An Aspirational Goal

FRES’s Papageorge calls Penn’s decision to sign on to the climate commitment a “natural” step, given the University’s “deep-rooted tradition in sustainable landscapes and a sustainable approach to its operations, design, and planning.” She adds that the commitment is “very consistent” with the Penn Compact and with the University’s campus master plan, Penn Connects.

“As Dr. Gutmann has said, this [is a matter of] moving our principles into the spotlight and pushing the dialogue and feeding the progress of this initiative through Penn’s circle of influence and through the attention we get as a leading institution.”

Skeptics have accused the ACUPCC of being too long-term and vague in its goals, and a number of schools that had taken an early lead in addressing sustainability issues, such as Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, passed on signing the commitment.

(So far, Penn and Cornell are the only Ivies on board. However, there is considerable information sharing and collaboration among the sustainability coordinators within the Ivy Plus group, which includes Johns Hopkins, MIT, Stanford, Georgetown, the University of Chicago, and Duke, in addition to the Ancient Eight. “It’s really rewarding,” says Garofalo. “We share everything—you know, best practices, no jealousy and no pride of ownership.” )

“Different leaders see this challenge differently,” says Papageorge. While the practical feasibility of the ACUPCC’s ultimate goal—reaching climate neutrality, or the equivalent of zero emissions, by 2050—was a sticking point for some, “Dr. Gutmann talks about it as aspirational and as guiding our research and education in this direction.”

After Penn signed the commitment, the ESAC was charged with getting input from across the University, researching best practices at peer institutions, and developing recommendations for the climate action plan. Subcommittees were set up to address the main areas for emissions reductions—utilities and operations, physical environment, transportation, and waste minimization and recycling—and to develop recommendations for academics and communications components.

The structure worked well in balancing broad representation with efficiency, Papageorge notes. “In the first few meetings we were all over the map and [received] many more suggestions than we would ever be able to accomplish,” she recalls. “I realized we weren’t going to get very far that way.” Still, even after the task was divided up among the different groups, the initial glut of recommendations—dozens per subcommittee—needed to be pared back considerably for the final document, with the idea that “we’ll add more as we accomplish certain things,” she says.

Garofalo functioned as the point person for the planning process, supported by an assistant, and, eventually, by a team of sustainability associates made up of current students and recent graduates serving as interns at FRES (see sidebar).

He started as ESC in April 2008, but had been working as an architect and planner at FRES since 2002 and has been involved in sustainability issues in various ways for a good part of that time. The job of the ESC, Garofalo says, “is about providing tools throughout the university, and the strategies for implementing behavior change and institutional change,” as well as serving as a liaison to key constituencies within the university and external groups like the media.

Garofalo was tapped to be Penn’s representative on the local chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council when it was getting started several years ago. He was a founding member of that organization, the Delaware Valley Green Building Council, and currently serves as its chair. “It was a very dynamic group,” he recalls, adding that attending the monthly meetings “was like a tutorial in green design and construction.”

He described the Council’s work as “perfectly consistent with everything I’d done up to that point as a design professional and also working here in facilities, but by shining a spotlight on those issues, it really kind of captured my enthusiasm amd interest.”

The department gradually internalized these ideas, he says, and around the time that Anne Papageorge came on as FRES VP in 2006, “a lot of things came together at the same time,” sparked as well by growing student interest and nudging by the facilities committee of Penn’s trustees, many of whose members are design and construction professionals, real estate developers, and building owners. “They were saying, ‘I hear [about these issues] in my private business. What’s Penn doing?’” Finally, President Gutmann and Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli W’85 “began to hear what other schools were doing and express an interest themselves. That’s when we really started making a concerted focus on not just design and construction, but all the other aspects, too—transportation, and waste minimization and recycling, and academics, and all those other issues.”

It was at a national conference for the GBC that Garofalo recalls meeting Anthony Cortese, a former university professor and environmental official in Massachusetts, who had founded a group called Second Nature devoted to promoting environmental sustainability at college campuses. At some point, “he had this brainstorm that if he could leverage 40 or 60 or 80 college presidents who would sign a commitment to reduce carbon emissions, that would be very significant in order to push for national legislation, or to go in front of governors and state legislatures,” Garafalo says. “Of course, it succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.”

Penn’s signing was something of a coup for the group, he adds. Many of the first adopters were smaller teaching colleges, without major research components—Middlebury, Oberlin, the College of the Redwoods, and of the Everglades—“the natural audience,” Garofalo calls them. Penn’s signing, along with that of Arizona State, which has one of the biggest student enrollments in the nation, represented a “tipping point for the organization, because it really jumps your credibility.”

 

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