November 27, 2012
Samford University Environmental Management Pioneer
Courtesy of Pat Byington, The Green Register Editor
Forty years ago, Birmingham native and entrepreneur Bill Peters started his own company making medical examination tables. At its peak, his company employed more than 30 people.
In his early 40s, Peters sold his company, and instead of retiring early, started work as a cabinet-maker for the Jefferson County, Alabama county government. A craftsman at heart, it was hard, but enjoyable work.
Then one day, Peters saw an advertisement about a new master degree program being offered at Samford University in environmental management. It was something different career-wise, but he had always cared deeply about the environment and the natural world.
Peters took the leap, got admitted into the program, buckled down, worked during the day, took classes at night, and for about two years learned the foundations, principles, and important concepts about environmental management, policy and law.
With his new Master of Science in Environmental Management degree at Samford secured, a third stage in Bill Peters career emerged. The Jefferson County government was creating a Department of Environmental Protection. Peters was in the right place, at the right time, with the right degree. He was hired to be the director of the new department.
Combining his skills as an entrepreneur and craftsman, Peters applied the newly acquired knowledge he learned at Samford to his new position, his third career.
He helped organize a clean air program to bring the county and the Birmingham metro area, one of the South’s most heavily industrialized cities, into compliance with all the air quality health and environmental standards. He designed a program to clean up and to prevent illegal garbage dumps that littered the county. But his most important initiative and accomplishment came from what he learned at Samford – environmental management.
In 1997, the Environmental Protection Agency instituted a program to encourage institutions, primarily businesses, to enact environmental management systems. Peters, ambitiously set Jefferson County out on the path to become the first county in the United States to be ISO 14001 certified, the globally accepted standard for the implementation of an environmental management system.
In two short years, Jefferson County became the first county in the nation to become ISO 14001 certified. Implementing the environmental management system helped the county reduce its hazardous waste, run their equipment more efficiently, remediate underground oil and gas tanks and enhance health and safety standards throughout the department. The benefits were so impressive, the county’s municipal bond rating improved, saving taxpayers money.
Peters became the “pied piper” for municipal environmental management systems. He gave presentations all over the country even addressing the prestigious Wharton School of Business.
Peters credits the Samford University Master of Science in Environmental Management for all his success.
“It was the catalyst. It taught me how to solve real world environmental problems with practical solutions,” stated Peters.
Today, Bill Peters is retired, but he continues to make a difference caring for the earth. He participates in the statewide water watch program, water-testing local creeks and rivers for pollution. He has also become an environmental leader within the Presbyterian church locally and nationally.
“It all started at Samford and their Master of Science in Environmental Management program. My third career is now my lifelong career…making a difference in my community and in the world.”
Image Credit: Bill Peters / Samford University