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09/29/11 by Kathy Chaffin
It started with a vision to redesign our future.
Dr. John Wear, executive director of the Center for the Environment, wanted to hold an environmental summit introducing high school students from all over the nation to new ways of thinking that would help them address environmental issues with innovative solutions.
It would take money, collaboration, marketing, staffing and volunteers — a combination which came together through generous sponsorships, a partnership with Rocky Mountain Institute in Colorado, a student-based recruiting effort and a group of people dedicated to inspiring young people to help save the planet.
Schneider Electric – a global energy management company with operations in more than 100 countries – was one of six sponsors which helped turn Wear’s vision into a reality with minimal cost to the students.
Mark Seifel, general manager of Schneider Electric in Salisbury, submitted a grant application on behalf of the Center to the Schneider Electric/Square D Foundation, which supports charitable activities globally. The foundation awarded a $15,000 “Silver” sponsorship for the Center’s inaugural National Environmental Summit for High School Students, which was held July 20-24 on the Catawba College campus.
“I feel that they got consideration because Schneider is a very environmentally sensitive company,” Seifel says. “We have several environmental awareness programs, and we’ve got several activities within the company to minimize our impact on the environment.”
Seifel says the company also supports activities for youth development worldwide. “A high school-focused event that tied to environmental awareness and sensitivity aligned very, very closely with the criteria that Schneider Electric sets and the values that we have in our company,” he says.
Wear recognized Seifel and other sponsors who turned out for the summit opening on the evening of July 20, during which Doc Hendley, founder of the Wine to Water Foundation which has provided water to nearly 100,000 people in 11 Third World countries.
Seifel says Hendley’s passion set an outstanding example for the high school students who traveled from all over the nation to attend the environmental summit. “I think it was a great way to start the summit off by saying, ‘Here’s what your capabilities are,’ ” he says.
Many of the students waited patiently to talk with Hendley at a music and mingle event held afterward in the Peeler Crystal Lounge. “They were really feeding off what he had to share with them,” Seifel says.
Making a point to talk with some of the students, Seifel says he was impressed with their level of environmental awareness. “A lot of them were already engaged in some environmental protection activity,” he says, “and this was just another element in terms of fulfilling their environmental protection values.”
Seifel says he was also impressed by the summit agenda, which included opportunities for students to explore different ways to communicate environmental awareness through such activities as writing, drama, art and music. “I thought it was very insightful to approach it that way,” he says.
When he first heard about plans for the summit, Seifel says he realized it was going to be an event with a national scope. “I think it was good exposure for Catawba as well as for the environmental initiative in general,” he says.
Schneider Electric has been a longstanding supporter of the Center for the Environment, having donated to the Campaign for Clean Air on an annual basis for the past few years. Center and Campaign staff have participated in the company’s annual wellness fair since it started three years ago, and Campaign for Clean Air staff held a free gas cap check in conjunction with this year’s wellness fair.
Seifel says the Center provides a valuable service to the community in terms of making people aware of the environmental situation not only nationally, but specific to Rowan County. “The information and facts that they make available to people open our eyes to just how fragile the environment is right now,” he says, “and how a lot of things we do on a day-to-day basis impact it.”
In order to preserve the planet long term, Seifel says individuals, industries and all facets of society need to be educated on changing their behaviors. “The Center really provides a service regionally in that capacity in terms of making the general public aware that we need to do things differently and be sensitive to the impact that the things we do have on the environment,” he says.