Why Sustainability Is Important to Me: Patricia Chaves ’92G

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.

Patricia Chaves ’92G

Master of Arts, Government

Current Position
Senior Sustainable Development Officer, Division for Sustainable Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations Secretariat

As a senior sustainable development officer, I advise governments on effective ways to implement United Nations (UN) agreements. At the moment, I support UN Member States in the implementation of the new UN agenda, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which were adopted in 2015 by the Heads of State and/or government from 193 countries. This is how I am currently advancing sustainability at the normative and policy-making level. Sustainability is not about isolated actions to avoid depletion of natural resources and prevent an ecological collapse, but it needs a strong correlation and balance with social justice and economic growth. Sustainability is no longer an environmental aspiration, but an intergenerational vision of a common future.

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

Lehigh had a profound impact on my career. Lehigh’s academic rigor, emphasis on problem-solving and teamwork skills, focus on creativity and innovation, interdisciplinary nature of courses and projects, as well as the unique vision to train students as global citizens impacted how my career developed after graduating from Lehigh and my interest in pursuing a career with the UN. I am proud that Lehigh has embraced sustainable development so forcefully in recent years and is offering students valuable opportunities to make an impact in this field.

What are you most passionate about in your work?

Working at the UN has allowed me to advance the values and principles of peace, security, the respect for human rights, and the pursuit of sustainable development to different audiences. It has given me the opportunity to assist a broad range of stakeholders around the world to implement global agreements. It has also allowed me to benefit from amazing wisdom from different generations, genders, cultures, languages, and geographic regions. As a result, I have made a personal and professional commitment to sustainable development; to embrace our humanity more forcefully; to be ambitious, creative and transformative in approaching world challenges; and to never forget that we have been entrusted this planet temporarily with the hope that, after our departure, it should be a better place to live because of our actions, individually or collectively.

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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