New Director of Sustainability to guide University’s environmental stewardshipBy Greg Borzo
In a highly anticipated move, the University has appointed its first Director of Sustainability. Ilsa Flanagan, whose appointment became effective Monday, Nov. 17, will help make all aspects of the University’s operations more sustainable by assessing opportunities to mitigate its impact on the environment while also identifying areas for innovation.
In other words, Flanagan will help the University community manage its footprint by reducing its greenhouse gas emissions, improving energy efficiency and conserving natural resources, renovating and constructing “green” buildings, improving transportation options and recycling, among other initiatives.
“Ilsa will assist in permeating all aspects of our operations and capital program development with an awareness of the impact on our natural environment,” said Steven Wiesenthal, Associate Vice President for Facilities Services and University Architect. “She also will help identify ways to link our academic mission with our vision of an integrated sustainability program.”
Flanagan was most recently Senior Vice President and Director of Sustainable Development at LaSalle Bank/ABN AMRO. She earned a B.A. in Political Science from Moravian College and a J.D. from American University. She comes to Chicago after a comprehensive nationwide search that engaged University students and staff in the interviews with candidates.
“One of the things that attracted me to this position was the commitment the University already has made to sustainable development and environmental stewardship,” Flanagan said. “When I started at LaSalle Bank in 2005, sustainability was a relatively new concept. At the University, however, there is already a great deal of energy and enthusiasm for this work. My job, in part, will be to harness that energy.”
Flanagan brings to the University more than 13 years of public and private-sector experience working on social policy and environmental issues. “My experience has been that the two are interrelated and can’t be effectively addressed separately,” she said.
She also brings a keen business sense to the job, according to Wiesenthal. At LaSalle Bank, she led the organization’s North American Sustainable Development initiative to integrate social, environmental and economic considerations into its business practices and policies.
“Here at the University, I am committed to making the business case for sustainability because I’ve found that this is more persuasive to an institution than just framing it as a moral imperative,” Flanagan said.
The University has been addressing sustainability concerns for years. Its Sustainability Council (www.sustainability.uchicago.edu) was founded in 2004 as a student-led initiative, and many other student groups, including the Green Campus Initiative and Green Awareness in Action, have worked to bring environmental issues to the forefront. Meanwhile, a number of faculty members and staff members, particularly staff in Facilities Services, vigorously support the University’s green initiatives.
Venkat Kumar, Director of Energy and Utilities Management in Facilities Services and a member of the Sustainability Council, believes that creating the new position of Director of Sustainability is not a symbolic gesture on the part of the University. “Rather, it’s a significant step that will institutionalize sustainability. It will give us cohesion and add to our momentum.”
Zoé VanGelder, co-chair of the Sustainability Council and a fourth-year student studying Anthropology and Latin American Studies with a focus on sustainable development, is hoping Flanagan will help realize some projects she has been promoting during the past few years. On VanGelder’s wish list is assessing and setting a plan to reduce the University’s carbon footprint, and the creation of an urban farm, which would engage the campus community and local residents to grow part of the food consumed on campus.
“It will take awhile for the new director to learn how things work around here, because this is such a large, complex organization,” VanGelder said. “Nevertheless, there are a lot of us who are gung-ho about sustainability and will support her in any way we can.”