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Dartmouth appoints first Sustainability Director

Global Living Project founder Jim Merkel to join college June 1

With its long history of environmental stewardship and conservation, Dartmouth will now join many of its Ivy League peers in creating the position of Sustainability Director. Based on recommendations from an environmental analysis project, the position will be a three-year experiment.  After conducting a nationwide search, said Provost Barry Scherr, the College search committee selected Jim Merkel, an engineer with an impressive record of environmental leadership.

Jim Merkel
Jim Merkel

In 1989, Merkel, a military and industrial designer and salesman for TRW, Inc., was stunned by news of the catastrophic Exxon Valdez oil spill. Almost immediately, he left TRW to campaign for peace, environmental conservation and global equity. He transformed his life into a model of economic sustainability, creating a personal economy that brought him much closer to the global average income and worked to promote sustainable policies through local organizing. Along the way he founded the Global Living Project and authored the book Radical Simplicity.

Merkel will assume his new position on June 1, and will lead Dartmouth's ongoing efforts to integrate environmentally and socially sustainable practices into the College's day-to-day operations as well as its long-term goals.

"Jim Merkel's enthusiasm and dedication will help the College expand its commitment to sustainable and responsible practices," said Scherr.  "His role will be not just to identify and implement ways in which Dartmouth can further environmentally sound practices, but also to work closely with students, faculty, staff and administrators to further an awareness of sustainability issues throughout the campus.  His engineering background and practice-oriented approach will allow him to make a tangible difference to the campus and the community," added Scherr.

As Sustainability Director, Merkel will be responsible for working with administrators, faculty and students to provide the knowledge, skills and motivation to make Dartmouth a model of sustainability through the management of its resources and operations; facilities planning and design; research activities; the curriculum; and the extra-curricular life of the College. Merkel will develop a strategy to embed principles of sustainable prosperity in all of Dartmouth's roles-as a place of learning and research, a business enterprise and a member of the local community. One important facet of his role will be demonstrating to students that they too can make valuable contributions to sustainable use.

The decision to create the position grew out of the recommendations from an environmental analysis and is expected to save the College money in the long run. Similar initiatives at other colleges and universities have demonstrated that sustainability staff save their institutions significant amounts of money and Scherr noted that one of the means of evaluating the experiment will be measuring the return on investment during the next three years.

Scherr also noted that Dartmouth has a long and vibrant tradition of focusing on environmental issues and boasts one of the nation's strongest environmental studies programs. "Dartmouth must make a commitment to conserving and sustaining its resources now," said Scherr, "if we want to bequeath the College that we love to future generations."

Current green initiatives at Dartmouth include an organic farm, composting and recycling programs and integrated pest management and use of green cleaning products. The College vehicle fleet includes gas-electric hybrids and several buildings currently in design and construction will be LEED-certified. Dartmouth supports local growers through the Vital Communities program and uses ground-water cooling in its dormitories. The College also manages a sustainable forest and produces furniture from the forest timber.

Merkel earned a B.S. in electrical engineering from Stony Brook University in 1984 and has 12 years of experience in industry. His projects at TRW included energy demand management systems, design of industrial equipment, military cryptographic communication systems and foreign military sales. 

In his work to develop and promote sustainable practices, Merkel founded the Alternative Transportation Task Force in San Luis Obispo, Calif., that helped create an interconnected bike lane system throughout the city and county. He was elected to the board of the Environmental Center of San Luis Obispo County and served on the Sierra Club's Executive Committee. As a lobbyist in Washington D.C., he has worked to promote wilderness legislation, peace and Native American rights. In 1994 Merkel received an Earthwatch Gaia Fellowship to research efficient resource use in Kerala, India, and visited communities in the Himalayas. The following year he founded the Global Living Project (GLP) in British Columbia and initiated the GLP Summer Institute for the measurement and reduction of biospheric impact.

He also helped found the "Cycling for a Sustainable Future" speaking tour that has logged over 17,000 miles delivering programs at colleges and universities. In the month prior to joining Dartmouth, Merkel is taking a bicycle tour of Spanish universities promoting the Spanish edition of Radical Simplicity. He is also the author of The Global Living Handbook  (2000).

By GENEVIEVE HAAS

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Last Updated: 12/17/08