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Chief of Staff Lytle Appointed as First Chief Sustainability Officer

The past two years have been quite green for Haverford College.  Composting at the Dining Center, LED lights in Founders Great Hall, and a student-built farm by the Featherbed fields have all emerged out of the school’s various woodworks to make the campus a more sustainable place to be. If you read Dan Weiss’ recent school-wide Letter from the President, you may have noticed a mysterious title introduced in the middle of the fifth paragraph that may help the campus become even greener.

“I asked Chief of Staff Jesse Lytle to take on the role of Chief Sustainability Officer,” Weiss wrote, “to coordinate the community’s commitments to environmental responsibility and make sure we deploy our limited resources to maximum benefit.”

What exactly does that mean? Just ask Lytle himself. “My role is to enable conversations between the guys replacing the light bulbs, the students at Haverfarm, and the senior staff who make decisions at the strategic-priority and budget-setting level,” said Lytle, who has worked at the Office of the President for two years. “There’s a ton of good stuff happening on campus and my job is to put together a coherent approach to all these activities.”

The position marks a new chapter for Haverford because it gives environmental stewardship an official voice in the College’s highest levels of senior staff. Lytle was appointed for the job near the start of the spring 2014 semester, when the Board of Managers’ decision not to divest from fossil fuels spurred the Board to improve Haverford’s sustainability in other ways.

“It was very organic,” Lytle said, aptly. “In coming to a policy decision around divestment there was a sense that this whole constellation of issues surrounding sustainability needed more attention.”

The ‘constellation’ has been sorted into three categories: curricular activities, engagement, and operations. Lytle explained that curricular activities include academic programs, engagement involves coordinating student groups and relaying environmental values to faculty and staff, while operations covers the sustainable practices of the campus itself.

Many of these areas have already improved significantly over the past few years. New programs such as the Tri-Co Environmental Studies minor, the student, faculty and staff-led Committee for Environmental Responsibility, and the Enterprise Car Share program in the South Lot have helped the college earn a silver rating this summer from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) in its 2014 Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS). While silver is a lower ranking than gold or the elusive platinum (which no college or university has yet achieved), it is a marked improvement from the College’s 2011 bronze rating, the lowest AASHE/STARS score.

“The silver rating is proof of all the good work that’s been going on,” said Lytle. “But it should also inspire us to do more.”

Due to the old age of many campus buildings, recent changes at the operations level have involved replacing infrastructure with newer, more sustainable systems. These include high-efficiency Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems in classroom and dormitory buildings, and the previously mentioned installment of Light Emitting Diode lights in Founders. According to Haverford’s website, the college has spent $500,000 installing such upgrades, and has saved $100,000 already just this year.

“Those are no-brainers,” said Lytle, “because you get financial payback and it’s good for the planet. The harder issues are when there are real trade-offs to being greener.”

Lytle explained that these trade-offs emerge when the college has to choose between curriculum, engagement and operations in deciding what kind of sustainable campus it wants to be.

“Do we want to be a green campus with highly sustainable buildings and a low carbon footprint? Or do we want to have a model curriculum that gives our students a sophisticated understanding of environmental issues? Those things aren’t mutually exclusive except that they’re both expensive, and we’re conscious of the tuition we charge to students and families.”

Lytle hopes to help the community discuss these values, and wants to bring students into the discussion whenever they can. “I am always open to students getting in touch with me and helping these conversations along.”

Haverford’s senior staff will continue to work with sustainability coordinator Claudia Kent to discuss projects such as updating the Facilities Management vehicle fleet and investing in solar energy. Until then, Lytle hopes the college will continue embracing what he calls ‘the triple bottom line.’

“A lot of corporations are trying to take care of their people and planet, as well as profit,” he said. “The Haverford style of that would be people, planet and program. Our mission is to balance those three together.”