Why Sustainability Is Important to Me: Daniel A. Zarrilli ’97

In January, President John Simon ’19P announced Lehigh’s new Campus Sustainability Plan 2020. This ambitious plan establishes a long-term vision for sustainability at Lehigh with meaningful short- and intermediate-term goals. It is one example, among many, of Lehigh’s commitment to environmental stewardship, economic prosperity, and social equity. Katharine Targett, Lehigh Sustainability Program Manager, spoke with four alumni who have careers in sustainability, and they shared their stories about their career pathways and how their experiences at Lehigh sparked their interest in their field.

Click here for more information on Lehigh’s sustainability efforts.

Some of the recent sustainability efforts on Lehigh’s campus include:

• Embarking on a bike-sharing program
• Earning a certification from the Green Restaurant Association for sustainability efforts at Rathbone
• Offering 72 undergraduate and 23 graduate sustainability-related courses
• Receiving a silver award from the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System (STARS)
• Developing a comprehensive waste management plan and data tracking system
• Adding an all-electric bus and car to the transportation fleet
• Appointing the first vice president for equity and community to lead Lehigh on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion
• Diverting 56 percent of total waste through campus-wide recycling efforts
• Installing 16 solar panels (that produce a maximum of 255 watts each) next to the Community Garden on campus

Additionally, a few operational changes were made recently which reduced domestic water usage by over 1.5 million gallons per year in Whitaker Lab and reduced electrical energy by over 300,000 kilowatt hours per year on the Asa Packer Campus. These operational changes are saving the university approximately $27,000 annually.

In addition to improving sustainability efforts on campus, Lehigh works hard to develop future leaders who are prepared to lead and ready to solve pressing global climate challenges for years to come. Often, it is the experiential learning opportunities offered at Lehigh, which explore the complex interactions of environmental, social, and economic factors underlying today’s challenges, that trigger a deep interest in students to address some of the significant challenges of the 21st century in their future careers.

Everyone at Lehigh — faculty, staff, students, and alumni — has a role to play as we work to create a more sustainable world. Lehigh’s Campus Sustainability Plan 2020 is the university’s roadmap of short- and intermediate-term goals over the next three years.

Daniel A. Zarrilli ’97

Bachelor of Science, Civil Engineering

Current Position
Senior Director, Climate Policy and Programs
Chief Resilience Officer, New York City Mayor’s Office

As the senior director of Climate Policy and Programs and the chief resilience officer in the New York City (NYC) Mayor’s Office, I oversee all of NYC’s climate action, which is organized under two main themes: sustainability — dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050, and resiliency — preparing our city to withstand and emerge stronger from the impacts of a changing climate. Now more than ever, the choices we make today will have long-term consequences. Sustainability, both environmental and economic, is critical to making sure that those choices help us to improve the world that our children will inherit.

What about your Lehigh experience sparked your interest in what you do now? How did Lehigh help shape your success?

Majoring in civil engineering helped me to see the connected nature between our built environment and society and how infrastructure serves the daily needs of people. That reality also came through quite clearly in my participation with the Iacocca Scholars program, which brought a diverse set of voices together to debate the topics of the day. Every choice we make in how we design and build something can have long-term social implications that are not always obvious. Additionally, Lehigh teaches you that hard work pays off. Never underestimate the connections that you make on South Mountain; they will be with you throughout your career.

What are you most passionate about in your work?

The chance to make a difference in building a better world and preparing for the future of our city is clearly exciting. There is no better place than city government in NYC to see how your actions can both impact the lives of New Yorkers and also inspire others around the globe to act.

Are you interested in sustainability and social responsibility? Join LU SAN (Lehigh University Sustainability Alumni Network) today. LU SAN is a group of like-minded alumni, faculty, and staff who are committed to sustainability — the economic, environmental, and social aspects — in professions and industries within the Lehigh community. The group is dedicated to helping Lehigh alumni thrive professionally and is committed to bringing their expertise back to Lehigh’s campus. To learn more about LU SAN, click here.

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