Can companies be economically successful and environmentally friendly?
In the 1980s, the answer from most companies was ‘no.’ Federal regulations that set standards for environmental protection weren’t enough to reverse decades of uncontrolled pollution that damaged the environment and put workers at risk. The answer? Change the mindset. Don’t just control pollution, prevent it.
This was the revolutionary thinking behind the creation of the Department of Work Environment which celebrated its 25-year anniversary with a symposium on Oct. 19. Graduates of the program are trained in designing systems of production that are inherently safe for workers and the environment while supporting a sustainable economy.
“Today, many companies have experienced the business benefits of having healthier employees, generating less toxic waste and marketing green products,” says Prof. Emeritus David Wegman, founding chair of the Work Environment department. “But back in the 1980s, the idea that economic development and environmental quality could co-exist was suspect from industry and some in government. Since then, it’s been proven that teaching professionals how to design healthy, sustainable workplaces is a successful strategy that protects human health and the environment as well as the bottom line.”
More than 170 alumni, friends, faculty and staff attended the daylong celebration that included a symposium featuring keynote speaker John Howard, director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. NIOSH has provided UMass Lowell student scholarship funds for nearly 20 years.
“The event was a huge success as our past and present partners in business, industry and academia came together to exchange ideas, share the latest research and reunite with colleagues,” says current Chair of the Work Environment Department David Kriebel. “We’re very proud of our alumni who work all over the world in leadership positions in major corporations, universities, governments and advocacy organizations. They are all truly making a difference to create a safer, healthier world.”
At the symposium, an alumni panel discussion included speakers James Giordani, manager of health, safety and environmental at Genzyme; Sarah Gibson, an attorney who works with teachers and their unions to improve the environment in schools; and Leslie MacDonald, captain in the U.S. Public Health Service and a senior scientist at NIOSH.
Vice President and Senior Scientist at Staples Roger McFadden discussed environmentally sustainable industries and how to provide the right education for the future.
The dinner keynote speaker featured Chairman of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board Rafael Moure-Eraso, emeritus professor of Work Environment.