HEN YOU THINK ABOUT SUSTAINABILITY, you're basically asking a question about the future of the planet. For somebody who's thinking, “Gosh, do I want to work in this area?” My response basically is that you get to get up and go to work every day and think that something I am doing is helping to save the planet. How cool is that?
I'm almost embarrassed to admit this, but I ended up in environmental protection almost by accident. I worked at the EPA for 39 years, from November of 1977 through January of 2017 – with a very short interval of about five months in the middle when I thought I was retired.
I started in the Carter Administration and went all the way through the Obama Administration. A lot of presidents. When I first came into the EPA, I was really really fortunate. I fell into the hands of some outstanding mentors. And I'd like to be able to work with students in that way as well.
The reason I wanted to take on this role with the Sustainability Graduate Program at Wake Forest is that it fulfills what really was my ambition the first time that I retired. That is, to help train the next generation of environmental professionals.
It is an interesting experience to come back to Wake Forest after 40 years away. Even though the campus is a lot bigger - there are many more facilities here than there were when I was an undergraduate - it still has the same feeling it had. The same feeling and collegiality. People greeting each other as you walk by on the quad.
We are still in the early stages of this journey. Both at the University and in a larger sense in society. Thinking about what sustainability really needs. For students who are coming in now - what a great opportunity to take your gifts and skills and apply them to this great challenge. Sustainability is the challenge that is going to influence everything that occurs for humanity over the next 50 years.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Originally broadcast at KONO 101.1 Public Affairs Show on July 21, 2019.