The Col­lege of Busi­ness Admin­is­tra­tion recently launched the new Busi­ness Sus­tain­ability Insti­tute to pro­mote sus­tain­ability in research, teaching and ser­vice as well as through inter­dis­ci­pli­nary col­lab­o­ra­tions within the uni­ver­sity and with industry.

In addi­tion to edu­ca­tion and research, the insti­tute focuses on out­reach activ­i­ties, including the Sus­tain­ability in Action Speaker Series, which hosted its second event last week with the Wes Marple Dis­tin­guished Lec­turer, Michael Hoffman.

We set up some cri­teria for the speakers,” said pro­fessor Ronald Whit­field, the institute’s director. “We looked for what we call the triple bottom line — planet, profit and people.” As the man­ager of the world’s largest pri­vate equity fund in renew­able energy, River­stone Part­ners, Hoffman exceeds these met­rics, Whitman said.

Hoffman, who co-​​authored the book “Green: Your Place in the New Energy Rev­o­lu­tion” with his wife, Jane, and orga­nized the first pres­i­den­tial debate on renew­able energy in 2004, addressed an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary audi­ence about the state of renew­able energy in today’s com­plex and tur­bu­lent eco­nomic and polit­ical climate.

River­stone, Hoffman explained, is designed to return money to investors in the energy space in two “buckets”: con­ven­tional energy and renew­able energy.

Fuel and power com­prise the two very dif­ferent types of busi­ness plans in the renew­able energy sector, he said. In the case of fuel, such as ethanol or biodiesel from corn, sugar, soy, or even fat ren­dering, long-​​term con­tracts are not pos­sible because of the com­pe­ti­tion with food commodities.

Power, on the other hand, which con­sists of solar, wind and geot­hermal sources, is struc­tured specif­i­cally with long-​​term con­tracts and can be com­pet­i­tive with the fluc­tu­ating costs of tra­di­tional power.

River­stone invests in both models, because, as Hoffman said, “renew­ables are here to stay.” The changing polit­ical and eco­nomic fac­tors, how­ever, can make it a tricky busi­ness, he said.

The Sus­tain­ability in Action Lec­ture Series, Whit­field said, brings the institute’s focus on out­reach to the fore­front while also fur­thering the dis­cus­sion on how we can “walk the talk,” as he put it. “We have stopped merely talking about being sus­tain­able – now we need to con­tinue doing more of it.”

Northeastern’s com­mit­ment to sus­tain­ability — one of the university’s top research themes, along with health and secu­rity — is evi­dent campus-​​wide, from fac­ulty research and stu­dent pro­grams to global recog­ni­tion of the university’s sus­tain­ability initiatives.