Academic Profile: Paul P. Gauthier, Ph.D.

Paul Gauthier
Posted on September 19, 2017

Dr. Paul P. Gauthier, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Geosciences 

How do you define sustainability?

I define Sustainability as the way to avoid the depletion of natural resources in order to sustain human life in balance with nature for an extended period of time. In other words, being sustainable means being aware that human activity has an impact on the environment and finding all possible solutions to limit this impact. 

How is sustainability a part of your research and why?

Sustainability is part of my research in many ways. I study plant carbon balance and the adaptation of plants in regulating this balance under different environments. As part of my research I developed the Princeton Vertical Farming Project to tackle the current limitations and environmental issues that face the vertical farming industry. Vertical farming is a promising concept that could eventually help support future food security. However, many practices are outdated or simply misinformed leading to a lack of success in the development of sustainable businesses in the United States. There are typically many challenges that start-ups must deal with and biological limitations or environmental sustainability are usually not the first priority. Part of our project is to investigate the sustainability aspect of vertical farms and evaluate their impact on the environment. By knowing their impact, we could then start thinking about ways to reduce this impact and provide this technology or information to the industry. This includes issues like reduction of water usage, energy efficiency or treatment of green waters.  I believe that addressing these issues on campus will lead to smarter and more efficient solutions for long lasting positive impact for the environment and human life. 

What advice would you offer to students seeking to focus on or incorporate sustainability in their careers?

My first piece of advice would be to start now. Start thinking in ways we could make easy changes in human behavior without having to blame anyone. For many years, we heard that we should be careful about what we eat, how we live etc… but not everyone is ready to make the jump to be vegan or modify their house to save power. So we have to think deeper and find new ways to incorporate sustainability in the life of everyone and it starts with Princeton’s students. One successful example of sustainable behavior is recycling. 20 years ago, recycling was not even a thing and now it is natural to have two different bins in an apartment complex. We could now think of way to make it more efficient. 

The best way to incorporate sustainability into a career would be to start being mindful about the impact their action could have on the environment, start including sustainable behavior in their way of life, and encourage friends and family to do the same. Finally, if they have a great idea that they really care about and that could make a major difference then they should start looking for help and the Office of Sustainability is the first place to go.