new name in March 2020 as a partnership between Future Earth, the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and the University of Colorado Boulder Center for Sustainable Landscapes and Communities. It did so with an expanded mandate to become more global by adding geographic cohorts and connecting regional networks of collaborative academic leaders around the world, as well as in North America, around a common purpose.

In a news release announcing the 2021-2022 fellows, interim executive director of Future Earth Josh Tewksbury noted the cohort faces challenges from the pandemic, a worsening climate crisis and unprecedented biodiversity loss. “To restore our deteriorating relationship with nature, we’ll need versatile sustainability leaders deeply embedded within the scientific community and that’s exactly what the Earth Leadership Program was designed to promote,” Tewksbury said.

Already an outspoken advocate of action on climate change, Clarens will use the fellowship to amplify his message as well as his research in new technologies and assessment methodologies for managing carbon emissions. He uses an array of approaches, from developing a new concrete that requires significantly less energy and carbon dioxide to produce than conventional materials, to systems engineering modeling and analysis tools for studying industrial decarbonization.

“This fellowship is affirmation of Andres’ outstanding work and his willingness to lead on climate change,” said Brian L. Smith, professor and chair of the Department of Engineering Systems and Environment. “His body of research is also an excellent example of how we are leading as a department in research and education, emphasizing engineering approaches that integrate technologies and people to improve health, security and environmental systems for better quality of life.”