Skip to content

Sanford's Energy & Environment research stands at the forefront, providing top-tier academic insights and expertise in environmental and energy policy. In a critical era where scientific credibility is under scrutiny, Sanford addresses policy innovations crucial to the planet's health. Renowned faculty members contribute to global initiatives, advising local, national and international policymakers. 

Sanford's faculty is actively engaged in producing rigorous research that addresses urgent policy challenges, including persistent pollution and the risks associated with climate change. The Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment & Sustainability strives to design effective policy responses to the most pressing environmental and energy challenges.

2023 marked a renewed focus with the Duke Climate Commitment. Here are highlights from some of Sanford's impactful work in Energy & Environmental policy. 

Energy Access Project branches out 

village with electricity

The James E. Rogers Energy Access Project (EAP) at Duke, led by Sanford faculty member Marc Jeuland and Jonathan Phillips of the Nicholas Institute, was established in 2017 to address energy poverty through sustainable, modern solutions worldwide. One notable contribution is the publicly-available Benefits of Action to Reduce Household Air Pollution (BAR-HAP) tool, developed by Professor Marc Jeuland and the EAP team. This tool assesses the costs and benefits of interventions to reduce damages from polluting cooking technologies and is a core element of the World Health Organization's Clean Household Energy Solutions Toolkit (CHEST). EAP has organized convenings and roundtables in various locations, including Washington DC, Durham, Global Conference of Parties (COP) climate meetings, and online, fostering research and policy dialogues on energy access, gender empowerment, financing, and just energy transitions.

The project sponsors an annual Energy in Emerging Markets Case Competition, engaging students from over 50 academic programs. Moreover, EAP, under the leadership of Jeuland and Phillips, co-leads a global research collaborative named the Sustainable Energy Transitions Initiative. The initiative aims to advance foundational research and promote constructive dialogue among policymakers, entrepreneurs, and scholars. EAP's interdisciplinary approach involves engaging students globally, fostering the development of disruptive tools, and breaking down barriers to improved energy access, aligning with its mission to drive energy system development and low-carbon transformation.

ResearcH: Understanding Gender and Energy Key to Sustainable Development Goals

Womman's hands scooping food

Duke University scholars, including Ipsita Das, Marc Jeuland, Njeri Kara, PP Krishnapriya, Subhrendu K. Pattanayak, and Victoria Plutshack, collaborated on a Nature Energy review addressing the link between gender, energy, and sustainable development goals. The study reveals the disempowerment caused by the lack of energy access for women in poor rural areas. Despite United Nations commitments to gender equality and universal energy access, knowledge gaps hinder progress. The researchers advocate for comprehensive research, focusing on women as consumers and entrepreneurs, diverse gender equality measures, and understanding household power dynamics. The study underscores the importance of addressing global energy disparities. Read more about this research. 

Research: Economic Benefits of Water Pollution Cleanups Outweigh Costs

Lake on left, vibrant blue, trees on right

A study published in the Journal of Public Economics sheds light on the economic impact of federal grants aimed at cleaning up Great Lakes Areas of Concern (AOCs) to address water pollution in the United States. With the U.S. government allocating over $1.23 billion since 2004 for the cleanup of toxic pollutants in the Great Lakes region, the research delves into the effects on housing prices within a 12-mile radius of specific regions on all five lakes. Initially, AOC designations led to a decrease in property values by an average of $25,700 per house. However, subsequent federal grants dedicated to cleaning up these areas resulted in an average increase of $27,295 per house. The net-positive benefit of the AOC program was found to be $1,595 per house, indicating that the economic gains from water cleanup efforts outweigh the costs. The study, conducted by Robyn Meeks, an assistant professor at Sanford, suggests broader implications for other states and regions, highlighting the value people place on clean water and its economic impact. Read more about this research. 


Research: Does the Selective Erasure of Protected Areas Raise Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon?

Rainforest dense foliage

Protected areas (PAs) are the leading policy to lower deforestation. Yet, resistance by land users leads PAs to be created in remote sites, lowering impact of the PA. Alex Pfaff and co-authors evaluated the forest impacts of Protected Areas (PA) size reductions in the Amazon. Their research resulted in a conceptual framework showing that the location of size reductions affects forest impacts, as impact requires that PAs faced and blocked pressure. Read the publication.

2023 Wilson Lecture: Investing in communities key to climate justice

4 people, standing and smiling

The Spring 2023 Wilson Distinguished Lecture at Sanford featured climate justice leaders, including Raya Salter, a prominent attorney and clean energy expert. Salter's keynote speech emphasized her career in climate justice, urging the audience to seek solidarity and justice for those affected by pollution and climate change. She highlighted the urgency of climate disasters and called for community investment. Salter encouraged the crowd to be "joyful futurists" and concluded with a call to action. The event also included a panel discussion with Cameron Oglesby (MPP'23), William J. Barber III, and Angella Dunston, addressing disparities in North Carolina's poor communities amidst the climate crisis. Read more about the event.


Climate Change Solutions Audio Series

The Sanford School's Ways & Means podcast has launched a series of research-based stories focused on climate change solutions. All episodes are hosted by journalists, and include storytelling from around the world. Episodes include:

Subscribe to Ways & Means podcast

Climate Change Episodes of Policy 360

Policy 360 is a series of policy-focused conversations hosted by Judith Kelley, Dean of the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University. Recent Energy & Environment episodes include:

  • Climate Migration - Dean Judith Kelley speaks with Kerilyn Schewel and Sarah Bermeo of the Duke Center for International Development about emerging climate migration patterns and how research might better inform policy.
  • Carbon Tax- Guest host and J.D./UPEP doctoral candidate Gabriela Nagle Alverio speaks with Sanford Professor and Interim Director of the Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment, and Sustainability Brian Murray about different carbon tax approaches and their pros and cons for curbing emissions.
  • Plastics: The Climate Connection and Policy Possibilities -Dean Judith Kelley discusses this issue and potential policy solutions with Duke Ph.D. candidate Zoie Diana.
Subscribe to Policy 360 Podcast

Alumni Leaders in Energy & Environment Policy

Man crossing his arms

Ben Abram, (PPS'07) Didn’t Set Out to Make a Difference in Clean Energy

Ben Abram, the current CEO of Modern Energy, spearheads the company's mission to expedite the transition to a net-zero carbon economy. Rooted in Durham, N.C., Modern Energy collaborates with clean energy entrepreneurs, providing crucial capital to scale businesses with significant impact on the energy transition. Operating dynamically, the company assumes versatile roles as needed. With a background in public policy and engineering, Abram underscores the urgency of addressing the energy transition. Modern Energy, linked to American Efficient, aims for a net carbon zero goal by 2050, working to overcome barriers and increase investments in renewable energy. Read this alumni profile


Rob Howard, PPS’99: Sanford Sparked a Career in Energy Innovation

Man with glasses looking at screen and smiling.

Rob Howard, CEO of ClearGen, credits Duke University's Sanford School of Public Policy for shaping his career in renewable energy policy. Sanford's curriculum, blending theory and practice, exposed Howard to diverse interests, particularly energy and developing nations. An internship at the Canadian consulate in Halifax, stemming from a chance encounter, fueled his confidence and set the stage for a career in energy banking and private equity. Howard emphasizes the pivotal role of policymakers in the energy industry, where rules shape the game. ClearGen, a startup he co-founded, focuses on financing overlooked energy sectors, bringing clean energy to a broader market. Howard advocates for empowering the next generation to challenge conventional ideas. Read this alumni profile

Jainey Bavishi PPS’03: Engaging Vulnerable Populations is Key to Climate Solutions

Jainey Bavishi Headshot

Jainey Bavishi's career, shaped by her experience documenting the aftermath of a devastating cyclone in India during her Duke fellowship, has led her to become the Assistant Secretary of Commerce and Deputy NOAA Administrator. Bavishi, an urban planner, emphasizes the intersection of environmental and socioeconomic vulnerability. Her work in climate resilience includes roles in NOAA, non-profits, and as the Director for the Mayor's Office of Climate Resiliency in NYC after Hurricane Sandy. Bavishi contributed to the anthology "All We Can Save" and continues her commitment to preparing communities for climate change impacts in her current role at NOAA. Read this alumni profile

Student Voices In Energy & Environment

Student Voices give Sanford undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to share their perspectives on all areas of public policy. These recent voices focused on the need for solution-based change in environment & energy policy.


Student Voice: Aanahita Ervin

If we are truly interested in the environment and justice, then we need one thing: time. There are no quick and easy solutions to climate change. If we want to address climate change using the lens of environmental justice, we must stop having extractive and transactional relationships with Indigenous people and their land. 

- Aanahita Ervin, Sanford Student

Climate Justice and Indigenous Knowledge

Student Voice: Antonella Di Ciano

As I left the UNGA 2023, I carried with me not only the knowledge and experiences of these transformative days but also a renewed sense of purpose. The road to achieving the SDGs is undoubtedly challenging, but within the walls of the UNGA and the Sustainable Development Impact Meetings, I witnessed the indomitable spirit of humanity. Together, as a global community, we are not just dreaming of a sustainable future – we are actively shaping it, one dialogue, one initiative, and one innovative solution at a time.

Antonella Di Ciano, Sanford Student

Inside United Nations General Assembly 2023

Student Voices: COP 28

Sanford students were very active in this year's COP28 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. They shared their thoughts on the current state of climate change policy, the leaders they met in Dubai, and their views on the future of energy and environment policy. 

Collaboration and Gender Inclusion at COP28 - B. Eni Owoeye

COP28 Connections and Reflections - Jacob Wilentz

Thoughts From COP28 - Gabriela Nagle Alverio

COP28 Wrap-Up - Ian Hitchcock

Read More Student Voices