Lehigh University
Lehigh University
President Alice P. Gast

Speeches & Writings

Earth Day Address

April 20, 2012
Alice P. Gast

Thanks to all the members of LEAG for all the good work they have done since 2008—and for all they continue to do on our campus.

Since the first Earth Day celebration on April 22, 1970, our understanding of the environment and our recognition of the critical relationship we have with our natural resources has grown. At Lehigh University, we recognize and embrace our responsibility as educators, researchers, consumers, community members, and stewards of land, and we welcome this opportunity to celebrate our campus commitment to sustainability.

On Earth Day 2009, I signed Lehigh University’s Climate Commitment. I pledged then that:

Lehigh University will create institutional policies and procedures to manage the development and implementation of a university-wide plan that affirms our commitment to protect and improve the environment through our teaching, research, faculty, student and staff service, and administrative operations.

We set goals for ourselves to accomplish eight actions, involving: curriculum; inventory; LEED certification; energy purchasing; incentives for bus transportation; recycling; conservation; and, efficient use of resources and establishing metrics.

I am gratified that three years later, we accomplished these goals and created Lehigh University’s sustainability plan. This plan is the culmination of a campus-wide effort, and I applaud everyone who had a hand in its creation.

Our sustainability plan is a comprehensive road map for positive change. It focuses in particular on creating strong connections between our strategic plan and the sustainability initiatives we pursue.   

This plan touches all areas of Lehigh: academic, administrative, student life. As a residential community, it is especially important that we use our campus as a “living laboratory” and innovate and reduce our consumption of resources. Our students have recently reduced their campus-wide paper consumption by 28%, and we increased our single stream recycling rate by approximately 25% in the past year. Let’s give ourselves a big hand for making such great strides.

While we have accomplished quite a bit, we have much more to do. The sustainability plan calls upon us to do more in nine areas:

  1. Built Environment & Land
    • Use LEED standards and integrated pest management

  2. Energy & Climate
    • Energy plan by our 150th: 2015

  3. Food & Dining
    • Increase local and organic food in dining halls and retail facilities

  4. Purchasing
    • Launch Diverse and Local Supplier Program

  5. Academics & Educational Experience
    • Courses with sustainability integrated into curricula

  6. Community Building & Social Equity
    • Economic development and housing opportunities within walking distance of campus

  7. Transportation
    • Reduce parking demand by 15% through alternative forms of transportation and other viable forms of work

  8. Waste & Recycling
    • Expand composting program and minimize hazardous/chemical waste

  9. Water
    • Reduce bottled water usage

How will we achieve these goals?

Eco-Reps are one of the notable innovations at Lehigh. They are student volunteers who promote sustainable living in their campus residence halls and living groups (you may see them sorting trash for a very informative waste inventory).

By raising awareness of issues such as waste and recycling, composting, energy consumption, and food systems, these students have greatly reduced their environmental footprint.

As we watch the progress our Eco-Reps are making in their residences, we can all learn ways to reduce our consumption of resources.

And that is a key point to remember: each and every one of us assumes responsibility for the success of this sustainability plan. Working together to combine our individual and collective energy, we will benefit Lehigh University and the community at large.

On Earth Day, it is traditional to plant a tree. In fact, since the “snowpocolypse” in October, we have planted 57 trees to replace those lost to the storm, and add a few more. As we reflect on the storm and how it reminded us of the fragility of our natural resources, we celebrate Earth Day by planting one more tree and seeding the future with a sustainability plan for Lehigh.

Thank you all for joining us in this important cause.