Developing Sustainable Solutions

For students interested in learning about sustainable living and environmental practices, Northern Arizona University's "campus" extends far beyond its bricks and mortar. Bill Auberle, retired professor of civil environmental engineering, utilized all the resources across the Colorado Plateau to teach his classes—and then some.

"I had the chance to take my students to a solar energy plant, a wind energy farm, and a large coal-fired power plant all in one day, to show how electricity is made and the environmental consequences of that," he says. Students also have the opportunity to visit the Grand Canyon, where they have some of the most sophisticated environmental monitoring systems in the world. "It's a great place for us to expose students to all environmental challenges," he says.

Auberle retired in 2011, but he remains in touch with the Northern Arizona University community as a guest lecturer and event speaker. His company, EN3 Professionals, also employs students to help them gain professional experience.

Protecting the environment


Auberle also remains active in the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals. Established in 1992, the institute acts as a catalyst among tribal governments, research, and technical resources at Northern Arizona University, the federal, state, and local governments, and the private sector in support of environmental protection of Native American natural resources. Auberle was one of the first to be involved in the institute, and helped to get it off the ground. He now serves on the advisory board.

It's come a long way since then. Currently the Institute has 23 grants or contracts with private foundations, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Department of Energy to offer various programs and technical assistance to Native Americans across the country. Specifically, Auberle is involved in a new five-year project to help tribes clean up sites contaminated by uranium, chemicals, oil and gasoline tanks, or abandoned Department of Defense bombing ranges.

"Our fundamental mission is to help tribes build their capacity to manage their own environmental and natural resources," Auberle says. "In many cases, the tribes simply haven't had the people and equipment and the know-how that it takes to do a good job to look after their environmental affairs."

In the right place


While the work Auberle focuses on for the institute is national, he believes there's really no place like home. Northern Arizona University is in a unique location that serves as a teaching and research laboratory, he says, and it provides economic benefits for the region as well, through wind farms and the potential for developing solar-powered facilities.

"There is an awful lot going on in Arizona in terms of developing renewable energy–and it's about time," he says. "We are well-positioned; we just haven't been quite smart enough to take advantage of it so far, but we're doing better."

Sustainable energy solution development is one aspect of Auberle's contributions to the field of environmental engineering. He also serves as a member of the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Air Act Advisory Committee. Relied upon as a resource for statewide and national environmental policy development, his expertise is also valued by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality as a member of the Children's Environmental Health Advisory Committee. Auberle's service on behalf of the environment has earned him many accolades, including U. S. Environmental Protection Agency Leadership Awards, and the Northern Arizona University President's Award.