Q&A with Nicholas Institute Alumnus David Gordon

As an associate in research at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, David Gordon spent his time studying blue carbon—payments to incentivize holders of coastal habitats to avoid habitat conversion—and conceptualizing next-generation water and wastewater utilities. Now, he’s applying this knowledge to integrated planning projects as a utility management analyst with Hawksley Consulting Company.

How did you end up pursuing work in the environmental field?

I grew up in the New Jersey suburbs. As a kid, I would bike and hike around the forests in the town I grew up in. Each year, a new trail would give way to a new housing development. I realized that with the development, no one else would be able to enjoy these trails and woods. It drove home the lasting impact we have on our natural surroundings. I started volunteering with the town helping to protect open space. One thing led to another, and I made a career out of the environmental field.

Can you talk about some of your current research?

Yes, I can. Some can take a bit of time to explain. So, briefly: One issue I am working on at the moment deals with a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed concept called "integrated planning." It involves merging existing Clean Water Act environmental obligations into one permit and prioritizing those projects that provide the greatest benefit for the least cost. There are lots of questions that arise here: how do we define benefits and costs? Which projects count? What elements of water quality and environmental protection do we consider and what is "additional" environmental benefit? The results have the opportunity to literally save cities hundreds of millions of dollars and improve the environment. That is a win-win!

How did your time at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions influence your career or research focus?

Too many ways to count! My work at the Nicholas Institute drove my interest and passion in the water sector. Today, it encourages me to look at the broader field of research and put a pragmatic lens on how I can apply a body of knowledge to a specific problem.

Tell me about a moment in your career that you feel positively impacted environmental policy?

Environmental policy is a long game. I'll reflect on this after I retire :-)