Dr. Justin Richter (PhD 2019) found mentorship and a passion for social sustainability

Walks across campus with Professor Larry Nies led to Justin Richter’s career in sustainability innovation at Microsoft.

Richter found the mentor he was seeking in Dr. Nies. Their conversations eventually led Richter to join the newly established graduate program in Environmental and Ecological Engineering at Purdue. Richter became EEE’s first MS graduate in 2016; in 2019, he completed a PhD in EEE under the co-advisement of Dr. Nies and EEE head Dr. John Sutherland, becoming Dr. Justin Richter.

“EEE aligned with my motivation to understand and create change for the human experience,” Dr. Richter says. “I gained an awareness of the complexity and interconnectedness of global systems across multiple domains, including the environment, society, politics, materials, and economics.”

Dr. Richter’s Purdue journey demonstrates the value of seeking out mentors and reevaluating long-term goals. After initially dropping out, he returned to Purdue 10 years later to complete a BS in engineering management (2011).

“Life circumstances changed the value I placed on my education. The knowledge and credibility that my Purdue degrees provided is immeasurable,” Dr. Richter says. 

Now Senior Sustainability Impact Manager at Microsoft in Redmond, WA, Dr. Richter measures the embodied carbon impact of all Microsoft Cloud hardware across each stage of the hardware life-cycle. He is currently building an expert team to quantify and evaluate the complex facets of sustainability for Microsoft Cloud.

“Sustainability research has connected me to the systems that humans create, the resources used to create them, and the people who are integral to those systems. People are fundamental to development in the industrialized world, and without us, systems cannot be designed and built to make the human experience better.”

While Dr. Richter’s current work focuses on carbon, he is deeply invested in evaluating and quantifying the social impact of technologies and industrial activity—how people are affected by industrial activity and how, in turn, that impacts the industry/business. Guided by his co-advisors, Dr. Nies and Dr. Sutherland, Dr. Richter’s PhD research led him into the field of social life-cycle assessment (S-LCA) as a technique for assessing the potential positive and negative social impacts over the product life-cycle.

“As Dr. John Sutherland commonly points out, if it cannot be measured, it cannot be evaluated for performance.”

Dr. Richter concludes that measuring the social performance of products is vital because we are deeply connected to the resources we use, the products we buy, and the people who participate in their creation.

His advice to current EEE students?

“The world needs systems thinkers like those produced by the EEE program. There is a shortage of individuals with the ability to place a system in context or understand how complex systems influence one another. The systems thinking taught by EEE enables communicating the purpose, goals, and demands of choosing sustainability. Take courses in communications. Try an improv session. The better you are at concisely communicating your abilities and knowledge, the greater chance you have at catching the ear of influence and driving the change needed for the betterment of future generations."

Writer:  Jessica MehrPurdue Environmental and Ecological Engineering

Source:  Justin Richter