April 13, 2012 by Hannah.Kurtz
A Drexel professor hopes to promote sustainable energy during her two-year term serving on an independent council that reports to the Environmental Protection Agency, which she was appointed to March 7.
Patricia Gallagher, an associate professor of civil, architectural and environmental engineering, will represent academic researchers studying sustainability while on the National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy and Technology, an organization established by the EPA in 1988.
Gallagher’s background in geology, various fields of engineering, and preserving and raising awareness through education about the environment have made her a qualified appointment.
“I’m thrilled to be appointed to the NACEPT. I truly care about the environment, [in] particular on the issue of sustainability; it holds the key to our future success. By serving on the council I will offer advice on how to incorporate sustainability,” she said.
NACEPT supplements its parent organization by organizing discussions among its distinguished members in order to propose solutions to the environmental issues the nation currently faces. Professionals discuss topics ranging from sustainability to clean energy as they formulate solutions of action, which are then, in turn, passed along to the EPA for review.
Acting as an advising council to the EPA, NACEPT provides a much-needed platform for discussion among some of the nation’s top environmental academics, activists and reformers. According to the EPA’s website, the council creates a “balanced panel of outside experts who represent diverse interests.”
With an optimistic yet pragmatic attitude, Gallagher hopes to take her message of sustainability to the NACEPT and enact changes. She believes her main obstacles include the overreliance on nonrenewable sources of energy, the continuing global population increase that causes a shortage of resources among other concerns, and the overall culture and public perception toward environmentalism.
She said she believes that the hardest thing to change might be the way we as a society are wired to think, act and consume.
“It’s always difficult to change mindsets. It’s a matter of becoming more educated … and wanting to become part of a more sustainable and aware culture,” she said.
The EPA uses leaders like Gallagher not only to research various ideas but also to set an example for their peers and future generations. Gallagher hopes to use her new position to continue to make consumers aware of the issues at hand, educate them on how they can change their ways and why they should, and assist the EPA in making vital policy adaptations to secure a positive environmental future.
Gallagher exemplifies sustainability in her everyday life by living in an older house and still managing to make some environmental adjustments.
“At home I had an energy audit installed. This means my house loses less heat through the cracks. I’ve also switched to geothermal heating and cooling systems, which are much more environmentally friendly,” she said.
A realist, she knows that the students she works with cannot possibly make all of these changes.
“College kids don’t even own houses, but what a young person can do is look at their carbon footprint and see how each person does have an impact. For example, try taking public transportation when possible or look for energy-efficient housing. Americans use up a lot of energy: 40 percent in heat and cooling, 30 percent in the transportation sector, so even a small change can start to reverse the trend,” she said.
Gallagher, a lifelong enthusiast of conservation, always kept her passion for restoration and sustainability in the environment at the forefront of her work.
“I’ve always been interested in the environment and the world around me since I was a little kid,” she said.
Her interest inspired her to major in both civil engineering and geological sciences. As her career progressed she realized she could use both disciplines to make a truly positive impact.
“I’m hopeful to make a difference … it can be a challenge. It does take time and energy to be educated on the issues and being able to offer and incorporate changes,” she said.
Gallagher is also a Provost’s Fellow in Sustainability and leads the Urban Sustainability Planning Initiative, which researches ways to promote urban and environmental sustainability.