Cultivating a green culture


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The largest private employer in Philadelphia and the second largest in the state, Penn makes a big impression on the worlds of education and research. On the natural world, however, Penn would rather leave a much smaller mark.

And being environmentally friendly isn’t just about doing the right thing. Daniel Garofalo, senior facilities planner with the Division of Facilities and Real Estate Services, argues it also makes sound economic sense. For example, he says, it costs $61 to dispose of a ton of trash, while a ton of mixed glass, aluminum and plastic costs $23 to recycle. A ton of paper costs even less. “That doesn’t have to be an environmental issue,” says Garofalo. “That’s just the way you run a business.”

Penn approaches conservation and recycling in a variety of innovative and sometimes very simple ways. The University has taken on big projects, such as the Utility Mod 7 chiller plant—the place that supplies campus buildings with air conditioning and chilled water—and it has also cut costs and reduced energy consumption with small actions, such as encouraging people to use natural daylight on sunny days instead of electric lights. “It’s often the simplest things we can do that can have a quick payback, build confidence and change the culture. That’s what we’re looking to identify,” says Garofalo.

In the wind
One way Penn has changed the culture is through a significant purchase of wind power from the Wayne, Pa.-based company, Community Energy Inc. The annual purchase of 40 million kilowatt hours of energy is not only a pollution-free source of power, but allows Penn to serve as an example to other companies searching for a way to use sustainable technology. “I truly believe our purchase of wind energy helped develop this market in this area,” says Michael Coleman, executive director of operations in the Division of Facilities and Real Estate Services. “I think it was peer pressure, as well as an economic issue, helping the developers getting off the ground. …It was a project where you didn’t have to sink millions of dollars in to get the results. It was just good sense, good ingenuity, good operating practices.” To date, Penn is the largest institutional purchaser of wind power in the country.

Just chill
On the southern edge of campus on University Avenue, behind graceful elliptical walls, lies the Utility Mod 7, the point of origin for air conditioning and chilled water throughout campus. Completed in 1998, the facility reduces the amount of energy the University uses. Penn was “able to knock off 10 megawatts of capacity, as well as close to 30 million kilahours,” says Coleman. “The windfall savings were tremendous.” With the control room located in the Left Bank, Facilities can monior the energy use of most buildings on campus and adjust cool air temperatures to a comfortable level for students and employees.

The simple things
Penn has also spent much time doing what Coleman calls common sense conservation, such as introducing a light bulb exchange program and increasing the number of recycling bins around campus. The results have been signficant. “It’s back-to-basics,” says Coleman. “Are your lights on? If you’re not using your computer, turn it off.” Crews also participate in roving shutdowns in the summer months—especially during peak usage—where they shut off the cool air in public spaces or unoccupied classrooms during the hottest (and most expensive) hours of the day. It’s hard to get someone to believe that their small action has an impact, Coleman says, “but with 30,000 employees out there, if everyone shuts that light down at the same time, you’ll see that meter go down.”

Penn Facilities teams also use five natural gas cargo vans and a “zero-emissions” electric cart, around campus.

‘Green’ buildings
The Facilities team makes sure that all architects hired by the University support Penn’s aim to be a leader in sustainable technology. “We tell them, ‘this is our goal.’ It’s your job, if you want to come back and work on a second project, it’s your job to convince us that you’re integrating this ethic into your design,” says Garofalo. In the long run, he adds, “It’s all about how do you make a premiere teaching and learning environment, how do you increase productivity? You look in the sustainability books, it’s all about day lighting and thermal comfort. That’s also the way you have a very productive staff. It cuts down in sick days, it cuts down on long lunches.”

Originally published on January 13, 2005