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New campus group will lead Lehigh's campus environmental actions

To address Lehigh’s response to one of the world’s most pressing issues, President Alice P. Gast has formed the Lehigh Environmental Advisory Group (LEAG) to identify ways in which the university can improve its impact on the environment while also studying the complex issue on a national and global scale. Lehigh is in a strong position to respond to those strains on a global as well as local level.

To complement Lehigh’s leading academic initiative applying science, engineering, social sciences and the humanities to this grand challenge, LEAG will help Lehigh set direction and develop strategies for the university to make responsible decisions in its business practices and operations.

“LEAG will guide the university as it further harmonizes its ideological commitment to the environment with its daily practices,” Gast says. “By doing so, LEAG will help the university fulfill its obligation of being a responsible steward of our natural resources and, in the process, educate others to adopt good environmental practices.”

The group of faculty, staff and students will be led by Peggy Plympton, vice president of finance and administration, and Sudhakar Neti, professor of mechanical engineering and mechanics. Neti will bring with him knowledge he gained from evaluating manufacturing plants to determine ways they can use their energy more efficiently.

“I’m delighted that Lehigh is taking action toward creating LEAG,” Neti says. “I’m very pleased to see that sustainability and environmental issues are receiving the attention they deserve from the university, and I’m glad that Lehigh is doing its part to reduce the impact carbon dioxide molecules have on the atmosphere.”

Gast charged LEAG with setting priorities for environmentally responsible changes for the university. Among other factors, they will evaluate their options based on ease of implementation, extent of impact and opportunities for Lehigh to lead others.

“LEAG could have a significant affect on the university’s practices,” Plympton says. “The group will study different areas of operations that have an environmental impact today and will make recommendations that could change the way the university handles recycling, powers the boilers for heating, fuels the buses, manages the printing and copying on campus, or any of the many, many other items one could imagine having an impact on our environment.”

LEAG is the first step in an ongoing process of improving the university’s use of natural resources and its potential influence is considerable.

“It’s important for us to be economically pragmatic – evaluate where we will have the most impact or get the most bang-for-our buck – along with procedures for implementing our decisions and recommendations. That is when the payoff will materialize,” Neti says.

The 10-member group represents a broad cross section of the Lehigh community. Faculty with an environmental interest will work alongside staff members who oversee campus practices that affect the environment, and students who have proven their interest in the topic will have the opportunity to help shape these practices. Jessica Engle, ’08 an environmental studies major, believes this group will help streamline Lehigh’s green efforts.

“I hope we can coordinate Lehigh’s efforts and reduce Lehigh’s impact on the climate. I also hope we will form better relationships between faculty, staff and students, because we can learn from each other,” Engle says.

All but one of the members will serve for two-years; Engle will leave the group after she graduates this May.

LEAG will thoroughly examine each environmental option, delving into often unconsidered factors to determine which practices are best.

“Whatever the topic, we will explore all of its potential environmental impacts. For example, we will not just consider whether the printing company is powered by wind, but also where the company is located and how much fuel will be expended to transport the printed materials,” Plympton says.

By helping the university adopt better practices, LEAG will assist the university to fulfill its obligations as a responsible member of society and as an educator of future citizens.

“As a consumer of the planet’s environment, Lehigh – like every organization and person – should thoughtfully and carefully consider how it uses those resources. In addition to teaching students about environmental pressures and important areas for research, we also ought to be doing the work of the university in a way that is environmentally thoughtful,” says Plympton.

To achieve these goals, the group has been charged with the following:

• Gathering input from the campus community about important institutional environmental and sustainability initiatives.
• Evaluating initiatives for ease of implementation; degree of impact; areas where Lehigh can take a leadership role.
• Articulating Lehigh’s “Climate Commitment.”
• Taking advantage of the university’s academic programs and the engagement of students to be sure that initiatives are fully analyzed for their life cycle environmental impact.
• Providing advice to the president and senior leadership on priorities for initiatives to undertake with expected timeframe and anticipated impact.

Group members include:

• Sudhakar Neti, co-chair and professor of mechanical engineering and mechanics
• Peggy Plympton, co-chair and vice president of finance and administration
• Dork Sahagian, director of the environmental initiative and professor of earth and environmental sciences
• Breena Holland, assistant professor of political science and the environmental initiative
• Anthony Corallo, associate vice president of facilities services and campus planning
• Sharon Basso, associate vice provost and dean of students
• Meghan Smith, special projects manager, president’s office
• Jessica Engle, ’08
• Alice Kodama, ’09
• Jason Slipp, graduate student in the Environmental Initiative Certificate Program

--Becky Straw

Posted on Thursday, January 24, 2008

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