Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Arthur L. Irving Institute for Energy and Society?

The Arthur L. Irving Institute for Energy and Society will advance understanding and knowledge of a resource that powers modern life and is a primary factor in determining a society’s standard of living and success. The institute will prepare future generations of energy leaders and advance humanity’s grasp of the field, driving change in the intelligent production, supply, and use of energy.

The Irving Institute will bring together faculty and students from the Arts and Sciences, as well as Thayer School of Engineering and the Tuck School of Business, to find sustainable ways to meet the energy needs of the world’s growing population.

The institute will support existing faculty and students who want to elevate their research, teaching, and learning about energy production, consumption, and policy, and add expertise to Dartmouth through a number of new hires. The institute will provide office and research space for faculty.

Courses, programs, and outreach efforts offered by the institute will advance society’s understanding of energy issues and provide the world at large with insights, solutions, and new generations of energy leaders. Scholars at the institute will produce robust data and rigorous analysis while broadening and deepening the curriculum. Innovative multilevel courses will allow undergraduates and graduate students to study and work together as they conduct research with faculty.

What is the mission of the institute?

The institute will strive to be a leader in transforming humankind’s understanding of issues at the intersection of energy and society, and a driver in the creation of ideas, technologies, and policies that will improve the availability and efficient use of energy for every person on the planet. To attain this ambitious goal, this institute will aim to produce academic scholarship of unimpeachably high quality and relevance and will have education of Dartmouth students at its heart. The institute will be a hub of vibrant collaboration, involving faculty and students from across all academic disciplines, and will prepare the next generation of energy experts who have a deep understanding of North American and global energy issues.

Why is Dartmouth launching the institute?

Dartmouth’s intimate scale and combination of professional schools and outstanding liberal arts faculty promote interdisciplinary collaboration across departments and disciplines.

Dartmouth has a long, historic commitment to teaching. And education will be at the core of the institute.

Bringing the world of energy into the institute will be critical. Alumni who have committed their lives to sustaining the environment or working in the energy industry or the academy want to engage.

We are already doing the work …

  • Thayer engineering professor Lee Lynd is working to use nonedible plants to produce energy.
  • Thayer assistant professor Fiona Li is finding ways to improve the batteries that power electric cars.
  • Geoff Parker, director of Thayer’s master of engineering management program, is promoting innovation by training engineers in business management.
  • Professor Ross Virginia, director of Dartmouth’s Institute of Arctic Studies, is a leader in studying the effects of climate change on polar regions.
  • Assistant Professor of Geography Jonathan Winter explores how variable climates affect water resources and agriculture.
  • Mukul Sharma, a professor of earth sciences, is investigating ways to handle wastewater that results from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
  • Anne Kapuscinski, the Sherman Fairchild Distinguished professor in Sustainability Science, is learning how food-energy systems can be adapted to support climate change mitigation.
  • The student-run Dartmouth Sustainability Project creates opportunities for research and action. For example, the Environmental Defense Fund sponsors a 10-week fellowship each summer, most recently supporting research on renewable energy procurement, energy project financing, and biomass supply models.

The institute will support this type of research and create opportunities for faculty and students in areas related to energy and sustainability. As businesses, governments, and communities grapple with uncertainty within the regional and global energy system, Dartmouth—with its historic focus on the liberal arts—is well positioned to address the needs of societies in the coming decades for insights, solutions, and new generations of energy leaders. The College is a research powerhouse, yet small enough for faculty to share their ideas and research with each other and with their students across the curriculum. 

Where did the idea for the institute originate?

The concept arose from discussions between Dartmouth and Arthur L. Irving, building on prior commitments from the Irving family. Arthur, his wife Sandra, and their daughter Sarah, who received her undergraduate degree from the College in 2010 and an MBA from Tuck in 2014, are passionate supporters of higher education and are motivated by their desire to support fulfilling experiences for students. They are devoted to academic research and the creation of sustainable energy systems and policies for the future.

What will make this institute unique?

The institute is grounded in the belief that energy and society are linked and should be studied in tandem, motivating teaching and learning in the arts and sciences, business, and engineering. Drawing on Dartmouth’s strong undergraduate and graduate programs in the liberal arts, renowned professional schools, and a tradition of interdisciplinary teaching and learning, the institute will be distinguished from other centers devoted to the study of energy. Undergraduate and graduate students will be full partners in the work of the institute, continuing Dartmouth’s rich history of student-faculty collaboration. At a time when climate change is proceeding even more rapidly than previously predicted, the institute will bring together researchers now working in divergent arenas and in different locations, pooling talents to address issues of worldwide importance.

What is the timeline for launching the institute?

During the first five years of the institute’s development, its leadership will address three priorities:

  • The conception of a mature institute, fully operational by 2020, with close attention to its program and faculty recruitment plan.
  • The institute’s topic priorities and research plans, with input from Dartmouth’s academic community.
  • Design and construction of a building that supports the programmatic vision, serves as a magnetic hub for intellectual life, and—in its efficiency and leading technology—expresses the values of the institute. An active calendar of institute programming and sponsored research will emerge by year three to foster on-campus partnerships.

Fall 2016 to Spring 2017:              

  • Launch search for executive director
  • Select architect for institute building
  • Begin series of seminars and talks about energy and society
  • Build broad faculty interest group
  • Build student interest group by launching new activities
  • Complete inventory of faculty interested in energy, courses that touch on energy, and alumni in the energy field

June 2018:

  • Begin construction

Fall 2020:

  • Open the institute

Is the institute focused on graduate or undergraduate studies? Will there be new degree programs?

The institute is a resource for both undergraduate and graduate students, providing opportunities to study the intersection of energy and society comprehensively, from the perspective of the humanities, social sciences, and sciences.

Through the institute, Dartmouth will expand classroom learning opportunities and create minors and concentrations available to students in all majors. There will be real-world experiences, from exploring geothermal sites in Iceland to engaging with energy leaders in academics and industry to interning for government committees in Ottawa and Washington, D.C.

The institute will partner with the Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network (DEN) to encourage students to launch energy-related ventures. Scholarships will provide support to outstanding graduate students in business, engineering, and other disciplines within the arts and sciences.

What will be the academic program for the institute?

While the primary purpose is to support and strengthen teaching and research already underway at Dartmouth, the institute will generate new courses and may lead to the creation of new academic programs at Dartmouth. As the institute becomes fully operational, the College will determine whether to establish energy-related undergraduate majors and graduate degrees, including a PhD program.

Undergraduate coursework could include such topics as energy and the individual, energy economics, energy policy, energy systems, energy exploration and transportation, energy wealth and poverty, food energy systems, future of energy, and energy data. There will be opportunities for faculty and student field work around the world, and for internships in industry, government, and nonprofit organizations. Institute research will be published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals and made accessible to the public. Public lectures and seminars will address issues of timely importance from a wide array of viewpoints.

Which research areas will the institute investigate?

The research portfolio of the institute will be driven by the executive director and the faculty, focusing on four primary lines of investigation:

  • Technology and science: What are the strengths and weaknesses of existing and emerging technologies?
  • Society and the environment: How do decisions about energy affect individuals, communities, regions, and nations? What are the relationships between energy and issues such as wealth distribution, environmental impact, and human welfare?
  • Business and economics: How do markets drive and react to the energy sector? How are investments in energy evolving? What factors drive changes in market behaviors in the energy sector?
  • Geopolitics: What are the forces that shape energy markets and policies internationally?

How will the institute ensure the independence of its research?

Whenever Dartmouth receives a gift, it makes clear that the work of those supported by the donation is unfettered, and that research and teaching may take whatever directions are academically sound and justified.

By written agreement, Dartmouth, the Arthur L. Irving family, and Irving Oil have affirmed their commitment to the principles of academic freedom. These principles, which lie at the heart of all Dartmouth’s academic endeavors, may be summarized as:

  • The freedom of scholars to pursue subjects of their choice—no matter how controversial their ideas and lines of inquiry may be
  • Accuracy and objectivity in investigation and analysis, free of political or institutional influence
  • The freedom of scholars to make their theories and research results public—including publication in the open literature—so their work may be subject to scrutiny by colleagues, others may build on their methods and findings, and society may benefit from their ideas and discoveries

Where will the institute be located?

True to its interdisciplinary focus, the institute will be situated between the Tuck School of Business and Thayer School of Engineering, placing it in proximity to cutting-edge activities at the schools and creating a point of convergence for faculty and students from around campus. Its physical location in front of the Murdough Center will add a prominent new façade to Tuck Drive.

Who will manage the institute?

A faculty executive director who reports to Dartmouth’s provost will lead the institute. Faculty input from all departments and schools will be strongly encouraged. An advisory board will include industry leaders, scholars, and practitioners from diverse areas of the energy field in the U.S., Canada, and other countries. The provost will nominate the advisory board with input from the executive director and it will be subject to approval by the College board of trustees. The advisers will serve in a solely advisory capacity, with no governing authority over the institute.

Who will hold title to new technologies brought to market through this initiative?

Dartmouth has adopted an intellectual property policy that in many cases allows inventors considerable control over their intellectual output.

Will the institute take positions on policy issues involving climate and energy?

No. The institute will invite participation from teachers and scholars who hold diverse views, and their interactions will create, collectively, a body of knowledge that cannot be reduced to a single statement or policy position. That free exchange of ideas lies at the heart of the institute’s promise for meeting energy-related social challenges. While members of the institute may make recommendations for policy and technology changes based on empirical data, the institute itself will not advance or adhere to any political agenda.  

Will Dartmouth divest its endowment of any fossil fuel holdings?

There can be no question that climate change is real and its effects on the environment are harmful. However, a separate question is whether having the Dartmouth endowment divest its holdings of the so-called Carbon 200 companies is an effective or appropriate tactic when designing a global energy system to meet the energy demands of the future in a sustainable way.

Meeting those demands in order to facilitate global productivity and increased prosperity—pulling billions of people out of poverty while at the same time sustaining the planet and its environment—is one of the foremost challenges facing humankind. It is equally important that we address the climate change that is resulting from our current global energy system. Through its research and education, Dartmouth has an important role to play in this conversation, and the issue will be a focal point of the work undertaken by the institute.

To better understand the divestment issue, President Phil Hanlon ’77 has received a report on the considerations involved in making major policy decisions on this issue. Separately, and in addition to the report, working with materials from groups on both sides of this issue and talking with faculty, we have generated an overview of the arguments for and against fossil fuel divestment. The president has begun a thorough review of the information. He and the Dartmouth trustees will determine the steps that Dartmouth should take.

What is Irving Oil’s position on climate change?

Irving Oil has worked for many years to address climate change and its impacts. Their work includes:

  • Voluntarily reducing emissions from its refinery in line with targets of the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference which aim for 17 percent reductions below 2005 levels by 2020.
  • Improving the environmental performance of their products, including developing cleaner gasoline and diesel fuels which result in improved air quality wherever these products are found.
  • Research and projects in conservation and adaptation in partnership with academic and conservation organizations.
  • Since 2010, along with Ducks Unlimited, Mount Allison University, and Acadia University (which is home to the K.C. Irving Environmental Science Centre, named for Arthur Irving’s father) the company has worked to form the Beaubassin Research Station in New Brunswick, which is undertaking conservation, adaptation, and ecological research.
  • Since 1996, beginning with an investment of $2.5 million, Irving Oil has partnered with Ducks Unlimited to restore and enhance wetlands on the doorstep of its Saint John Refinery. This project has maintained high quality habitat for a wide range of wildlife and stabilized water levels that encourage the growth of aquatic vegetation critical to a healthy wetland ecosystem. The project is emblematic of how the economy and the environment can and must coexist.

New projects and initiatives Irving has undertaken:

  • Adopting the SmartWay program, which aims to reduce emissions from their vehicle fleet through measurement and regimentation of operator behavior.
  • Investing in underground infrastructure at retail sites to prepare them for the increasing presence of natural gas in the transportation sector.
  • In partnership with regional utilities, increasing the number of electric-vehicle charging stations at Irving oil locations.

Irving was the first oil company to receive the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Air Excellence Award and is recognized today as being among the top 10 percent of refineries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development on environmental performance.

How can I conduct research on my questions about energy?

The Dartmouth Library provides research guides on energy and energy technology.