March 12, 2020

Earth Promise “21 in 21″ Interview Series – Traver Gruen-Kennedy, Chairman at Alliance for Sustainable Air Transportation

Traver Gruen-Kennedy - Chairman at Alliance for Sustainable Air Transportation

Traver is the Chairman of Reset Holdings Corporation – an emerging leader in clean fuel. Gruen-Kennedy supports diverse business and humanitarian projects.  His results range from ancient forest preservation in Ghana and coral reef protection in Haiti with One Village Planet; to establishing the world’s first Cyber Sister Cities fostering improved education, health and economic opportunities in developing communities; to the strategy creating global software leader Citrix Systems; to leading the application service provider (ASP) movement of on-line computing evidenced by the success of companies such as Facebook, GoToMeeting, and Google.

Gruen-Kennedy is the founder of the Digital Development Partnership (DDP). The DDP’s Cyber Sister Cities project won the Microsoft 2020 Global Corporate Citizen Award for Citrix Systems. The DDP narrows the digital divide by enabling Web access via affordable subscription-based (ASP) computing. The DDP supports the UN Millennium Goals in cooperation with Sister Cities International’s Network for Sustainable Development, the United Nations and the World Bank.

He serves as founding Chair of the Alliance for Sustainable Air Transportation (ASAT) – a global public-private partnership with the FAA, governments and industry actively working to reduce the carbon, noise and cost footprint of aviation. This work holds the promise to reduce air transportation emissions by an estimated 15% to 20%.

As Chair of the ASP Industry Consortium Traver initiated and realized his vision of dynamic digital access to intellectual property and the defense of rights of authorship through the founding of the ASP Arbitration, Mediation and Dispute Resolution Center created in cooperation with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a division of the United Nations. The effort resulted in one of the largest public-private partnerships in the history of the UN with 800 corporations and 175 signatory nations participating. His leadership and execution in this critical area of on-line commerce, service level agreements and enforcement enables businesses everywhere to participate in the new economy on an equal basis without the specter of unresolved international cross-border disputes.


Earth Promise: What changes, or Earth Promises as we call them, have you personally made in your lifestyle to be more green?  Changes in home, travel, work, with your kids and community?

Traver Gruen-Kennedy: ‘Green’ has affected my career choices, the products I consume and most significantly the projects and the companies in which I invest my time, effort and money.  Earth Promises? I want my next automobile to run on hydrogen. Even though I travel a lot, I now make an effort to travel less.

My desire and commitment to live (and help others to live) in a more sustainable manner has transformed my life in multiple ways. In the 1974 I began working on my first sustainable living designs under a professor at Bowdoin College named Charlie Wing. He was a former NASA engineer who was trying to find affordable ways to use the sun to heat residential homes.

My first big solo project was the design a home environment for a family of four that was self-supporting in terms of power, heat, cooling, refrigeration, water, food production and fuel for a vehicle. It was a lab for exploration. I learned how methane was being produced in India, about the latest solar technology and sustainable woodlot management.  I incorporated a gray water treatment plant in the home and ran the VW Beetle on bio-gas. If the traditional mining of fossil fuels is energy v1.0 then this was energy v2.0.

It wasn’t until the late 1980s when I realized that, as a planet, energy demand would scale beyond what could be produced. I began to question my own assumptions about how we could systemically solve our need for abundant clean energy. If energy production were to increase by orders of magnitude as all populations developed and began to consume at US rates then we needed new ideas and innovations. I became motivated to try to find solutions that could scale for large populations and turned to water – our largest energy storage battery on the planet. This represents energy v3.0.

EP: Were you “green” as a child?

TGK: Mostly green behind the ears!! When I was young there was no such thing as recycling, bottle deposits or trying to conserve water the way we know it today. All that has changed yet, even five years ago it was hard to be taken seriously in our wider society when you talked green. Twenty years ago people thought you were from a different planet!

EP: What was your first, ah ha! Green moment?

TGK: In 1973 the nation experienced the first oil crisis. I was in college and had a job at the student union. As a result of high oil prices the school shut down for the month of January. I was out of a job and broke for that period. It made me think about how interconnected my life was with decisions that were being made on the other side of the planet and in corporate boardrooms in New York and Houston. I knew I needed to work on energy independence. Though I didn’t move to the woods like Thoreau, the experience drove me to be more self-reliant. I retrofitted and moved into a small travel trailer that otherwise would have gone to the dump. It never occurred to me that this was recycling. At 20 years old I became a homeowner. No mortgage!

EP: You have done quite a bit relating to the environment. Tell me about some of the steps you have taken to help the climate crisis?

TGK: I studied music and art but have worked in technology throughout my career. The first half of my career was spent in consumer electronics and computing, first in personal computing and later in developing the Web. My vision was to use the Web as a central infrastructure, a system bus, enabling secure remote computing and application services. Google, Facebook, GoToMeeting and are examples of software-as-a-service or application service provider (ASP) modes of computing and working. ASP remote computing saves countless trips to offices across town, air transport to meetings and even immigration. By design this is intrinsically green but it must become ever more sustainable or evergreen.

While it is now possible to telecommute and to work directly with colleagues and others anywhere in the world (using much less energy than driving and flying) we’ve built datacenters and server farms which consume too much electrical power and require too much air conditioning. We can do better!

Current PC/network designs and deployments require us to have very intelligent devices at the endpoints of our digital networks forcing us to build broadband pipes everywhere. With thin-client technology and a lower power consuming ‘cloud’ we will have a more sustainable and higher efficiency infrastructure which will do even more and at lower cost – financially and ecologically.

Wearable computing and intelligent clothing will increasingly make common sense. For example, should you air-condition the whole building or just your body? Do you need a keyboard and monitor or can you simply talk to your computer via Bluetooth and see images projected onto available surfaces like a wall, the table, your hand? Do you need a mouse or could you just track your hand movement? Our future will become greener and more practical.

EP: And your non-work related efforts?

TGK: Over the last 30 years my volunteer, humanitarian and not-for-profit work has focused on expanding education, economic development and sustainable living opportunities.  The formation last year of the Alliance for Sustainable Air Transportation (ASAT) is an example of this. I was honored to serve as chair and that the FAA, Governors Crist (FL) and Schwarzenegger (CA) and the aviation industry have been so supportive of this effort to accelerate the deployment of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen). The annual savings could be as much a 700 million gallons of fuel and all the emissions that go with it! Now the Obama administration has included funds in the recovery package to help further. This is rewarding work.

When One Village Planet began its program to educate young people to plant and nurture mangrove trees in Haiti I thought it was a great idea. The challenge is that topsoil washes from the barren hillsides onto the coral reefs killing the reefs and the habitat nurturing the fish and sea life. For decades the over-harvesting of trees for firewood and most recently the mangroves has decimated the entire ecosystem. The mangroves are critical to the ecosystem as they filter out the silt keeping the topsoil from the reefs. Since they grow in the salt water out of reach from goats and less convenient for humans to harvest they were the last to be cut down. Once removed there is no barrier left to protect the reefs from over-wash. When Danny Warren started the project in the late 1990s he needed help and I was overjoyed to be a small part of his effort. Today One Village Planet has expanded into West Africa and additional geographies. You rock Danny! Cool stuff! Check it out on-line. Make a donation!

EP: How much of an environmental crisis are we really in? What are the consequences of non-action or limited change?

TGK: All of the data is not in yet so it is hard to know how profoundly we have damaged the planet. The combination of our pollution, species extinction and human build-out is a reality we must address. Sooner is better than later. That we don’t yet fully know how deeply man’s activities affect the planet is understandable, that we do nothing now to neutralize and reverse the trend is inexcusable.

EP: Cars are one of the major problems when it comes to the environment.  Our dependence on oil, our gas guzzling cars, our resistance to change.  What are some of the changes you would like to see regarding the auto industry?

TGK: Have been working on hydrogen solutions to transportation for many years. You will see these innovations come forward over the next year. Everybody loves the independence and freedom of movement the automobile gives us. But it is a wasteful mode of transport as compared to air travel which can get 120 MPG/per passenger mile and other forms of public transportation.

The automotive challenge is deeper than fuel usage, carbon footprint and air pollution. Don’t forget the roads and highways we build to support automobiles. Building and maintaining our current infrastructure is costly and environmentally taxing.

I imagine a world in which roads are grass, vehicles are fueled by water and they drive themselves. It may seem silly to say it now but I think this is where transportation will evolve.

EP: The climate crisis is not a US only problem.  This is something that is present all around the world, in some places more than others.  You have also done a lot of work around the world to help.  Tell us about this.

TGK: As a society we continue to be shaped by our technology and our need to be affordably sustainable. When I first began to promote the Web in underdeveloped communities less than 1% of the world’s population was connected. Today that number has swelled yet half the people on the planet live on less than a few dollars per day. In the 1990s we began working on the concept of linking developing communities in the US and the world via the Web. 

In cooperation with Sister Cities International, UN Habitat, the World Bank Institute and Ghana-India Kofi Annan Centre for Excellence in ICT in Accra, we linked the City of Fort Lauderdale and Agogo, Ghana as the world’s first Cyber Sister Cities. This project got financial and logistics support from technology companies like Citrix and with the dedication of Jo Moskowitz at Citrix and civic leaders in both communities we were able to put in place a community access center connecting to the Web.

My theory was that if we could digitally connect the two cities wonderful and compelling things would happen as a result of mutual interests and dialogue. And they have! Today, in addition to the computing center, we have a sustainable tree farm of nearly one million trees, a fish farm for high quality protein with low eco impact and an entrepreneurial honey e-commerce project with teenage honey farmers in Ghana and young entrepreneurs here importing and selling the honey into US markets. More connections are happening everyday. It is thrilling! Citrix won the Microsoft 2020 Global Citizen Partner Award for their role in the project. With recognition comes credibility creating positive buzz and influence. It’s all good.

EP: How can the United States be the world leader in green awareness to help 3rd world nations?  What do we need to accomplish?

TGK: The US has been slow to develop and adopt green policies. Our government and business leaders simply didn’t get it until now. On the other hand Americans have a strong ability to execute once our direction is set. With the financial crisis shaping re-regulation and the world economy reinventing itself we are on the brink of some of the greatest opportunities of all time in terms of education, research, technical innovation and a market in need of new solutions and products. This is a very exciting time to lead. The US is stepping up to the task and before long we will be respected in this domain and able to provide the ideas and products required for our own needs and those of new economies in developing communities.

EP: Do you feel that the United States needs stronger laws to protect the environment?  If so, in what areas?

TGK: I’m not a lawyer so I can’t speculate on what needs to be changed. Generally I believe that we must remain focused on eliminating our need for traditional fossil fuels; protect forests, wetlands, open spaces and habitat and; reverse the degradation and better support the diversity of the sea.

EP: What is the most vital message you hope people will hear that will make them take action?

TGK: With so many people out of work and our students graduating into a dismal economy I hope to accelerate our investment and deployment of new technologies in support of sustainability. I am a capitalist that believes in the basic tenants of a consumptive society supporting those that bring the great products and services forward. I also support doing so in a manner that creates quality jobs supporting families and individuals in a socially responsible manner. People want to work but they need leaders that will put their talent, dedication and enthusiasm to the task of building a society worthy of protection on a planet that is better than we found it. Our forbearers gave us language, culture, science and we will build on that but we must also create an even better place that what we inherited. Think of it as a spiritual journey punctuated by rolling up your sleeves and making something of yourself!

Related Post: Post-Snowden Internet Era and Cybersecurity: a Chinese perspective

EP: What is the most vital message you hope companies and organizations will hear that will make them take action?

TGK: The survival of the fittest means the best employees will go to the most responsible companies to serve smart consumers and partners. Walk softly and plant a big stick!

EP: What is the one Earth Promise you are going to make in the future that you have not done yet? This can apply to your personal life or professional life.

Related Blog Post - Cloud computing endangering the environment?

TGK: I want to bring forward energy v3.0 technologies which will thrive in marketplace because they are the most economical, simplest to use and can scale quickly to meet the needs of both developed and developing societies.

EP: Excellent interview.  Thank you very much!

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