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Faces of Sustainability
Thane Kreiner: Directing global innovation-based entrepreneurship
Thane Kreiner is the Executive Director of the Center for Science, Technology and Society (CSTS). CSTS’s mission is to “accelerate global, innovation-based entrepreneurship in service to humanity… and aims to advance the University’s vision of creating a more just, humane and sustainable world.”
Dr. Kreiner has worked in variety of fields before coming to CSTS. He was trained as a neuroscientist studying first at Stanford then at Berkeley. However, he felt like his lab work was “too esoteric” and it was difficult to feel a connection to the people he was helping. Returning to Stanford for an MBA, he hoped to get into biotech on the business side and work to improve people’s lives. Dr. Kreiner spent seventeen years working in biotech, starting several companies as CEO. Although he enjoyed his work in biotech and has said he had a lot of fun, he wanted to move towards working on science and technology purely for social benefit. He said “when the opportunity to be at the Center (CSTS) arose… it was kind of like a dream come true five years before I was ready for it.” He is now working solely on service to humanity by addressing the needs of the very poor and doing so in an environmentally sustainable way.
When asked about the most pressing global issue and its relation to sustainability, Dr. Kreiner said that it is poverty. With 4 billion people living in poverty, the development and needs of those people must be met in a sustainable way. If all of these people were “lifted out of poverty and all were consuming fossil fuels and practicing agriculture in unsustainable ways, then we would be headed towards a climate catastrophe at a much faster rate.” There are over one and a half billion people who lack access to electricity. This means they do not have light at night, they are cooking on open wood fires, which not only fuels deforestation but is also terrible for their health. CSTS has focused on clean energy and scaling social enterprises working in the energy sector in the last few years. They will continue to work to provide clean energy for over a billion people; CSTS is also looking into other issues including agriculture, water, and health.
For Dr. Kreiner, one of the ways the technology will change sustainability in the future will be distributed versus centralized manufacturing and transportation. Beyond manufacturing, if you “think about other ways that our current industrial paradigms are at odds with sustainability then the number one thing that comes up is transportation.”
Distributed manufacturing includes energy generation and industrial products. Energy transportation wastes an incredible amount of energy and releases tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year, contributing to global warming (“And I say global warming, some people say climate change, but global warming is a fact, so I think we should call a spade a spade”). Dr. Kreiner believes that the big oil tankers that are moving around, that run into a reef somewhere and they leak out oil, could be a complete thing of the past because the energy is generated where it is utilized. “The major barrier to storage right now--whether it’s solar, or wind, or thermal generated power--is a sustainable and clean storage method.” Centralized manufacturing would solve this problem.
3D printing may reform the transportation industry. These printers will make distributed manufacturing more of a reality and revolutionize transportation of goods. Growing materials then printing them on a 3D printer could eliminate enormous transportation costs, shipping heavy goods all over the world and the collateral damage.
On a more personal note, Dr. Kreiner shared his sustainability vice and virtue. For his virtue, he practices permaculture at his home in Sebastopol. He is planning on getting bees in the spring and has already bought the hives, “we’re increasing pollination and food production which I think is an easy way to increase agricultural sustainability, simply by increasing the number of pollinators.” He says his environmental vice is that he drives his car too much; however, he just got a hybrid. Dr. Kreiner continues to support both local sustainability and environmental conservation around the world through his work at CSTS.
All quotations were provided by Dr. Thane Kreiner during his interview.
Contributed by Lynsey Cumberford-Palmer ‘14, Sustainability Intern, Faculty and Staff