Why Sustainability Is Important to Me: Victoria Herrmann ’12

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.

Victoria Herrmann ’12

Bachelor of Arts, International Relations and Art History

Current Position
President and Managing Director, The Arctic Institute
National Geographic Explorer
Gates Scholar

I try to make the most of the opportunities I’m given, so my day job is actually three positions, which keeps me busy! I am the president and managing director of The Arctic Institute, an independent, nonprofit organization. Our mission is to help shape policy for a secure, just, and sustainable Arctic through multidisciplinary research. I manage a team and coordinate projects, publications, and events that span pertinent security issues of the circumpolar region.

I am also a National Geographic Explorer. Over the past year, my research partner and I have been traveling across the US and US territories to refocus America’s climate-change story on the people who are living on the front lines of our eroding edges. We’re creating a database of interviews to better understand how a warmer world is changing the way we live and to better identify what can be done to empower and support people that are in need of adaptation today.

Lastly, I am a Gates Scholar at the University of Cambridge, where I am pursuing a Ph.D. in political geography of the Arctic. My research tries to understand how American policymakers come to know the Arctic through photographs, films, and other visuals and how those images inform decisions about investment in the region.

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

At Lehigh, I took a graduate class called Global Security and the Environment. It was an immersive learning experience about the social, political, economic, and military complexities of rapid environmental changes and unsustainable development choices. For weeks, my classmates and I watched as a massive regional conflict and refugee crisis unfolded in the fictional country of Bechuana through a wargame created by Professor Chad Briggs. Ultimately, the course and war-game experience taught me more than any lecture could about resource rights, environmental degradation, and fossil fuel extraction. My career has focused on the nexus of climate change resiliency and community development to address the consequences of unexpected ecological shifts. That class taught me to look beyond simplistic, linear conceptions of trends and socio-economic structures and embrace the complex, uncertain challenges of climate change.

More than anything else, my fellow classmates and the clubs I was a part of shaped who I am professionally today. At Lehigh, I had the opportunity to be a part of, and ultimately lead, Green Action. Green Action was a dedicated community passionate about making Lehigh a more sustainable university. We had some pretty incredible successes too – from starting the Eco-Reps Program to implementing reusable takeout containers. Being a part of Green Action helped me listen and learn from others who knew how to make a meaningful difference.

What are you most passionate about in your work?

I’m passionate about sharing our country’s climate change story. It is a story that intimately disrupts the lives of Americans across our country. And, it is a story we should all know beyond the graphs and news headlines, because it affects us all. We all have a part to play in helping our country adapt to the effects of climate change we can no longer avoid.

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.

2 thoughts on “Why Sustainability Is Important to Me: Victoria Herrmann ’12

  1. This is wonderful! It’s great to learn about the efforts of Lehigh University, fellow alumni and their initiatives in sustainability. I am in the field of sustainability solving agriculture, forestry, and environmental challenges.

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