Alum hired as director of sustainability
Following a yearlong search, Washington University hired Phillip Valko, a 2003 graduate, to fill the vacant director of sustainability position late this summer.
Students hope that having a director of sustainability will both help student initiatives come to life and make the entire campus more sustainable on an institutional level.
“The way I imagine it would go would be to provide the students a little more resource and a little more direction for when we have something we would like to do or if he has something he’d like to see done,” Michael Yue, a co-chair of the Green Events Commission (GEC), a Student Union executive group focused on helping students host sustainable events, said. “What the director of sustainability provides is ideas and directions for the University to be more sustainable on a larger level than student groups can make possible.”
The director of sustainability is responsible for promoting and facilitating sustainability activities, collaborating with students, faculty and staff and working to implement sustainable principles.
The position has been open for a year, during which time an interim director, Debra Howard, filled in.
Students mostly ran initiatives through Will Fischer, a 2010 graduate and former president of Green Action. Last year, Fischer was a fellow in the Office of Sustainability and has since been promoted to a full-time position as sustainability coordinator.
“Will was really helpful; it’s just that this year it will be easier with someone who has a viewpoint that’s different from that of a student,” Yue said.
Valko plans to take a collaborative approach to his office. He hopes that if he works together with others, the University will be able to decrease its footprint.
“There are so many people who are passionate about sustainability that within every group on campus there’s someone who is trying to move that group forward to be more sustainable,” Valko said. “If this office is going to succeed it’s got to be really collaborative. We need to build on each others’ efforts to find ways we can bring efforts together as a more cohesive whole.”
Valko, who started work on Monday, is focusing on familiarizing himself with all the various departments and initiatives on campus.
As a student at the University, Valko implemented a series of programs aimed at making campus more sustainable.
He started the first Committee on Environmental Quality, which was composed of students and faculty who tried to improve the sustainability on campus. He also helped form V.E.R.D.E. (Volunteers for Environmental Restoration, Development and Education), a program in the Campus Y that still exists. Students in the program go to St. Louis schools and educate children about the environment and sustainability.
Valko’s involvement extended to Green Action and the Sierra Student Coalition. He’s also a founding member of the Wilderness Project, a pre-orientation outdoors program.
“Phil is passionate. He’s energetic, and his enthusiasm is contagious. He will relate very well with students and also faculty and staff,” Steve Hoffner, the associate vice chancellor of operations, said.
Valko graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology and environmental science. After that, he researched global climate change at the University of California-Davis before returning to St. Louis, where he first worked as data management coordinator for the Regional Housing and Community Development Alliance, a nonprofit developer of areas where there is little money for rebuilding. His most recent job was with Trailnet, an environmental organization whose goals are building and maintaining bike and pedestrian trails.