Partner Profiles

Dan Garofalo, Environmental Sustainability Coordinator

Dan Garofalo, Environmental Sustainability Coordinator
October 8, 2009

A native of Princeton, NJ, Dan moved to West Philadelphia and joined Penn Facilities and Real Estate Services in 2001 as a planner and architect. He received a bachelor’s degree in architecture from the University of Virginia, a Master’s in architecture from Penn’s School of Design, and a Master’s in government administration from Penn’s Fels Institute of Government.

In April 2008, Dan was named the University’s first Environmental Sustainability Coordinator in response to President Amy Gutmann’s 2007 signing of the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment.

On College Green: How did you become interested in the issue of sustainability?

Dan Garofalo: My interest in sustainability grew out from my architectural career, and the gradual change in the profession to take the environmental impact of the design and construction industry more seriously.

OCG: When did you know you wanted to direct your attention to environmentally concerned issues?

DG: Early in my career, my interest was more directly focused on social justice and social equity – I was the first Chairman and founder of the Community Design Center, Philadelphia’s pro-bono design center.  After I started work at Penn in 2001, I was asked by the administration to represent Penn during the formation of the local chapter of the US Green Building Council – the Delaware Valley Green Building Council. This founding group had an astounding amount of talent and energy – true national leaders in the Green Building movement, and each meeting served as a personal tutorial about how we can build more sustainably.

I recognized that environmental stewardship and social responsibility are really two sides of the same coin – they represent the same mission to provide for a better life for future generations and protecting the weakest and most venerable in our society today.

OCG: What was the last book you read?

DG: The last book I read was Mountains Beyond Mountains, by Tracy Kidder, the amazing story of Dr. Paul Farmer and his Haiti-based organization, Partners in Health.  Farmer’s genius and energy is inspiring – but makes us all look like lazy sloths in comparison.  Still, it’s an inspiration. I’m currently reading a book on the American Chestnut Tree, which was virtually eliminated by the Chestnut Blight in the early years of the 20th century. It’s fascinating reading, if a bit nature-nerdy.

OCG: Most recent volunteer work?

DG: Well, I guess you can call it volunteer work, but it was so much fun it didn’t seem like it.  From September 26 to October 1, I biked from New York City to Washington, DC, with 150 other riders as part of the 2009 Brita Climate Ride. This fundraising ride was to raise money and awareness for the need for climate change legislation – and I turned out to be the 6th place fundraiser by raising over $6000 with my Philly teammate Kristin Sullivan, who runs Mayor Nutter’s solar energy initiatives.   The beneficiary groups were the Rails to Trails Conservancy, Clean Air – Cool Planet, a non-profit technical assistance group that helps institutions calculate their carbon footprint and develop reductions strategies, and Focus the Nation, a political advocacy group.

OCG: Favorite local restaurant?

DG: Well, I tend to eat at the White Dog a lot – it’s close, and Judy Wicks is a personal friend.  But I’m really starting to get to know Local 44 too.  If you have been there, I don’t have to tell you why, and if you haven’t made it – I’ll just say, “Go there thirsty.”

OCG: Who is your most memorable Penn professor? Most memorable course?

DG: There have been so many – I’m three classes away from my third Masters, and my Penn education started in 1985, so I have a lot to choose from.  Back in the ‘80s, when I came to Penn to study architecture, my focus was on urban design, and the best studio class I took was from architects and urban designers Richard Bartholomew of WRT and Bob Brown of Brown & Keener.  Bob Brown was also my thesis critic – my thesis was on urban housing and a market in the Central Ward of Newark, NJ, and I had a great time pulling that project together.

Two other highlight classes were from widely varied topics – one in the Fels Institute of Government:  Dr. John Mulhern’s class on Politics, Technology, and Economic Development, and in the Masters of Environmental Studies program, John Keene’s Environmental Law class.  Both helped me understand how our urban systems developed, and provided insight into why cities takes the form they do.

OCG: Do you have anything plugged in at home right now?

DG: Besides the refrigerator and my clock radio, I actually have very little electronic gear.  The TV is in the ground floor closet, since I refuse to pay for cable and only use it for DVDs anyway, I rarely pull it out.   (I know I’m missing this season of Dancing with the Stars, but it’s been so long since I’ve watched broadcast TV that I don’t really miss it.  And the local bars all show the Eagles and Phillies, so I don’t miss our playoff runs).

My most important electronic device is my programmable thermostat, that shuts off my furnace during the day when I’m at work and in the middle of the night when I’m sleeping, and turns it on again around quitting time and just before I get out of bed.  That $45 E-bay device probably has saved me $5000 in heating bills over the last three years.

OCG: In five years, what do you hope will be significantly different at Penn?

DG: In five years, I expect that Penn (and our city) will have moved more significantly towards distributed energy generation. I think we'll see an explosion of research in solar voltaics, micro wind power, and breakthroughs in battery energy storage, so I anticipate seeing a lot of solar panels, small windmills, and electric vehicles on campus. Physically, Penn Park will have an enormous impact on Penn’s campus, and I’m hoping that we can find a way for students to get involved in tree planting both in Penn Park and our surrounding neighborhood in West Philly.

OCG: What Penn tradition do you hope will still be here?

DG: Since I didn’t go to undergrad at Penn, I’m oblivious to some of the traditions.  Hey Day is a real puzzle to me – it seems it started as a picnic day down at the Fairmount Park on the Schuylkill decades ago, and I’m not sure why it transmogrified into something involving Styrofoam hats, drinking, and ketchup.  The service club traditions, such as Engineers without Boarders, Christmas in April, Tutoring in West Philly, and Spring Break service learning trips sound really laudable, and I’d love to get more involved in them.  A brand new tradition, the PennGreen pre-orientation program in environmental exploration of Philly, is a terrific idea from a number of undergrads, and I was thrilled to participate in that program this August.

OCG: What is the greenest thing you’ve done this month?

DG: I'd have to say the Brita Climate Ride. It was a blast, more fun than I anticipated, and not as hard as I thought it would be (Although I’m glad I bought the expensive bike this summer and took the time to train). I rented a car and drove home, if you were wondering.

OCG: If you weren’t an architect, what would you be?

DG: Either a writer or some sort of scientist, I think, and I’d hope I’d have a career that involved active non-profit work. I play a mean three-chord guitar, but don’t think I’d ever be good enough to fulfill the fantasy of rock guitarist.

Each issue, we recognize a member of the Penn community for his or her environmental sustainability efforts on campus. If you know someone at Penn who is "leading the green," let us know at


A four-mile bicycle trip keeps about 15 pounds of pollutants out of the air we breathe.