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Innovation for Impact Fund

Innovation for Impact Fund

Use-Inspired Research Co-Created With Partner Organizations

Cornell Atkinson brings together experts and innovators to deliver large-scale, long-term sustainability solutions. Through the Innovation for Impact Fund (IIF), we support basic and applied research with a clear pathway to impact and an emphasis on actionable, short-term results.

IIF issues calls-for-proposals that are designed with our partners—leading players in practice, policy, and products—to jointly develop and test evidence-based solutions to some of the world’s more intractable sustainability problems. Successful IIF projects create interdisciplinary teams with both Cornell and external partners, demonstrate new concepts, pilot applications of scientific discoveries, and implement real-world practices that can shape development policy or programming, develop tools, and build research and development capacity.

IIF Projects:

The Environmental Defense Fund

Environmental Defense Fund

The EDF-Cornell Atkinson partnership aims to accelerate problem-solving research relevant to national and international policy discussions and catalyze the rapid integration of new research into effective policy, addressing urgent environmental and public health challenges.

Investigating the Financial Impact of Extreme Weather on Midwestern Farmers over Time and by Farming System

Investigating the Financial Impact of Extreme Weather on Midwestern Farmers over Time and by Farming System

Researchers will quantify the effect of variable weather and climate change on farm financial performance, using long-term local data from the Kansas Farm Management Association. The resulting analysis will inform the risk that agricultural lenders face from climate change and the role of lenders in supporting a transition to more resilient farming practices and systems. The researchers plan to engage agricultural lenders for feedback on their analysis in a conference panel on climate change and agricultural financial risk.
Cornell Investigators: Ariel Ortiz-Bobea, Dyson School
EDF Investigators: Maggie Monast, Director of Working Lands; Vincent GauthierDave McLaughlin, Economist
Other: Jenny Ifft, Kansas State University

Addressing Equity in the Army Corps Cost-benefit Analysis Methodology for Flood Protection Infrastructure

Addressing Equity in the Army Corps Cost-benefit Analysis Methodology for Flood Protection Infrastructure

This research project will provide evidence on and solutions to the inequity created by applying a strict cost-benefit analysis in the provision of federal flood protection infrastructure. Environmental justice communities–communities with high-flood risk, increased vulnerability, and whose populations are often predominantly Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC)—tend to have lower property values that are less likely to justify recovery costs within this strict application of a cost-benefit analysis framework. This project aims to protect some of our country’s most vulnerable residents and communities from the increasing risk of flooding. Research partners will convene a workshop with community leaders and academics to develop a revised cost-benefit analysis methodology that incorporates equity into federal flood protection programs.
Cornell Investigators: Todd Gerarden, Dyson School
EDF Investigators: Dave McLaughlin, Economist

Capturing Young Children’s Comprehension and Emotional Reponses to Climate Change

Capturing Young Children's Comprehension and Emotional Reponses to Climate Change

Researchers will examine attitudes and behaviors among young children regarding global climate change (GCC), to assess their understanding and how it makes them feel. The researchers will then develop GCC curriculum guidelines for early childhood educators, in collaboration with Mom’s Clean Air Force and Co-Operative Extension – 4-H. These guidelines will describe what aspects of GCC young children can comprehend and how they respond emotionally to GCC.
Cornell Investigator: Gary Evans, Design and Environmental Analysis
EDF Investigator: Elizabeth Brandt Regional Field Manager, Mom’s Clean Air Force; Rainer Romero

Institutional Investments in Tropical Forest Conservation and Restoration

Institutional Investments in Tropical Forest Conservation and Restoration

This research project will focus on exploring new financing models that might motivate institutional investors to mobilize capital for tropical forest conservation and restoration. Although tropical forests offer great ecological and economic value, far too little funding is being delivered to protect and restore them. Institutional investors such as pension funds and insurance companies are increasingly paying attention to the environmental impact of their investments. Outcomes from this research could play a critical role in closing this funding gap.
Cornell Investigators: John Tobin-de la Puente, Dyson School
EDF Investigators: Ruben Lubowski, Chief Natural Resource Economist

Hotspots of Nitrogen Loss in River Basins

Hotspots of Nitrogen Loss in River Basins

Researchers will examine nitrogen runoff in the watersheds of both the Upper Mississippi River Basin and the Chesapeake Bay. Nitrogen is a vital nutrient for agricultural production, but nitrogen runoff from agricultural systems creates an array of environmental problems. The researchers hope to identify hotspots of nitrogen loss, which are disproportionally contributing to water quality problems. By mapping the distribution of these hotspots, the researchers will be able to pinpoint areas where improvements to agricultural management can deliver the greatest environmental benefit.
Cornell Investigator: Robert Howarth, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
EDF Investigator: Eileen McLellan, Lead Sr. Scientist; Alison Eagle, Sustainable Agriculture Program Scientist

Insights From Localized Air Pollution Data: Integrated Mapping and Assessment of Urban Air Pollution

Insights From Localized Air Pollution Data: Integrated Mapping and Assessment of Urban Air Pollution

Urban air pollution differs significantly across communities due to multiple emission sources, complex urban layouts, and local weather patterns. Assessing the variability of ambient air pollution and identifying its sources are critical to effective pollution control. Previously, analytical techniques have been developed by separate scientific communities. We propose a unified framework that integrates various data sources such as land-use parameters, ground-based fixed monitoring, and satellite remote sensing to inform targeted local emission control actions. The framework has the potential to become “transferable” from one community to another and the impact from the project can be amplified by EDF’s global efforts in tackling urban air pollution.
Cornell Investigators: Max Zhang, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
EDF Investigators: Ramon Alvarez, Associate Chief Scientist

Heavy Metals in Baby Food: Cumulative Neurodevelopment Effects

Heavy Metals in Baby Food: Cumulative Neurodevelopment Effects

Heavy metal contamination is a ubiquitous and serious issue for sustainable health. Although heavy metals are naturally present in the earth’s crust, industrial activities, mining, improper waste disposal, lead shot, and pesticides contribute to elevated levels in soil and water and the food supply. Recently, the presence of Lead, Mercury, Cadmium, and Arsenic contamination of commercial infant/toddler food has come to forefront as a major public health concern. The goal of this study is to better characterize the impacts of exposure to individual heavy metals and their mixtures on the neurological development and behavior of developing children.
Cornell Investigators: Motoko Mukai, Food Science
EDF Investigators: Jennifer McPartland, Health Program

Tracing Aquaculture Feed Sources to Guide Mitigation of Biodiversity and Pollution Impacts

Tracing Aquaculture Feed Sources to Guide Mitigation of Biodiversity and Pollution Impacts

Aquaculture is the fastest growing source of animal protein to feed humanity. Its exponential expansion is fueled by harvesting of wild fish, which are reduced into fishmeal and oil that are critical ingredients in pelleted feeds. Intensive fishing has contributed to collapse of many stocks, yet market demand to feed both people and farmed fish is expected to continue growing, and could lead to widespread alteration of marine food webs. At the same time, intensive fish farming is creating further pollution of rivers, lakes, and coastlines. These diverse impacts of aquaculture require new mitigation strategies to safeguard marine biodiversity and human food security. Our vision is to use genetic tracking of fish sources and mercury isotope tracing of contaminants to reveal what types of intervention would most enhance aquaculture sustainability.
Cornell Investigators: Peter McIntyre, Natural Resources; Nina Therkildsen, Natural Resources
EDF Investigators: Tim Fitzgerald, Oceans Program

Does Agricultural Conservation Increase Resilience to Adverse Weather and Reduce Crop Insurance Indemnities?

Does Agricultural Conservation Increase Resilience to Adverse Weather and Reduce Crop Insurance Indemnities?

Current agricultural production practices lead to a variety of environmental problems, including nitrogen fertilizer runoff, hazardous algal blooms, greenhouse gas emissions, soil erosion, and declining soil fertility. Agricultural conservation practices such as conservation tillage and cover crops offer the promise to reverse these trends, but improving sustainability and maintaining a financially viable farm sector must go hand-in-hand. This novel study will assess the relationship between conservation practice adoption, weather, yields, and crop insurance indemnities, to provide the robust information needed to inform modifications to crop insurance products that encourage agricultural conservation adoption.
Cornell Investigator: Jennifer Ifft, Dyson School; Kelly Gardner, Dyson School
EDF Investigator: Maggie Monast, Agricultural Sustainability

Agricultural Sustainability Data Hub

Agricultural Sustainability Data Hub

Farm databases collect mountains of useful data about farming practices and environmental conditions – information critical for agricultural and environmental policy research and sustainability initiatives, but anonymized data is largely inaccessible to researchers. This project will design and map a secure Agricultural Sustainability Data Hub at Cornell supported by the Ag-Analytics data platform. Cooperating with agricultural and food industry partners and grower associations, the digital hub would serve as a focal point for ag-data sustainability activities, incorporating anonymized data sourced from agricultural service providers, food producers, merchandisers and retailers. This secure data warehouse will inform sustainability research and provide practical tools and analytics.
Investigators: Joshua Woodard, Cornell Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management; Robert Parkhurst, EDF Agriculture Greenhouse Gas Markets

Financing Sustainable Fisheries

Financing Sustainable Fisheries

Fishery reform is a big investment – but we know from experience that recovered, well-managed fisheries can deliver significant financial returns to fishers, coastal communities and the many businesses that bring seafood to the table. This project aims to make sustainable fisheries an investment opportunity that meets the risk-return expectations of mainstream capital providers. Jumping off from successful business models in comparable sustainable business sectors, Cornell and EDF researchers will develop, explore and characterize best practices for project development in the emerging area of sustainable fisheries financing. The team’s findings and outreach will help stimulate investment in sustainable seafood production, marine biodiversity, and global livelihoods and food security.
Investigators: John Tobin-de la Puente, Cornell Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management; Tim Fitzgerald, EDF Fishery Solutions Center; Suresh Andrew Sethi, Cornell Natural Resources; Phoebe Higgins, EDF California Fisheries Fund

Sardine Harvest Control for the Philippines

Sardine Harvest Control for the Philippines

Sardine fishing is vital for food security and livelihoods in the Philippines. As a step toward harvest control for all of the nation’s fisheries, EDF is working with Filipino fishery managers, scientists and industry representatives to develop new science-based harvest rules for the sardine fishery. Cornell and EDF researchers will work together to evaluate and test acoustic monitoring as a cost-effective method for estimating sardine biomass, a measurement of total adult stock that allows fishery managers to calculate optimal annual catch limits. The project aims to support adaptive fishery management, improve fishing yields and profits, and protect ecosystem services in the western Pacific.
Investigators: Aaron Rice, Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Rod Fujita, EDF; Suresh Andrew Sethi, Cornell Natural Resources

Power Huron Project

Power Huron Project

California’s planned electricity rate reform will save $700 million and prevent 8 million tons of greenhouse gas pollution each year. The state’s transition to time-of-use pricing, however, may stall if at-risk communities are disproportionately affected by higher bills or negative health impacts. Based in Huron, California, and partnering with EDF’s sister program in Fresno, this project will https://www.atkinsontions and practical strategies to identify and upgrade vulnerable homes. The initiative will help city agencies, utilities and community partners work together to address low-income residents’ risks – so that people living in inefficient homes and rental properties can benefit from and support clean energy.
Investigators: Howard Chong, Cornell Hotel School; James Fine, EDF Senior Economist; Ray León, Mayor, City of Huron, CA

Mobile Sensing of Volatile Organic Compounds

Mobile Sensing of Volatile Organic Compounds

Controlling methane emissions from oil and gas wells is a vital step toward slowing climate change and protecting global public health – but other airborne pollutants associated with oil and gas may have local health impacts. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency manages a national network of only 34 stations to monitor long-term concentrations of volatile organic compounds, so little is known about the risk to communities near most oil and gas sites. This project will evaluate sensors that detect and quantify emissions of compounds such as benzene, using a mobile monitoring approach. This approach will reduce monitoring costs while giving communities and policymakers solid information about emissions levels and health risks.
Investigators: John Albertson, Cornell Civil and Environmental Engineering; David Lyon, EDF Oil and Gas Program; Oliver Gao, Cornell Civil and Environmental Engineering; Beth Trask, EDF; Eben Thoma, ORD, US-EPA

Using Humor to Promote Climate Change Activism among Young Adults

Using Humor to Promote Climate Change Activism among Young Adults

Many young adults support environmentally conscious values through their private actions, such as tweeting about causes or buying “green” products, but they are less likely than ever to vote. This project will give EDF the communication tools it needs to reach out to Millennials (ages 18–30)—the rising generation for climate change activism and political change. Using professionally produced YouTube videos, the researchers will test humorous messages as a strategy for boosting public engagement. The study will examine whether funny messages—similar to satirical news programs successful with younger audiences—are more effective than informational or fear-based appeals for motivating a new generation of climate activists.
Investigators: Jeff Niederdeppe, Cornell Communication; David Acup, EDF

Toxicological Assessment of Hydraulic Fracturing Wastewater Treatment

Toxicological Assessment of Hydraulic Fracturing Wastewater Treatment

Reported health and environmental risks of hydraulic fracturing wastewater have raised widespread public concerns in the Marcellus shale region and beyond. This study will be the first to assess current wastewater treatment practices and the toxicological effects of exposure to “fracking” wastewater. With the help of zebrafish, which have an endocrine system similar to ours, the team will test untreated and treated water samples from facilities that process hydraulic fracturing wastewater. Tracking the tiny fishes’ molecular responses and reproductive success will reveal how hydraulic fracturing chemicals affect human and ecosystem health and point to the best procedures for treating wastewater before releasing it back into the environment.
Investigators: Motoko Mukai, Cornell Food Science; Elena Craft, EDF Senior Health Scientist; Dan Mueller, EDF Oil and Gas Team Director

Integrated Approach to Climate Change

Integrated Approach to Climate Change

The best way to fight climate change might be with a portfolio of strategies, integrating mitigation, adaptation, and CO2 removal. Some would include solar geoengineering, but others dismiss climate engineering interventions that reflect sunlight back into space as risky stand-alone approaches. This project will build on EDF’s role in helping to catalyze discussions about international geoengineering research governance by modeling the implications of including geoengineering as one element in a broad-based plan to meet global climate targets. The team will use dynamic emulators to model regional climate consequences of incorporating solar geoengineering, in conjunction with other essential actions like emissions cuts and carbon containment. The results will inform our understanding of geoengineering policy and applications.
Investigators: Douglas MacMartin, Cornell Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering; Jane Long, EDF

Transforming Fisheries Science and Management

Transforming Fisheries Science and Management

This project will deploy acoustic instruments on unmanned, wave-propelled ocean robots, called Wave Gliders, to improve surveys and management of sardine and anchovy fisheries in the highly productive coastal upwelling ecosystems off California and Peru. The team will compare acoustic data collected by the Wave Gliders to data collected during conventional shipboard surveys, with subsequent modeling studies conducted to evaluate the new technology’s costs and benefits. These more comprehensive surveys of commercially important fish populations will reduce the chance of stock collapses in the face of climate change, protecting top predator species and multibillion-dollar fishing industries around the world.
Investigators: Charles Greene, Cornell Earth and Atmospheric Sciences; Helen Takade-Heumacher, EDF Fishery Solutions Center; Jake Kritzer, EDF Fishery Solutions Center

Increasing Corn Production while Reducing Fertilizer Pollution

Increasing Corn Production while Reducing Fertilizer Pollution

Nitrogen runoff from fertilizer is a major environmental pollutant. EDF has been working to increase knowledge of sustainable agriculture practices. Cornell’s Adapt-N precision tool helps farmers apply fertilizer for maximum effectiveness and uptake, reducing runoff into streams and waterways. The project will help Corn Belt communities increase food production for a growing world, reduce costs and reduce pollution.
Cornell: Harold van EsEDF: Eileen McLellan

Surveying Environmental Priorities in Different Ethnic Communities

Surveying Environmental Priorities in Different Ethnic Communities

Minority communities in the U.S., especially Hispanic communities, report high levels of concern about environmental problems but are less likely to engage in traditional environmentally friendly actions. Cornell and EDF will launch a new national survey to better understand factors that are important to different ethnic communities and approaches that will best resonate with them.
Cornell: Jonathon SchuldtEDF: Rainer Romero-Canyas

Protecting Fish and Fishermen in Myanmar

Protecting Fish and Fishermen in Myanmar

EDF has helped develop catch shares programs in the U.S., Europe, Mexico, Belize and Cuba to prevent overfishing and protect a vital food source. The new project will expand the work to Asia and help coastal communities in Myanmar maintain productive fisheries and provide ample food while protecting the environment.
Cornell: Drew HarvellEDF: Doug Rader

Locating and Quantifying Methane Emissions with a Google Streetview Car

Locating and Quantifying Methane Emissions with a Google Streetview Car

EDF and Google Earth launched a successful pilot program to track methane emissions this year. The collaboration with Cornell will allow for more field measuring and complex modeling to analyze data on the powerful greenhouse gas and, ultimately, to find and stop dangerous methane leaks that contribute to climate change.
Cornell: John AlbertsonEDF: Joe Rudek

The Nature Conservancy

The Nature Conservancy

The Cornell Atkinson-TNC collaboration pairs Cornell faculty researchers with TNC experts around the globe. This program follows an earlier postdoc fellowship with TNC, as well as a number of ongoing campus partnerships, and was made possible by shared financial support from both institutions and a generous gift by Rebecca and Jim Morgan, both Class of 1960.

Strategies for Climate-Ready Fishing Communities: Optimal Fishing Portfolios for Changing Ocean Ecosystems

Strategies for Climate-Ready Fishing Communities: Optimal Fishing Portfolios for Changing Ocean Ecosystems

Climate change is shifting where marine species can live, particularly in high latitude oceans. As a result, fishing communities face increasing threats to their economies and cultural heritage while they also risk losing fishing access under changing marine management. How can communities maintain access to commercial fishing resources in the face of climate-driven ocean changes? Focusing on Alaskan fisheries, this team will seek to assess the amount of climate risk facing fishing communities, identify balanced community fishing rights portfolios that are responsive to climate-driven fishery changes, and create innovative finance opportunities to support climate adaptation strategies for fishing communities. The project will integrate ongoing conservation finance efforts at Cornell and TNC, in hopes of attracting capital for community-based lending programs to assist fishing communities with climate adaptation.
Cornell Investigators: Suresh Sethi, Natural Resources; Alex Flecker, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; Carla Gomes, Computer Science; John Tobin-de la Puente, Dyson School
TNC Investigators: Adrianna Muir, TNC Alaska; Kate Kauer, TNC California; Rich Bell, TNC North America

Assessing Progress and Barriers to Ecological Restoration of State Property Buyout Programs

Assessing Progress and Barriers to Ecological Restoration of State Property Buyout Programs

Nationwide, more than 13 million homes are located in floodplains and 2.5 million properties will likely be chronically inundated by 2100. After each disaster, pundits debate whether communities should “give parcels back to Mother Nature,” as Governor Cuomo said after Hurricane Sandy. Over the last decade, several states have developed buyout programs, but no studies have systematically compared and analyzed them. This team will study programs in five states (New York, New Jersey, Florida, Texas, and Washington) that have created buyout programs which are promising from community and ecological health perspectives. They will then work with state program officers, TNC staff, and Cornell faculty and students to jointly identify specific research goals, concerns, data needs, case study sites, and research outputs, enhancing the likelihood of success.
Cornell Investigators: Linda Shi, City and Regional Planning; Amelia Greiner Safi, Master of Public Health Program; Rebecca Morgenstern-Brenner Cornell Institute for Public Affairs, Jamie Vanucchi, Landscape Architecture
TNC Investigators: Anna Brown, TNC North America Climate Adaptation Lead; Christine Shepard, TNC Director of Science; Marci Bortman, NY Director of Climate Adaptation

Soil Health Assessment, Management, and Policy to Support Sustainable Land Management in China

Soil Health Assessment, Management, and Policy to Support Sustainable Land Management in China

Compared to the United States, China has much less agricultural land, by area. China’s grand challenge is to sustainably feed more than 1/6th of the world’s population on less than 1/14th of the world’s arable land area, while resources diminish and the climate changes. In order to ensure future food, water, and energy security, the health of China’s soils must be improved. Soil assessment methods in China currently focus on production-oriented management, rather than sustainable ecosystem services. Cornell University is a pioneer in soil health education, research programs, and methodologies for soil health assessment. This team proposes to adapt the Cornell framework for Chinese production environments, which will be essential for the holistic assessment of soil functioning, identification of sustainable management solutions, prioritizing TNC program efforts, and informing policy for different stakeholders.
Cornell Investigators: Harold van Es, Soil and Crop Sciences; Rebecca Schneider, Natural Resources; Joseph Amsili, Cornell Cooperative Extension
TNC Investigators: Yi Ling, TNC China Program; Nan Zang, TNC China Program; Junling Zhang, China Agricultural University

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