Frequently Asked Questions
This section contains some of the most frequently asked questions about sustainability at Penn.
Do you have a question that's not included in the list below? Email the Green Campus Partnership at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll get back to you with an answer as soon as possible.
- How is Penn sustainable?
- What environmental programs and volunteer opportunities are available on campus and in Philadelphia?
- What is the Penn Eco-Reps program and how can I join?
- What is my specific school doing to improve sustainability?
- How does Penn incorporate sustainability into new campus buildings?
- Where can I find more information about classes related to sustainability?
What is Penn doing to minimize waste and increase recycling?
- How does Penn manage waste on campus?
- What is "single stream" recycling?
- Does the University compost food waste?
- How can I get recycling signage in my building?
- Where can I get recycling bins?
- Does Penn recycle plastic bags?
- Where can I recycle light bulbs?
- Can I recycle pipette tip boxes?
- How can I recycle batteries?
- How can I recycle my electronic and universal waste?
- How can I recycle my old office furniture?
- How can I green my office or department's computing operations?
- How do I report waste heat (an office that's too hot) or waste cooling (an office that's too cold?)
- How can I get to and from Penn's campus without a car?
- What green purchasing practices exist at Penn?
- How does Penn conserve energy?
- Does the University purchase any green energy?
- Where can I buy organic or local foods on/around campus?
- Does the University use green cleaning products?
- How can I stay up to date with environmental sustainability news at Penn?
When it comes to environmental responsibility, Penn has been leading the way for decades – long before “sustainability” became the watchword for those interested in conservation and protection of the environment. Penn’s dense, compact campus is a model for efficient use of land, and our landscape is a great example of a sustainable city park – native trees and plantings support a rich urban ecology and provide a variety of spaces for faculty, staff, and student use. New, highly efficient buildings, state-of-the-art energy infrastructure, as well as our continued investment in our historic buildings are all hallmarks of a sustainable campus. Academically, Penn’s Environmental Science program is one of the country’s oldest, and every school at Penn has classes and top professors engaged in environmental research.
WHAT ENVIRONMENTAL PROGRAMS AND VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES ARE AVAILABLE ON CAMPUS AND IN PHILADELPHIA?
- Penn students, faculty, and staff interested in implementing sustainability projects on campus can apply to the Eco-Reps program.
- A complete list of student sustainability groups at Penn can be found on our Student Groups page.
- Incoming freshmen can register for the PennGreen pre-orientation program to learn more about campus and city sustainability efforts.
- Penn also holds campus-wide competitions and campaigns such as RecycleMania and the Power Down Challenge that require participation from the entire University community.
Eco-Reps is an environmental leadership program that focuses on raising awareness of environmental issues and impacting the behavior of individuals across the Penn campus. Select students, faculty, staff work within their respective College Houses, Greek chapters, departments, and offices to develop educational events, activities, and campaigns aimed at supporting the University’s environmental goals and Climate Action Plan.
Initiatives include energy conservation, waste and recycling practices, water conservation strategies, alternative transportation, consumer choices, and more. Eco-Reps interact with other environmental leaders on campus, and work to develop programs and events that challenge their peers to adopt more sustainable behaviors.
To learn more or apply to the program, visit the Penn Eco-Reps webpage.
All schools at Penn have programs that focus strongly on sustainability. Contact any dean’s office to learn more.
The following schools have specific websites set up describing their sustainability initiatives:
New buildings on Penn’s campus target Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver certification or higher. For more information, visit the Designing Green page.
Several academic programs and courses are listed on our Learning Sustainability page, but for a complete listing of environmental sustainability courses for the upcoming semester, use the keyword 'sustainability' in the Penn InTouch Course Search.
Undergraduate and graduate programs are also available through the Department of Earth and Environmental Science.
Penn is dedicated to reducing consumption through a host of efforts. For more details, visit the Minimizing Waste page.
It’s important to remember: “Penn” doesn’t recycle – you do. To properly separate your trash, learn what is recyclable on campus. All buildings at Penn have recycling bins – College Houses, classrooms, labs, gyms, dining halls, and offices – as do our outdoor campus areas and sidewalks.
Here’s how it works:
- Housekeeping staff collects blue recycling bags and gray trash bags from inside Penn buildings or outdoor bins, and transports them to trash and recycling dumpsters at buildings’ loading docks. Sometimes bags are placed in the same rolling container, but are separated into different dumpsters at the loading dock.
- Facilities staff then picks up trash and recycling separately, but uses the same trucks (which often leads to confusion by casual observers). Campus compactor trucks usually run in the morning to pick up trash, and in the afternoon to collect our recycling.
- The Penn trucks carry trash to a private waste transfer station (less than a mile from campus) where it is packaged into larger trucks for delivery to landfills or incinerators.
- Penn’s recyclables are brought to a nearby recycling facility, where the materials we recycled on campus are sorted, packaged and shipped to be remanufactured into new products.
Since September 2010, Penn has used a single-stream recycling system. This means that all recyclable items (mixed paper, cardboard, glass, metals, and numbered plastics) can be placed together in the same container. Some areas on campus still have separate bins for "Mixed Paper" and "Plastic/Glass/Aluminum", but all recyclables go to the same place.
Yes, all campus dining halls collect kitchen waste for composting. Hill College House, King's Court College House, and the Class of 1920 dining halls provide compost bins for diners to dispose of food waste. Joe’s Café in Steinberg-Dietrich Hall and the Hillel dining hall also compost food waste. In addition, several schools and College Houses are testing local composting strategies. The Law School composts leftover food from events and receptions through a private company. The Annenberg Public Policy Center building has a worm bin for waste and leftovers from staff meals. Mayer Hall has a composting bin for residents' food waste.
Visit the Posters page to download PDFs of recycling signs and awareness posters.
Students: Keep an eye out for recycling bin giveaways sponsored by the Penn Green Campus Partnership and Eco-Reps throughout the school year. Like the Green Campus Partnership on Facebook for updates on events.
Faculty/Staff: Each building purchases its own recycling bins. Contact your Building Manager or your local faculty/staff Eco-Rep for information.
Plastic bags, even if they are marked with a #1-7, need to be taken elsewhere to be recycled, as the sorting machines at our recycling hauler are unable to capture them. So for now, Penn doesn’t support recycling shopping bags. Grocery stores (such as the Fresh Grocer) and convenience stores (most Wawa Food Markets) recycle plastic bags. Ask the sales clerk at the store if they have a public bin for plastic bags.
Students: Ask your Residential Advisor (RA) or Graduate Associate (GA); most College Houses have lightbulb recycling bins in the lobby at the information desk.
Staff: Contact Environmental Health and Radiation Safety (EHRS) about recycling fluorescents and other types of light bulbs.
Yes— if the pipette tip boxes have a recycling mark with number 1 through 7, they can go into any regular recycling bin.
Students: Most College Houses have a battery recycling bin in their lobbies. Ask your RA/GA where to find this bin in your building, or ask at the lobby information desk. You can also recycle batteries in one of the Big Green Boxes at John M. Huntsman Hall and several School of Arts & Sciences buildings.
Staff: Environmental Health and Radiation Safety (EHRS) is in charge of picking up rechargable batteries for recycling. Click here to request a pick up. EHRS does not collect alkaline batteries because they are not a regulated waste. Many offices around campus have been using the Big Green Box program to recycle alkaline batteries. Big Green Boxes can be found at John M. Huntsman Hall and several School of Arts & Sciences buildings.
Penn recycles everything from old computers, electronics, and appliances, to compact fluorescent light bulbs and batteries. Elemental, Penn’s e-waste recycler, will pick up electronics directly from your office. If you have unwanted electronics to recycle, simply call them at 215-289-1475 to arrange a pickup. There is a small fee for monitors, printers, and hard drives, but many items are recycled for free.
Office furniture can be recycled through BEN’s Attic, a website developed by Purchasing Services that allows Penn faculty and staff to exchange and purchase surplus University-owned property. All faculty and staff are able to browse the site to see if there are any items they may need, and purchases can be make through your department’s purchasing manager. BEN's Attic is for departmental use only. No personal purchases are allowed.
Penn Computing's Green I.T. website highlights best practices to make computing at your office more sustainable.
Penn’s compact urban campus is well served by a variety of alternative transportation modes suitable for reducing the amount of single automobile commutes to and from the University. Learn more about Penn Rides, 898-WALK, LUCY, SEPTA, New Jersey Transit, regional rail and bicycling programs on our Reducing Emissions page and the Penn Transit website.
Penn prides itself on purchasing the greenest products possible. Many of the electronics in offices around campus are ENERGY STAR Certified and all offices are stocked with 30% post-consumer paper. For more information, visit the Green Purchasing website.
With 200,000 kWh of annual green power usage, Penn is the number one green power purchaser of all American colleges and universities. In the EPA’s Top 50 list of Green Power Purchasers, Penn was ranked 20th among Fortune 500 companies, local and state governments, and institutions of higher education. Learn more about Penn's wind power purchase here.
Various farmers’ markets throughout the city provide fresh, local produce and baked goods, including the University Square Farmers’ Market in front of the Penn Bookstore at 36th & Walnut Streets on Wednesdays and the Clark Park Farmers’ Market at 43rd & Spruce Streets on Saturday mornings and Thursday afternoons.
Enjoy local produce and meals at all Penn dining halls and cafés managed by Bon Appétit. Also be sure to check out Philadelphia’s historic Reading Terminal Market at 12th & Arch Streets for a vast selection of baked goods, meats, poultry, seafood, produce, and more from local farmers.
Furthurmore, several restaurants on campus have received Green Acorn Certification, a student-led Penn Green Fund project that has encouraged campus businesses to improve their sustainability practices.
In Fall 2008, the Wharton School launched a green chemical cleaning program for the entire Wharton complex, including the first green carpet care guidelines for the University. Wharton's carpet care policy is now being used across campus, and both increases the life of the carpet and significantly reduces the use of harsh chemicals used for cleaning.
As part of the LEED Gold standards implemented at Joe's Café, Wharton received an innovation credit from the US Green Building Council for Green Cleaning. The Café team created an extensive Green Cleaning Manual and High Performance Green Cleaning Policy that is now used by Bon Appétit Management Company (the café operator) and Wharton Housekeeping.
Green cleaning commitments include:
- Ionized water spray bottles and floor scrubbers, which have the same effectiveness in killing bacteria as other cleaners and sanitizers, are used for daily cleaning in the eatery instead of cleaning chemicals.
- All cleaning products in the servery hold a certification from the Green Building Certification Institute or the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Environmentally Preferred Purchasing program.
- Reducing packaging by using concentrated cleaning products, products in bulk or products in refillable containers.
- Training for all staff on the environmental attributes of the products and how to correctly store, dispense, use, and properly dispose of them.