8:09 a.m., Dec. 4, 2015--Michelle Bennett has logged quite a few
miles since her first day on the job as the University of Delaware’s new
sustainability manager. Crisscrossing the Newark campus and the state
to meet people and tour facilities, she’s been wearing out shoes at a
high rate since mid-August.
“I’ve just generally been trying to wrap my brain around all the
ongoing efforts to make UD a more sustainable place,” says Bennett.
“I’ve been talking to a lot of people, from students to administrators,
listening to their ideas and sharing what I’ve learned so far about our
progress towards our sustainability goals.”
Her takeaway so far is that while much has been done, there is still a lot left to do.
With Bennett’s hiring, the University of Delaware has taken a major step toward fulfilling a priority recommendation of the Delaware Will Shine strategic plan, which calls for establishing an Office of Sustainability.
Her role is to provide leadership across UD’s campuses and act as an
organizational strategist to position the University as a leader in
sustainability in higher education.
From her base in the Office of Facilities, Real Estate and Auxiliary
Services, she has begun working with academic and administrative units
and student groups throughout UD to develop and implement
environmentally sustainable practices and programs.
One of her first tasks was to provide updates on the University’s
commitment to reduce carbon emissions as outlined in UD’s 2008 Climate Action Plan, which called for a 20 percent reduction in carbon emissions by the year 2020, and the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, signed by former UD President Patrick Harker.
“The good news on this front is that even though we we’ve only
reduced our total emissions by 2.5 percent since 2008, we have
significantly reduced our carbon emissions on a per capita and a
per-square-foot basis, despite expanding over the past few years,”
She is currently working with a student intern to develop a website
that will provide more detailed information about UD’s sustainability
efforts, including energy efficiency, waste reduction and recycling,
stormwater management, landscaping and transportation.
According to Alan Brangman, vice president for facilities, real
estate and auxiliary services at UD, the search committee was impressed
with Bennett’s breadth of knowledge and experience in environmental
sustainability and utility-based energy efficiency programs.
“Michelle’s understanding of how to work in a large research
university environment with diverse stakeholders positions her well to
be a great team player here at UD,” Brangman said.
While earning her master’s degree in environmental studies, she
served as the environmental sustainability coordinator for the Macquarie
University Campus Experience in Sydney, Australia. A wholly owned
subsidiary of Macquarie, the Campus Experience manages nonacademic
services for the institution of 38,000 students, including food, retail,
entertainment, sports and recreation, student groups, publications and
During her two-year tenure, she was able to help reduce energy
consumption at Maquarie by 30 percent and was also able to help reduce
water consumption by 15 percent. Macquarie University was a top-10
nonindustrial resource consumer in the state of New South Wales at that
She received her master’s in 2010 and returned to the U.S., working
as an energy efficiency analyst with ICF International, a management,
technology and policy consulting firm based in Fairfax, Virginia, with
substantial interests in energy, environment and infrastructure.
After a while, however, she found she missed the university
environment and began looking around for new opportunities. She
particularly enjoys working with students, with their high levels of
energy and enthusiasm.
“My sense of the University of Delaware so far is that it’s a place
where people have a strong sense of stewardship,” she says. “People are
invested in taking care of the University and have a real pride in their
While she is still operating in “get-to-know-you mode,” Bennett says
that UD already has many good practices in place that few people know
about. One of her goals will be to make sure more people hear about
“Sustainability is a good recruiting tool,” she says, “even for
people who aren’t working directly in environmental fields. And in the
long haul, it helps create resilience in a community.”
Bennett invites members of the UD community to reach out to her by email at email@example.com to share their ideas and priorities for improving sustainability at UD.
“We don’t have the resources to address everyone’s concerns all at
once,” she says. “But I very much want to hear what’s most important to
folks at UD so I can focus my efforts to serve the community.”
Article by Beth Chajes
Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson