Personal Choices

Penn’s buildings account for the lion’s share of emissions and will be a major focus for reduction efforts, but such improvements, which are “about highly technical engineering solutions to reduce energy demand,” don’t do much to engage the community, Garofalo says. So, while you “have to hit the big emissions sources,” it’s also critical to do a good job on other elements, like public transit, providing safe and secure bike racks, food sustainability, and especially recycling. Though it’s a small contributor to energy use, “Everybody says if you don’t do recycling well, no one believes you about the other stuff,” he adds.

And even reducing the emissions from buildings will be as much a matter of behavioral changes as technical fixes. “I don’t know how many red lights are on when students go to sleep,” Garofalo says, referring to the myriad electronic devices perpetually in standby mode in dormitories across campus, from flat screen TVs to game consoles to computers and cell phone chargers. “We have to do a better job of policing ourselves,” he says.

Just like students, Penn employees need to alter their habits as well by doing things like turning off their computers at night rather than putting them to “sleep”—it isn’t true that booting them up again uses more energy, really—and making double-sided copies. “A lot of things that personal choices will change at Penn can equal big institutional repair and retrofit projects,” he says. “They are two sides of the same coin, neither bigger than the other.”

One effort aimed at behavior change is the new Eco-Reps program, being rolled out in three of Penn’s 12 college houses as a pilot this year, in which self-selected students will be trained to serve as the “sustainability go-to person” in their house. “Every month we’ll invite those students down and talk to them on a specific topic—energy, transportation, food, consumer choices, heating and cooling, waste and recycling, things like that—and try to provide them with the tools to communicate to the 30 or 40 students that they’re ‘responsible’ for.”

Similar training programs will be implemented for FRES employees and other professional staff, possibly starting with building administrators. “For the price of a lunch we can get a lot of information out and distributed that will provide tips for behavior change.”

The Green Campus Partnership website is another focus for spreading the word. “People knew we recycled at Penn,” Garofalo says, by way of example, but they didn’t know where to deposit recyclables, what to include, or why it was important. “That’s just all about information. Because given the right information, and physically a place to put things, people will generally recycle.”

With the exception of scattered student complaints about low-flow showerheads in dormitories, energy-saving measures have been well received so far, Papageorge reports. “We are learning that we have to get information out before we do work, so people understand why they’re being asked to make this change,” she says. “The other thing we’re hearing is that we need to show people results to continue the momentum, so that’s part of what we’re working on now, creating the monitoring structure.”

A twice-yearly report will assess progress on the climate plan’s goals, and determine whether and how they need to be scrapped, modified, or added to to improve performance.

A number of programs are already under way. As part the ongoing effort to retrofit Penn’s building stock, a pilot project has shown that a system called Aircuity could make the air-exchange process in laboratory buildings—a major energy drain—both more effective in protecting lab personnel and more energy-efficient. Besides the launch of the Eco-Reps program, 40 new students participated in PennGreen, a four-day pre-orientation program that introduced them to Philadelphia’s leading environmental initiatives before classes started. Administrative actions cited in the plan include hiring the environmentally friendly Bon Appetit for dining services, a policy by the University’s purchasing office to direct buyers to “sustainable sources,” and the move to provide Commencement regalia made of recycled materials. Finally, to encourage innovative proposals on sustainability, a Green Fund has been established that will award up to $50,000 to any group in the Penn community for ideas to change behavior, educate, or implement technical solutions that reduce campus emissions and improve sustainability.

At the rally in Houston Hall, President Gutmann noted that the plan offered a “myriad of suggestions” for individual action, and called on all members of the University community to “not let a day go by without doing something” to help make Penn a leader in environmental sustainability “and show that we can have fun doing it.”

“This is a mission that is both educationally important and absolutely critical for our planet,” she said, pledging to make Penn the “greenest urban campus” in the country. “And while we continue to bleed red and blue, we also will dream a green dream for Penn. We are putting our minds to work and making that dream come true.”

 

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"Red and Blue makes Green" By John Prendergast

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