There was optimism in the air at Kendall Square Association’s 14th Annual Meeting Celebration: [Re] Imagining a Sustainable Future. For the first time in three years, we gathered, in person, with more than 200 members of our innovation ecosystem to celebrate our community’s success and to look forward to new and emerging technologies which will lead to a more sustainable future for all of us.
Thanks to the support of sponsors Alexandria Real Estate, the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, the Broad Discovery Center, Biogen, BioMed Realty, CIC, Draper, MIT, MITIMCO, and Siena Construction, we enjoyed refreshments from some of Kendall’s beloved local restaurants and retailers, including Catalyst, Lamplighter, Mamaleh’s and Cambridge Spirits at the MIT Welcome Center while members of the Kendall Square Orchestra provided joyful music.
From the Welcome Center, we strolled across to the exciting new MIT Museum where KSA’s new Executive Director, Beth O’Neill Maloney, welcomed everyone–KSA Board members, elected officials including City Councilors Patricia Nolan, Marc McGovern, and Paul Toner, and guests from around Kendall Square and beyond. Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui shared a video message thanking the Kendall community for all it’s doing to advance sustainability locally and globally. She said “events like this, where we’re sharing resources, knowledge, and expertise, exemplify exactly how the City of Cambridge is going to tackle its climate issues—collaboratively and at the forefront of our world’s sustainability efforts.”
KSA Board Chair and Broad Institute Chief Communications Officer Lee McGuire facilitated a thoughtful conversation about the future of sustainability with leaders, Emily Knight, Chief Operations Officer at The Engine, Stuart Brown, Chief Financial Officer at Inari Agriculture, and Joe Higgins, Vice President for Campus Services and Stewardship at MIT.
Each panelist made clear that the talent and technology being developed and harnessed in Kendall could solve the global, existential climate change crisis we face.
- Emily Knight, whose work at The Engine bridges the lengthy gap between discovery and commercialization for “tough tech,” shared examples of companies making breakthroughs in addressing climate change. One such company, Commonwealth Fusion Systems, is dedicated to adding 20% clean energy to the grid by 2050, and Knight says, “the commitments of companies like these really add up.”
- Stuart Brown discussed the new frontier of sustainable technology in the agriculture industry. “Everyone is starting to understand that GMO is simply not going to be the solution to our bigger problems. We must disrupt the industry completely.” said Brown. Inari Agriculture is leveraging the power of gene editing and data science to develop next generation seeds to grow food. With the agriculture industry generating 25% of greenhouse gas emissions, “the complex problems in seed technology require complex technology solutions – especially as we address problems like population growth and climate change.” Inari’s seed development reduces nitrogen use by 40% in corn, soy, and wheat while improving yield.
- Joe Higgins highlighted the US power-grid, the most complex machine in the world, as the key to what happens next. Moving from fossil fuels to electricity will require a three-fold increase in the capacity of the grid, according to Joe. He sees building and strengthening the capacity of the grid as both a challenge and an opportunity. Having managed Fast Forward, MIT’s approach to addressing climate change at every level currently possible, Joe is “absolutely optimistic” for the future. He believes that the alignment of so many leaders combined with an anticipated breakthrough before 2030 on one or more of our emerging technologies–solar, fusion, geothermal, or micro-reactors, will make the difference, if we work together.
In Kendall Square we are committed to using our talent and technology to solve the world’s greatest sustainability challenges in ways that are profound, peer-driven, and long-lasting. Stuart Brown, who moved to Kendall from the financial district, described feeling the difference in the energy here. That difference comes from being united in our efforts to improve the human condition. The innovations happening here are worthy of investment, encouragement, and pride. The future lives here.
Read the full transcript here. Special thanks to KSA’s Kendra Foley who led the planning for this special event, plus KSA teammates Caleb Hurst-Hiller, B. Kimmerman, Abigail Phillips, Adriana Rios, and Yuqi Wang.