Penn makes the grade in sustainability

Last month, the Cambridge, Mass.-based Sustainable Endowments Institute issued the latest edition of its College Sustainability Report Card, an annual review of the environmental sustainability efforts being made by colleges and universities in the United States and Canada.

Of the nearly 300 schools surveyed in the report, only 15 received an A-minus—the highest grade awarded this year.

Penn was one of them.

The recognition is just the latest sign of how “green” Penn has become, and proof that the University has truly become a national leader in the sustainability movement.

“When I first opened [the report] up, I quickly scanned through the A-minuses and the B-minuses and didn’t see us anywhere,” says Dan Garofalo, who was named Penn’s first environmental sustainability coordinator this year. “I started panicking, thinking I was going to get fired [laughs]. But then I looked again, and there we were.”

Joining Penn with an overall grade of A-minus in the report were: Oberlin College, the University of New Hampshire, the University of British Columbia, Columbia University, Dickinson College, Harvard University, Middlebury College, the University of Washington, Brown University, Carleton College, the University of Colorado, Dartmouth College and Stanford University.

The Sustainable Endowments Initiative says its Green Report Card is intended to “identify colleges and universities that are leading by example in their commitment to sustainability.” The group hopes the report will encourage schools to share best practices in sustainability, thereby promoting such efforts across the country.

Information for the report was gathered from independent research and three surveys voluntarily filled out by participating schools. Each school was then evaluated based on 43 indicators across nine categories.

Penn scored well across several categories, earning “A”s in Administration for President Amy Gutmann’s decision to sign the Presidents Climate Commitment, in Food & Recycling for its support of local farms, in Green Building for its efforts to achieve LEED certification for several new building projects and in Investment Priorities for its investment in renewable energy funds.

But while such high-profile projects as the recently opened green roof at King's College House may get more attention, Garofalo says the University has actually been working toward getting greener for years, and in ways that may not be all that obvious.

“Ninety percent of the stuff that we are doing, we’ve been doing for a while now,” Garofalo says. “And we were doing it just because they were good practices—good business practices. I think, for instance, our single biggest environmental initiative is the West Philadelphia Initiative. That’s probably a billion-dollar investment over the last 15 years, where we’ve created a community that urban designers all over the world would love to replicate—a sustainable, dense, walkable community with good transit.”

Going forward, Penn is taking even further steps to improve its sustainability practices, Garofalo says.

Students in some of Penn’s high-rises will, in the months to come, participate in a real-time energy consumption study. Several buildings that are set to open soon will be completed with LEED Silver certification, including the Hill Square College House, the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine, the Fisher Translational Research Center and the Singh Nanotechnology Center. And maybe most importantly, Penn officials, with the help of researchers at the School of Design’s T.C. Chan Center, are working toward the goal of having the University achieve climate neutrality.

It’s a goal Garofalo says is achievable.

“You know what—a lot of this stuff is actually doable,” Garofalo says. “We could cut down our [carbon] outputs significantly on our way to carbon neutrality.”

Originally published Oct. 16, 2008.

Originally published on October 16, 2008