Section: Main,  Page: A3

Date: Monday, February 23, 2009

Mary Ellen Mallia

Director of environmental sustainability, University at Albany

Personal: Mallia, a native of Cobleskill, lives on a 45-acre farm in Princetown, Schenectady County, with her husband, Bennett, and 5-year-old daughter, Mylea. The family has three llamas, along with chickens, ducks and an elderly horse. Mallia just helped deliver her first baby llama. "I've learned to shear the llamas, and am saving the fiber. My mother-in-law just gave me a spinning wheel, so I can learn to spin it."

What she does: Mallia was hired by the university in January 2008 as its first director of environmental sustainability. Her job is to find ways to reduce consumption of resources, such as electricity, and to encourage more reuse and recycling by the 20,000 students, faculty and staff that make up the university. "It is like a small city. I am trying to give it a community feel, where people look inward and see what they can do right now. A lot of ideas that people bring to me are institutional, but one of my challenges is to get people to think about it in terms of personal responsibility -- to think of two or three things that they can do every day." Her office has expanded recycling efforts at the university, so that about 40 percent of the paper, plastic, glass, electronics and other solid waste are recycled. The university reduced light and heating during its winter break under one initiative, And the office is posting electrical usage of its student residence halls, so students can engage in friendly competition to see which hall can reduce its usage the most.

How she got there: After earning an bachelor's degree in economics from Siena College in Loudonville, she worked for an Albany brokerage firm and later in financial management for General Electric in Schenectady. After deciding the corporate world wasn't for her, she returned to school, earning a master's degree in education from the University at Albany; she then taught economics, public policy and history for eight years at Guilderland High School. Mallia took as position as a visiting professor of economics at Siena, and received her doctorate in ecological economics from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. "Ecological economics combines ecology, economics and the study of mass behavior, of why people do what they do."

Challenges of the job: "When gas was $4 a gallon, our office would be getting a lot of calls from people interested in car pooling and other things like that. Now, with prices down, we see less interest. Lots of time, it costs a little more to be green. In this economy, I'm afraid that some people will cut back on that. One of my goals is to make sustainability a self-perpetuating thing."

When she is not working: The farm and her daughter take a lot of her time. A big Pittsburgh Steelers football fan since the 1970s, Mallia and her husband made a special pilgrimage to the city to attend a game at Three Rivers Stadium before it was demolished in 2001. Currently on her reading table is "The World Without Us," by Alan Weisman, which examines how the natural world would rebound if the human species were to vanish overnight.

-- Brian Nearing