Al Gore to make speech on green initiatives during commencement

Al Gore will speak at Gesling Stadium on Sunday, May 18 as keynote for the university’s 111th commencement ceremony. The university extended an invitation to Gore, former U.S. Vice-President and 2007 Nobel Peace Prize winner, particularly for his recent dedication to green initiatives.

His prominent work as an environmental activist won him numerous awards and given him opportunities in recent years.

Gore starred in his documentary on global warming, An Inconvenient Truth, which won him a 2007 Academy Award. This past December, he worked alongside the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a body of researchers charged by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme with evaluating the risk of climate change caused by human activity.

The culmination of Gore’s environmental efforts came when he won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize award along with the IPCC, which included Ed Rubin, a professor in the engineering and public policy (EPP) and mechanical engineering departments at Carnegie Mellon.

Besides having Gore as this year’s commencement speaker, Carnegie Mellon has already gained substantial visibility as a leading university in green practices and sustainability.

According to Teresa Thomas, assistant vice president for media relations, Carnegie Mellon knows what being an environmental advocate truly means.

“We’re one of Sierra Magazine’s ‘10 Schools that Get It,’ and University Business has described the university as a sustainability leader. Our environmental engineering program is ranked number eight in U.S. News & World Report, and Design Intelligence magazine ranked our architecture program in sustainable design as the best,” she said.Barb Kviz, environmental coordinator of the Green Practices Committee, is excited for Gore’s arrival.

“Al Gore speaking at Commencement 2008 validates that environmental research, education, and practices are important to the Carnegie Mellon community,” Kviz said. “Many people on campus work towards solving local and global environmental problems every day. I hope graduates will be inspired to add an environmental component to their everyday life and career after they leave Carnegie Mellon.”
Since 1998, Carnegie Mellon’s Green Practices Committee has been dedicated to developing and implementing new technologies and programs to conserve energy. The committee has had both tangible and intangible successes. According to the recycling graph on its website, Carnegie Mellon’s recycling percentage has grown steadily from 5 percent in the 1990–1991 school year to a constant 18 percent since 2004.

Rubin spoke on the great changes that have come towards environmental awareness at Carnegie Mellon and at universities nationwide.

“When I was in college [not at Carnegie Mellon], there were no courses on the environment,” Rubin said. “It wasn’t in the program nor was there a focused concern.”

Rubin began taking an interest in the environment when he first came to Carnegie Mellon in 1969 as an assistant professor. He, along with a few other faculty members, became the core of the EPP department, with the vision of bringing broader perspectives to engineering programs.
Today, the EPP department’s philosophy is to train engineers to have wide-ranging perspectives to deal with environmental issues that organizations and governments face.

“Many of the congressmen and legislators who are in charge of making and passing laws on the climate don’t have the technical backgrounds to fully understand the implications,” Rubin said. “The EPP program strives to give our engineering students a broader set of skills, allowing them to consider social and political implications when applying their technical skills.”

Carnegie Mellon’s first-year dormitory New House was the first in the nation to receive a silver rating for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) from the U.S. Green Building Council in 2003. LEED provides a rating system for certifying green buildings. Carnegie Mellon has made the commitment that every building constructed from now on will be LEED certified.
Still, many see this as only a first step.

“What CMU has done isn’t close to solving the problem in any way,” said Cliff Davidson, a professor in civil and environmental engineering and EPP. “Even if everyone was building LEED silver buildings, it still would not be enough.”

Davidson is also the director of the Center for Sustainable Engineering (CSE). The CSE is a national center that coordinates activities at universities to educate students about sustainability. It partners with the University of Texas at Austin and Arizona State University, with Carnegie Mellon as its main institution. The CSE and the affiliated universities focus on supporting each other in their progress in the environmental field.

Davidson expressed his belief in the philosophy of the CSE.

“I believe the environment shouldn’t necessarily be a separate field, but should be linked to every field,” Davidson said. “Whether someone is an architect, an engineer, or studying liberal arts, they have an impact on the environment.”

Davidson also remarked on how a university campus can help improve the environment.

“There is so much that can be done for the environment even outside the classroom,” Davidson said. “Sustainable Earth is a student organization on campus that has many projects and activities, and is always looking for participation.”

Sustainable Earth is a campus group that undertakes environmental initiatives, such as endorsing RecycleMania and pushing the President’s Climate Commitment, a mission aiming to have university presidents achieve a set of environmental goals by 2012.

The enthusiasm for green practices has extended beyond the Carnegie Mellon campus into Pittsburgh.

In 2007, Pittsburgh was rated the Most Livable City by Places Rated Almanac, which judges cities based on their environmental friendliness.

Additionally, the University of Pittsburgh’s McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine Laboratory Building located on the South Side received the LEED gold rating.

The PNC Firstside Center, PNC’s financial headquarters, located downtown, is the largest LEED silver commercial building in the nation.

Most recently, according to Pop City Media, downtown Pittsburgh’s historic Union Trust Building is to be renovated in what will be one of the country’s largest LEED-rated historic renovations.
Gore’s arrival will no doubt make a splash that will not be forgotten soon, especially in a place as environmentally aware as Carnegie Mellon and, to a larger extent, Pittsburgh.

“I’m sure this will be an address that members of the Class of 2008 will recall to their children. It’s most important to have world-class speakers for our students and their guests. It’s very exciting for us,” Thomas said.