Professor, students and alumni speak to Sam’s Club about renewable energy

Photo by Russell Cothren

Law student Houston Downes speaks with employees of Sam’s Club.

Law professor Sara Gosman, two law students and a recent graduate of the Sam M. Walton College of Business spoke with Sam’s Club employees about renewable energy and electric vehicles at a recent company-wide “regeneration” learning event at its headquarters in Bentonville.

Gosman, lecturer in energy and environmental law, gave an overview of renewable energy. She explained the difference between renewable and non-renewable energy sources, the former being sources that can be naturally replenished, that is, used and then released to the environment to be used again. These include wind, solar, hydro, biomass and geothermal energy. Non-renewable energy sources, such as coal, natural gas and oil, cannot be reused.

Rapid advances in technology over the past 20 years and increased awareness about human impacts on the environment have accelerated renewable energy development and increased business opportunities, Gosman said. Renewable energy sources, mainly wind power, now make up 20% of all electricity generation, and renewable energy is on track to be the largest source of energy by 2035. Solar energy is expected to provide half of the energy supply by 2050.

Third-year law students Houston Downes and Hunter Simmons discussed the economic, sustainability, community and ethical issues surrounding electric vehicles and battery charging.

Downes, who wrote a legislative review on lithium-ion batteries with Gosman as a consultant, focused on the technology and resources needed for electric vehicles. While clearly the future of transportation – Downes described this moment in the transition from gasoline to electric transportation as the “edge of seismic change” – electric vehicles present their own problems, notably energy storage via lithium-ion batteries and the need for a stable supply battery lifecycle chain, including increased emphasis on recycling and responsible mineral sourcing.

Simmons, a student in Gosman’s energy law class, discussed cultural changes resulting from this transition. To support demand for electric vehicles, he said, communities will need to provide more hubs where people can work or communicate while charging their vehicles, similar to public spaces and some businesses offering free Wi-Fi.

Reed Ostner, a new member of the replenishment team at Sam’s Club and a recent graduate of Walton College, talked about his passion for sustainability and how it influenced his decision to seek work at Sam’s.

The event was held to highlight Walmart’s commitment to becoming a regenerative company. The world’s largest retailer aims to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2040 and rely solely on renewable energy for its global operations by 2035. Along with the Walmart Foundation, Walmart also aims to have at least 50 million acres of land and 1 million square miles of ocean by 2030.

The session was facilitated by the Sam’s Club regeneration team in collaboration with Molly Jensen, clinical associate professor in the Department of Marketing at Walton College. Jensen teaches classes in nonprofit marketing, statistics, and analytics. Many of her students have gone on to work at Walmart and Sam’s Club.

About the University of Arkansas: As the flagship institution of Arkansas, the U of A offers internationally competitive education in more than 200 academic programs. Founded in 1871, the U of A contributes more than $2.2 billion to the Arkansas economy through the teaching of new knowledge and skills, entrepreneurship and job development, discovery through research, and creative activities, while also providing training for professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation ranks the U of A as one of the few U.S. colleges and universities with the highest level of research activity. US news and world report ranks the U of A among the best public universities in the country. See how the U of A works to build a better world at Arkansas Research News.

Sara Gosman talking to Sam’s Club employees.

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