From Peru to RIT: Mining sustainable energy

Clinton Global Initiative shares model of sustainability education with the world

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A. Sue Weisler

Gutierrez is working toward earning her Master of Science degree in sustainable systems at Golisano Institute for Sustainability and is the first student to arrive on campus as part of RIT’s Clinton Global Initiative.

Lourdes Gutierrez is a civil engineer who has experience in excavation, blasting, 
tunnel construction and mining for gold. She has also managed 105 construction projects on a variety of buildings in her homeland of Peru.

Accomplished in her field? Yes. Satisfied? Not even close.

That is why Gutierrez, who has 
studied in Peru, France and Canada, 
is back in school. She arrived at RIT 
this fall to work on her Master of Science degree in sustainable systems at Golisano Institute for Sustainability and is the 
first student to arrive on campus as 
part of RIT’s Clinton Global Initiative.

In September 2011, RIT President Bill Destler and B. Thomas Golisano, a trustee and the founder and chairman of Paychex Inc., committed RIT to sharing the model of sustainability education with five partner universities in developing countries around the world as part of former President Bill Clinton’s project.

“The program at RIT will open 
many doors and give me opportunities 
to bring this knowledge back to Peru,” Gutierrez says. “I am already seeing 
many possibilities for improvements 
back home in areas such as energy 
efficiency and renewable energy.”

Along with Peru, the RIT education model will be used to assist the Dominican Republic, Egypt, Indonesia and Malaysia. The Golisano Institute for Sustainability (GIS) is developing close working 
relationships with partner universities 
over a five-year period. GIS is creating 
educational materials and guidebooks, 
curriculum advisory groups, faculty 
exchange programs, graduate student 
participation and a mentorship program. The commitment is valued at $2.3 million.

Nabil Nasr understands that developing countries need to improve their industrialization if they want to improve their 
standard of living. Yet they are in need 
of qualified professionals who understand the broader impact of industrialization and progress in an environmentally friendly fashion. 

“We hope to train qualified people, 
such as Lourdes, to understand the broader impact of industrialization,” says Nasr, 
associate provost and director of Golisano Institute for Sustainability. “It is extremely important that we share our knowledge 
and expertise. We will all suffer the consequences if we don’t stay on top of this. 
Our air and water do not have borders. 
The world’s resources do not have borders. We are all in the same boat. We have a chance to make a difference at the front end.”

Prior to her arrival at RIT, Gutierrez 
was the chief officer of construction and design at Pontificia Universidad Católica Del Perú (PUCP), a partner in the Clinton Global Initiative. She created and oversaw the university’s master plan for facility 
infrastructure. She’s had experience with sustainable practices by improving lighting and water systems at the PUCP campus. Now she wants to incorporate the latest technology into buildings in Peru by bringing Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification to the construction process in South America.

She marvels at the “living lab” at Golisano Institute for Sustainability. Cutting-edge green technology has been incorporated into every inch of the 84,000-square-foot building. The GIS 
facility was designed and built to exceed LEED Platinum standards of the U.S. Green Building Council—the highest standard that can be achieved.

“To be in our building every day is great hands-on experience for Lourdes,” says Eric Williams, an associate professor at GIS. Williams serves as Gutierrez’s advisor and is a key link with PUCP where he also is collaborating with a faculty member in the field of sustainable engineering.

Gutierrez, who also served as a professor at PUCP, is now flooded with ideas after 
her first semester studying at RIT. She wants to bring back her knowledge and 
help Peruvian engineering professionals improve construction practices with energy efficient technologies, as renewable energy becomes a fundamental practice. She also sees a connection to the mining industry, where Peru is a leader in the global production of mineral commodities such as copper, gold, iron ore, lead, silver and zinc. About a third of Peru’s 30 million people depend directly or indirectly on the mining economy, which accounts for nearly 60 percent of the nation’s exports.

“Many of the mining site operations 
and communities are not connected to an energy grid,” Gutierrez explains. “The mining companies require energy sources for production. The government also requires them to invest part of their profit in the community. Therefore, in both mining operation and communities, renewable energy could be an important energy source.” 

Nasr says this example illustrates the “industrial ecology” that is necessary for the world to move forward with sustainable thinking as the globe’s population booms from 7 billion today to 10 billion by 2050.

And with each day at GIS, Gutierrez sees endless possibilities.

“I find myself in the future bringing 
new technologies to the Peruvian government, companies, communities and also academia,” she says. “Besides transferring the knowledge, I think there would be plenty of opportunities to strengthen the relationship and build a bridge between RIT, the Golisano Institute for Sustainability and Peru. You can see that what we do here is part of a bigger global mission. I find that exciting to be a part of that change and the impact we will have on developing countries, like Peru, and its people.” 

About the Clinton Global Initiative

Established in 2005, the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) convenes global leaders to create and implement innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. Many projects focus on alleviating poverty, increasing access to health care and education, and creating a cleaner environment.

CGI annual meetings have brought together more than 150 heads of state, 20 Nobel Prize laureates, and hundreds of leading CEOs, heads of foundations, and major philanthropists. To date, CGI members, including RIT, have made nearly 2,500 commitments, which are already improving the lives of more than 430 million people in more than 180 countries. When fully funded and implemented, these commitments will be valued at $87.9 billion.