Lehigh Accepts Green Ribbon Schools Sustainability Award

The university was just one of five post-secondary institutions nationwide to receive the U.S. Department of Education award Tuesday at a ceremony in Washington, D.C.

 Cynthia Marten, Audrey McSain and Mark Ironside

From left, Cynthia Marten, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Education and senior leadership official for climate, environment, and sustainability matters; Audrey McSain, sustainability program manager at Lehigh, and Mark Ironside, assistant vice president of business services at Lehigh. Photo: Flickr/U.S. Department of Education

Lehigh accepted the 2021 U.S. Department of Education’s Green Ribbon School Post-secondary Sustainability Award at a ceremony in Washington D.C. on Sept. 28.

The university, which has implemented its Sustainability Strategic Plan 2030, learned of the award in April.

“We are thrilled to accept this national sustainability award on behalf of Lehigh University,” said Lehigh Sustainability Officer Katharine Targett Gross. “It is a tremendous honor that not only shows the important sustainability work being done at Lehigh, but it also further strengthens Lehigh's reputation among other higher education institutions.”

The award recognizes Lehigh’s contributions across three pillars: reducing environmental impacts and costs, improving the health and wellness of the school, students and staff and ensuring effective environmental and sustainability education.

“It’s wonderful to be recognized for this achievement,” said Mark Ironside, assistant vice president of business services at Lehigh. “There is much more work to be done, but we are committed to our plan and will continue to advance sustainability at Lehigh.”

Lehigh was the Pennsylvania Department of Education's sole higher education nominee and one of just five postsecondary institutions across the nation honored. Nationwide, 27 schools, three early learning centers and five districts received the honor.

“We are proud of Lehigh’s commitment to becoming a model sustainable campus,” said Pat Johnson, vice president of finance and administration. “I want to commend everyone at Lehigh who is working hard to help the university achieve its sustainability goals.”

In its submission, Lehigh cited the “tremendous strides” the institution has made merging “environmentally responsible solutions with equitable community practices,” and included the adoption of its Sustainability Strategic Plan 2030. The 2030 Plan, released in October, encompasses six focus areas and 113 goals, each aligning with one or more of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. The 2030 Plan was developed with input from the Lehigh community―students, faculty, staff, alumni and the Bethlehem community―and guided by the Lehigh Sustainability Council.

Lehigh included mention of its work on creating a Climate Action Strategy as part of its submission. The Climate Action Strategy will provide a detailed framework and serve as a comprehensive roadmap for measuring, planning and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It will also establish a net carbon neutrality date for the institution as well as a pathway for how to get there.

Lehigh also addressed the work it’s doing to fulfill each of the three pillars the award highlights. The university featured the joining of the Climate Mayors Electric Vehicle Purchasing Collaborative and a water reduction strategy that includes a rainwater reclamation system incorporated into the design of its new Health, Science and Technology building in its narrative for the first pillar, Your Efforts to Reduce Environmental Impact and Costs.

In the narrative for the second pillar, Your Efforts to Improve the Health and Wellness of Students and Staff, Lehigh noted its pending Fitwel and LEED certifications for its new College of Health, achieving its Real Food Challenge goal, its Employee Wellness program and an Eco-Healthy Child Care Certification for Lehigh’s daycare.

Lehigh cited numerous ways its students are engaged in sustainability research, internships and using the campus as a living laboratory for the third pillar, Your Efforts to Ensure Effective Environmental and Sustainability Education. The examples included the sustainability curricular integration workshop the Lehigh Sustainability Council hosts.

“This award not only recognizes Lehigh’s contributions in reducing environmental impacts and costs, but also in improving the health and wellness of the school, students and staff and in ensuring effective environmental and sustainability education. It covers all three pillars of sustainability,” Gross said.

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