“Now that I have a six month old daughter… it’s really important for me to push even more toward contributing to sustainability,” emphasized Antonios Vouloudis, NYU Abu Dhabi’s newly appointed inaugural Director of Sustainability and Environmental Stewardship.
At NYUAD, Vouloudis is tasked with the ambitious goal of strengthening the institutional sustainability efforts of Vice Chancellor Mariët Westermann’s administration. This involves embedding sustainable practices and policies in campus wide operations and envisioning a robust climate action plan — much like NYU New York’s climate commitments
— which focuses on carbon, energy, water, construction and renovation, waste and transportation. It is an undertaking that aims to undoubtedly shape not just the university’s operations and infrastructure in years to come, but also establish NYUAD as a model in higher education.
Coming to NYUAD from a non-profit background, Vouloudis is incredibly excited to join a higher education institution — a setting that is quite new to him. “The drive and the energy is what I’m really amazed by at NYUAD… everyone’s passionate about sustainability [here]... and that is something new and refreshing for me,” shared Vouloudis.
Vouloudis is also incredibly excited to work in a different sphere of sustainability. As a civil engineer with a background primarily in construction and infrastructure, he is eager to better understand and optimize campus operations.
Vouloudis holds a Master of Science in Renewable Energy Systems Engineering from the University of Surrey in the U.K. and a Master of Engineering in Civil Engineering from Democritus University of Thrace in Greece. He then accumulated a wealth of experience across different sectors and projects of a remarkable scale.
Vouloudis at his Master of Engineering Graduation in Greece. Photo Courtesy of Antonios Vouloudis.
Before his appointment at NYUAD, Vouloudis worked with the government of Abu Dhabi as Senior Project Manager for the Ghadan 21 program
, an accelerator program at the Department of Municipalities and Transport. He led climate intervention projects and created small pocket parks within the emirate of Abu Dhabi. These pocket parks served to mitigate the urban heat island effect
by designing spaces that were cooler than the temperature outside.
Prior to Ghadan 21, he served as the Senior Sustainability Professional at Estidama Assessments and Compliance at DMT. The program — a key aspect of the Abu Dhabi 2030 vision — addresses the sustainability of development projects through a green building rating system
based on minimizing energy and water waste and improving supply chain efficiency. At Estidama, Vouloudis worked with a variety of partners, ensuring compliance, monitoring project progress and supporting the overall strategy. “[Working for the government] changed my perception, especially looking at it from a regulations and from an implementation perspective,” said Vouloudis.
Vouloudis’ interest in sustainability can be traced as far back as high school. Engineering and more specifically, structures and their impact on the environment, always fascinated him.
However, his professional trajectory is not merely a consequence of intellectual pursuit — there’s a personal element too. Growing up in Thessaloniki, a mid-sized city in the northern region of Greece, sustainability was core to Vouloudis’ household throughout his childhood, and those values have played a pivotal role in shaping him as a person.
“My parents have always been a strong influence… I can recall from very early years of my life my mother was very sensitive about these subjects — recycling, not littering, being responsible as an individual,” shared Vouloudis.
Vouloudis with his family in 1999. Photo Courtesy of Antonios Vouloudis.
“I grew up in an era when the agenda toward sustainability or environmental impact was not that high up… we were not that many when we were trying to advocate for sustainability… that struggle has defined me,” he added.
Much of this has translated into Vouloudis’ personal life as well. “My wife is actually even more strict in that perspective… In our household, we try to recycle as much as possible, minimize single-use plastics… even optimizing our flights at times,” he shared.
Over the past three weeks, Vouloudis has met with a wide range of community stakeholders — staff, students, faculty and NYU New York’s Office of Sustainability — in order to better understand community needs, the scope of work and identify potential areas for collaboration.
“I really think that students are actually one of the most important stakeholders on campus,” said Vouloudis, as he stressed the need to engage the community in the pursuit of greater institutional sustainability. “In essence, it’s important that everyone understands that they have a role to play.”
For Vouloudis, another significant goal is engaging faculty in his work. Recognizing that many faculty members are involved in cutting-edge research on numerous aspects of sustainability, he acknowledged the need to promote and showcase faculty research to the broader community.
While the institutional ambition to create a broad strategic sustainability plan is bold, Vouloudis is remarkably strategic and measured in his approach.
“There are things you can do in the more immediate term… what I like to call quick wins, policies you can implement in the shorter term, and that can have an immediate impact” Nonetheless, he realizes the need to plan and design and to make data driven decisions when it comes to long term goals. Currently, he and his office are in the process of benchmarking where the university is and identifying which policies the institution can implement in the months and years to come.
“I’m not saying it’s easy. I’m not saying it’s straightforward,” he commented.
Vouloudis also realizes the challenges that come with dealing with competing interests in the sustainability field. Every decision and policy needs to be not only environmentally responsible but also economically feasible and socially just.
As Vouloudis spearheads the institution’s ambitious undertaking to build a sustainability roadmap, it will be exciting to see what changes come into play and which constituencies are engaged. And when Vouloudis is not designing policy initiatives or thinking about renewable energy systems, he will either be found spending time with his family — bonding and taking care of his six months old daughter — or at the basketball court, ensuring that his dribbling is not rusty.
Vatsa Singh is Opinion Editor. Email him at email@example.com.