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Sustainable Engineering Director William Lorenz: Called to Save the Planet

Bill Lorenz ’68 ChE
Bill Lorenz ’68 ChE

Who: Bill Lorenz ’68 ChE, director, Sustainable Engineering

Turning point: While he always had a strong interest in caring for the environment, Lorenz considers his participation in the country’s first Earth Day (April 22, 1970) to be one of the turning points that sparked his passion to pursue environmental work.

Early career:

  • Began as a chemical engineer at the former Sun Oil refinery in Marcus Hook, Pa., where within two years he was working in the environmental department. During his 16 years with the company, he established new air, water and hazardous waste audit programs. 
  • Co-founder of Environmental Resources Management, which advised major multinational corporations on environmental issues. In the late 1980s, the company expanded into the global market. 

Evolution of sustainble thinking: “Once we started doing international work, it became apparent that we needed to incorporate a sustainable focus into our consulting.” By the mid-1990s he noticed a shift in client thinking. “It was exciting to see that they were starting to realize that the environmental aspect was only part of addressing their global strategy. The sustainability model, which integrates environmental, economic and social factors, takes a long-term approach.”

Sustainable Engineering at Villanova: Lorenz retired from ERM in 2006 and reconnected with Villanova Engineering’s leadership team to help the College develop its 10-year strategic plan. That experience led him into teaching several sustainability-focused courses in the Chemical Engineering department. With growing interest from students, and support from the leadership and faculty, Lorenz launched a new master’s degree program in Sustainable Engineering in 2010—the first of its kind in the country.

Based on his industry experience, Lorenz strongly believes this program serves a growing need for engineers from all disciplines to approach real-world problems through a whole-systems lens. He emphasizes, “We have to get engineers much more involved in solving global problems from a broader perspective.”

Over the past six years, the MSSE program has become the College’s fastest growing degree program with more than 100 graduates and a record-high number of enrolled students. In 2015, the Sustainable Engineering program was opened to doctoral students—also a first for an engineering school. The faculty team has grown too. Lorenz notes, “We have been exceptionally fortunate to have Ross Lee, PhD, and Karl Schmidt ’78 CE, ’82 MSCE join the program. They both bring decades of industry experience to the classroom, and there is no way we could do this without them!”

Looking back on his career, Lorenz feels lucky.” After formally retiring, I realized my vocation of 40 years was also my avocation, and my opportunity to cultivate it was here at Villanova. Every day I get to share my passion for sustainability!”