The Red & Blue goes green

Annenberg Public Policy Center

Photo credit: Stuart Watson

It’s been three weeks since Penn President Amy Gutmann unveiled the University’s groundbreaking Climate Action Plan urging Penn faculty, staff and students to put the University at the vanguard of environmental sustainability.

Focusing on five areas of action: education, energy conservation, waste reduction, emissions control and green design, the plan’s goals include:

• Achieving a 5 percent reduction of energy across campus by 2010, and a 17 percent reduction by 2014.

• Reaching a 100 percent increase in recycling across campus by 2014, to a 40 percent diversion rate of paper, cardboard and commingled recyclables, up from the current rate of 20 percent.

• Reducing emissions by motivating more than half of the University population to walk, bike and carpool, or use public transit for their commute.

• Designing and building LEED-certified buildings and landscapes as part of the University’s 30-year Penn Connects master plan, and adding 20 percent more green space to campus through projects such as Penn Park.

• Ensuring that issues of sustainability remain an integral part of Penn’s academic curriculum and the Penn experience.

The challenge now, says Daniel Garofalo, the University’s Environmental Sustainability Coordinator, is to inspire everyone at Penn to contribute in individual ways to meeting the goals.

The first step, he says, is to visit the University’s sustainability website at www.upenn.edu/sustainability, where you can read the entire Climate Action Plan and learn more about Penn’s overall commitment, including its UC Green initiative promoting and coordinating environmental volunteer programs in University City, West and Southwest Philadelphia.
At the website, visitors also will find “The Pledge,” which lists 19 everyday actions people can take to further Penn’s green mission. The steps range from turning off lights before leaving a room, to buying local foods and using public transportation. Garofalo says he hopes people will sign The Pledge and commit to making small steps toward big change.

“The neat thing about The Pledge on the website is that you can roll over each suggested step and see why you should do it,” he says. “Having the facts there really drives it home.”

For example, the step encouraging people to turn off the faucet while brushing their teeth or scrubbing dishes explains that the average faucet uses between 2-3 gallons of water per minute. Reducing water usage by two minutes each day saves about 1,460 gallons of water a year.

Garofalo says he wants The Pledge to help the spirit of sustainability flourish across campus and encourage feedback and suggestions for the Green Campus Partnership. He also says he hopes the Penn community will develop their own ideas to conserve, recycle and go green. Already, the administrators at Penn’s Facilities & Real Estate Services have agreed to stop purchasing bottled water for its employees, providing instead fresh water stations where workers can fill up their own glasses or reusable bottles.

“We gave people custom water-drinking glasses to promote the change,” Garofalo says. “You would have thought we were giving away hundred dollar bills, people were so excited.” He adds that in addition to getting people in the sustainability habit, using refillable glasses also has the potential to save $12,000 a year.

To help keep people on track, Garofalo says the University will begin to distribute a sustainability newsletter—sent electronically—to anyone who adds their name and email address to the mailing list at the website.

“We’ll send it out maybe twice a semester, highlighting academic work and research being done at Penn, and featuring what staff, faculty and students are doing to make a difference,” Garofalo says. “We want to make it easy. A nudge in the right direction can change the entire culture of an institution.”

In 2007, Penn was the first Ivy League institution to embrace the national sustainability initiative, with Gutmann signing the Presidents’ Climate Commitment. Since then, the number of educational institutions participating in the project has grown to more than 600.

To develop Penn’s plan, a special Environmental Sustainability Advisory Committee, made up of more than 40 students, faculty and staff, worked for two years assessing Penn’s carbon footprint and developing long-range sustainability goals.

At the kickoff in September, Gutmann said Penn is “putting our knowledge to work and leading the sustainability revolution that will help preserve and transform the world for generations to come.”

Telling the gathered crowd that she has made a personal pledge to make Penn the greenest university in America, Gutmann added that the University can only achieve that goal through the commitment of faculty, staff and students. She noted that Penn has already made great strides by launching the Penn Park project that will transform 24 acres of fallow land into green space, and using renewable wind energy to provide 46 percent of the University’s power.

“I pledge to you as President that I and my team will take this most seriously,” said Gutmann, “and we will lead Penn forward, but only with your help.”

Originally published on October 1, 2009