“The right person at the right time:” Mick Dalrymple starts as USC’s first Chief Sustainability Officer

Photo of Mick Dalyrmple in a blue shirt standing in front of green bushes.
Chief Sustainability Officer Mick Dalrymple previously worked at Arizona State University for six years, where he replaced 2,000 plumbing fixtures to reduce campus water usage. (Photo courtesy of Tina Gibson)

For most people during the pandemic, retirement parties were small events, sparsely attended by friends and colleagues. But when Michael “Mick” Dalrymple announced his resignation as the director of university sustainability practices at Arizona State University, it was different: With social distancing guidelines in place, people showed up.

“He’s so beloved at the university,” said Lauren Kuby, Dalrymple’s former colleague who serves as the manager of events and community outreach for the Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation at ASU. “He’s just the epitome of leadership in the sustainability world.” 

Dalrymple has 20 years of experience in the sustainability field and worked for over six years at Arizona State, where his sustainability leadership helped the university achieve carbon neutrality in 2019 — six years ahead of schedule. 

Now, as USC plans for carbon neutrality and a reduction in single use plastics, the University hired Dalrymple in late July as its first chief sustainability officer. Dalrymple joins the administration’s efforts in formulating its upcoming Sustainability Plan. The report, set to be published in early Spring 2022, will outline USC’s plans for grappling with the ongoing California drought, shifting to sustainable energy sourcing and achieving zero waste, among other goals. 

Initiatives Dalrymple helped actualize at ASU included replacing 2,000 plumbing fixtures to reduce water usage and transforming landscaping design by including native plants instead of grass. He also assisted with coordinating energy conservation efforts such as retrofitting buildings with efficient lighting and designing more sustainable buildings. 

Climate neutrality was achieved through a combination of energy efficiency, renewable energy and carbon offsets. For its renewable energy efforts, ASU made use of on-site solar generation as well as renewable energy purchases from large-scale, off-site generation facilities. Carbon offsets came in the form of local tree plantings and market offsets. 

Dalrymple said similar efforts are already underway at USC, with more than 1,000 faucets replaced to minimize water consumption as well as motors and pumps changed to reduce energy use in campus buildings.

Corey Hawkey, ASU interim director for university sustainability practices, worked directly under Dalrymple and collaborated with him on a variety of projects such as strategic planning, climate resilience and the ASU Carbon Project, which launched in June 2018 and generates offsets for the school’s carbon emissions. 

“Mick is extremely passionate and dedicated to the solutions to climate change,” wrote Hawkey in a statement to the Daily Trojan. “I am excited for Mick and USC — I know USC will continue to expand its commitment to sustainability under his leadership.”

Kuby said Dalrymple brings a wealth of multidisciplinary experience to his new position. Kuby first met Dalrymple while working on ASU’s Energize Phoenix Project, an initiative that increased energy efficiency and successfully retrofitted campus buildings for energy conservation.

Kuby worked with Dalrymple all throughout his term as the head of the Office of Sustainability Practices. Proud of ASU’s recent rank as the country’s most innovative university by US News for the seventh consecutive year, she attributes the accomplishment, in part, to Dalrymple’s work. 

“He just epitomizes innovation and perseverance,” Kuby said. “He’s someone who’s passionate about sustainability. He’s been an entrepreneur, he’s been a screenwriter and he’s been somebody who built leadership throughout the university on sustainability practices and principles. He’s kind of a renaissance man of sustainability.”

In 2004, Dalrymple installed solar panels on his house. Eight years later, the panels paid themselves off and have generated “free” electricity ever since. When utility companies raised power rates over the years, he didn’t feel the effect. That’s what Dalrymple said is most rewarding about sustainability work: the positive feedback loops of green investments and actions. 

“If you save energy, you’re saving water at the same time because there’s a lot of water that’s used to make energy,” he said. “Then there’s a lot of energy that’s used to treat water and to move water around.”

For Dalrymple, sustainability is more than saving money and living healthier: It’s about feeling more in line with and connected to the planet. 

Kuby said she is excited to see the progress Dalrymple will facilitate and believes USC can achieve even greater sustainability success than ASU, as California has a culture more accepting of renewables and sustainability than Arizona. 

In his role as chief sustainability officer, Dalrymple will report to David Wright, the senior vice president of the administration. For Wright, Dalrymple’s hiring couldn’t have come at a better time. 

“Mick is the right person at the right time to build on USC’s sustainability efforts, mobilize our campus communities and ensure President Folt’s vision is realized,” wrote Wright in a statement to the Daily Trojan. “He brings inspired leadership to USC, and I’m confident he’ll make our 2028 sustainability goals a reality.”

The 2028 Sustainability Plan, currently in development, places Dalrymple in a key position to plan the logistics associated with incorporating sustainability into campus infrastructure and practices. 

The plan will also include a multitude of implications that exceed the year 2028. The administration is focused on ensuring the plan is thoroughly considered and manageable, while still pushing beyond what is comfortable for the University, Dalrymple said. 

The anticipated 2028 plan will be the second of its kind at USC following the launch of the campuswide sustainability program in 2015, when the 2020 Sustainability Plan was published. Dalrymple said he believes the new plan comes at a critical juncture, months after the publication of the Sixth Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 

“The most important thing that we’re coming to a consensus on in terms of the world, not just USC, is that we are in a definite climate crisis that scientists [identified] in the recent [Sixth Assessment Report],” Dalrymple said. “[The report] paints a pretty daunting picture of what needs to be done.”

One major topic the plan will touch upon is the issue of water availability, which is especially pertinent with the current drought the National Integrated Drought Information System reported  affects 100% of Los Angeles County residents. Dalrymple said the water situation USC faces is comparable to that of ASU, with California and Arizona sharing a similarly hot, arid climate. 

“One of the things that we need to really look at more is the water situation, because, in a way, [USC] might be a little bit insulated from the [issue], but really we need to be doing our part to to account for the changes in precipitation that climate change is bringing, the ongoing mega drought and potential reductions in Colorado River water deliveries to Southern California,” he said.

Dalrymple said the University’s sustainability efforts have lacked a structured plan necessary to translate goals into tangible efforts that propel USC toward a green future. He said he sees his role as a “cheerleader” for the University’s ongoing and upcoming sustainability initiatives.

Grateful for the overwhelming amount of positive feedback and encouragement he’s received from the Trojan family about the necessity his changes will bring about on campus, Dalrymple feels prepared to fulfill the University’s sustainability goals.

“There’s a tremendous amount of work that still needs to be done,” Dalrymple said. “We want to make sure that the plan is right and that we thought it through.”