When Penn State Smeal alumnus and avid outdoor enthusiast Lou Gatto was looking for a way to get more involved in the college, a conversation with Erik Foley helped solidify his plan.

Foley serves as the director of the Penn State Center for the Business of Sustainability and has supported Dean Charles H. Whiteman’s commitment to become a leader in sustainability through teaching, research, and corporate outreach.

Gatto says that while he and his wife have always tried to do things that would leave a smaller carbon footprint, they’ve only recently learned just how important sustainability really is.

“As soon as I met with Erik and learned about his vision and his mission for the Center for the Business of Sustainability, I knew we needed to get involved,” he says.

Gatto, who graduated from Penn State in 1968 and founded the CPA firm Gatto McFerson, has seen the business world change throughout his long and distinguished career.

“Business has shifted to a platform for social change,” Foley says. “Today, many students come to Smeal because they believe businesses can provide an opportunity to make the world a better place.” The key, according to Foley, is to focus not on how to sustain a business but to instead focus on how a business can sustain the world.

Gatto says that now is the time to start looking more closely at the planet and ways to sustain it for everyone. “It just has to be part of the formula,” he says.

Reflecting their commitment to the environment, the Gattos recently made a $1.1 million commitment as part of their estate plan to create the Gatto Global Social Impact Fund.

“This gift demonstrates how deeply committed Lou and Kathy are to creating opportunities for our students to dive into the social challenges of tomorrow.”

According to Foley, the Gattos’ gift will support programs to help students leverage the power of business to develop solutions to regional or thematic social challenges that may include hunger, homelessness, the energy transition from coal to renewable sources, or other salient issues as they arise. It will also provide funding for things like social entrepreneurship speakers or program support for student interest groups.

“Lou has this very entrepreneurial spirit,” Foley said. “He understands how important ‘out-of-the-box thinking’ can be. This gift demonstrates how deeply committed he and Kathy are to creating opportunities for our students to dive into the social challenges of tomorrow, consider every angle, and to utilize the sort of grit and tenacity that’s needed to develop amazing, winning ideas that can make a positive, sustainable impact that benefits people.”

Photo Courtesy of Lou and Kathy Gatto