Letter from the BBISS Interim Director, Beril Toktay

Portrait of Beril Toktay.

Portrait of Beril Toktay.

I am excited to step into the interim executive director position at the Brook Byers Institute for Sustainable Systems, with sincere gratitude to John for his pioneering leadership, to the Brook Byers Professors and Faculty Fellows for their high-profile contributions to sustainability research and education, and to Mr. Byers for his generous support of BBISS over the years. 

I am also delighted to have the opportunity to work with a very committed team in Mike, Susan, Gay, and Brent, whose combined tenure with BBISS adds up to more than 40 years, not to mention Mike and Brent’s early involvement with defining Georgia Tech’s role in sustainability going back to the late 90s! I invite you all to engage with us over the next year: a small step is to sign up for the BBISS newsletter.

Some colleagues will remember that I had an office at ISTD, BBISS’ precursor, when I was on sabbatical at Georgia Tech from INSEAD about 20 years ago. I was introduced to the campus sustainability community by former executive directors and mentors Carol Carmichael and Bert Bras. When I moved to the Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business in 2005, I was excited to become part of this sustainability community, with whom I have since had many productive and enjoyable collaborations leading to the creation of the Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business, Serve-Learn-Sustain, the Carbon Reduction Challenge, and more. Rejoining BBISS on its leadership team is bringing things full circle for me and feels a bit like a homecoming. 

Over the last year, I have had the privilege of working as co-chair of Sustainability Next, the Georgia Tech Strategic Plan 2020-2030 Implementation Task Force tasked with developing an Institute-wide implementation plan for sustainability cutting across all core missions of Georgia Tech and encompassing both environmental and social sustainability issues defined by UN Sustainable Development Goals. Many of you contributed through the task force, surveys, townhalls, and individual conversations, for which I am grateful. Through this work, I have come to appreciate not only the depth of the sustainability expertise at Georgia Tech but also the unique point at which we find ourselves in terms of the opportunity to have transformative impact in our city, region, nation, and globe. 

Assets that collectively provide that opportunity include: the cutting-edge Georgia Tech sustainability research community spanning all six colleges and GTRI; successful sister IRIs, centers, and initiatives; a commitment to campus sustainability exemplified in flagship projects like the Kendeda Building;  a student base that is eager to have positive societal impact in their careers; many strong industry partnerships including the Drawdown Georgia Business Compact focused on climate action; federal government and philanthropic dollars poised to invest in climate solutions with an emphasis on social justice; a state government working to bring “new economy” companies into Georgia; many city- and county-level sustainability and climate initiatives; GT-led regional and international sustainability networks including RCE Greater Atlanta and the University Global Coalition; a coalescence around taking Metro Atlanta and Georgia to the next level in entrepreneurial activity; and ELT-level support and resources for sustainability through Institute Strategic Plan funding and Transforming Tomorrow: The Campaign for Georgia Tech theme definition.  There is also a set of challenges, of course, but things worth doing are never straightforward!

I look forward to working with you all to capitalize on these assets and the momentum of the present day. My hypotheses about what our priorities should be for this year are the following, and I look forward to hearing your input and suggestions as we finalize them together:

  • Grow the community of faculty, students, and staff who see themselves as part of the BBISS family and strengthen ties within;
  • Expand BBISS’ research foci to reflect the full richness of sustainability scholarship on campus (here I see a clear focus on climate that draws on all colleges and GTRI as a must);
  • Advance BBISS’ capacity to support interdisciplinary grant writing and community-engaged research;
  • Partner with schools and colleges to help grow sustainability and climate-related interdisciplinary academic program offerings;
  • Accelerate commercialization and entrepreneurship activity in sustainability and climate solutions;
  • Contribute to philanthropic success in sustainability both at BBISS and Georgia Tech-wide;
  • Grow the visibility of Georgia Tech sustainability thought leadership.

I plan to hold “listening sessions” and a retreat to crystallize BBISS’ research foci and priority activities. To engage with this process and explore whether BBISS is a good “home” for you, please sign up for the BBISS newsletter.

I look forward to working with you all!

Beril

L. Beril Toktay
Professor of Operations Management and Brady Family Chairholder
Interim Executive Director, Brook Byers Institute for Sustainable Systems
Faculty Director, Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business
Scheller College of Business
Georgia Institute of Technology

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Brent Verrill, Research Communications Program Manager, BBISS