Learning Sustainability

Learning Sustainability at Penn

Penn’s Climate Action Plan provides opportunities for the entire University community to educate themselves on the critical issues that affect climate change. Sustainability education, training, and discussion extends beyond classroom walls, engaging Penn faculty, students, and staff in a variety of courses, lectures, and continuous learning initiatives.

Implementing the Climate Action Plan will:

  • Encourage faculty, students, and staff to serve as the environmental stewards of their College Houses and office spaces with training programs and innovative peer-to-peer outreach
  • Offer a new inter-disciplinary minor in Sustainability and Environmental Management
  • Connect students to senior administrators through the class Towards Environmental Sustainability on Penn’s campus in which student projects can influence the University’s sustainability practices

Sustainability and environmental issues are central to Penn’s curriculum and student life, across a wide range of schools and programs. In the past year, there have been a number of academic initiatives that have focused on Penn's relationship to its environment.

Academic Opportunities and Initiatives

The Sustainability Course Inventory is a step towards the Climate Action Plan goal of expanding the awareness and availability of information about sustainability courses at Penn. This document is an effort to make public and centrally available the broad range of classes there are available that have to do with sustainability, and in departments and schools you might not expect. The Green Campus Partnership hopes this document will help students to identify sustainability classes that fit into their particular curriculum or in order to increase overall sustainability knowledge and literacy.
The Undergraduate Major in Earth Science is for students who want an understanding of the various physical, chemical, and geologic processes that work within our planet and on its surface. Students gain the skills needed to scientifically study and reconstruct Earth's history from the beginning of the solar system to historic times. Students gain hands-on experience in analyzing fossils, rocks, minerals, maps, aerial photographs, and satellite images in the laboratory and on field trips. Students concentrate in Environmental Science, Geology, or Paleobiology.  
The Penn Program in Environmental Humanities aims to generate knowledge appropriate for this time, which many natural scientists call the Anthropocene, the Age of the Human.  Our era of rapid climate change calls for new forms of knowledge creation bridging the sciences and the humanities, the natural world and the human.  Penn intends to be among the leaders in this field, and is seeking active engagement from our undergraduate students.

Environmental Humanities Undergraduate Research Fellowships: Program Fellows will collaborate to build a digital platform to showcase work in this emergent area and to launch a gallery show featuring Environmental Humanities art and literature open to all Penn students and faculty.

The Undergraduate Major in Environmental Studies is designed to provide students with the skills to understand and address contemporary environmental issues. The major integrates studies in the natural sciences, humanities, social sciences, policy and management in order to study complex issues of the environment and humans’ interaction with it. Students concentrate in Environmental History and Regional Studies, Environmental Policy and Application, Global Environmental System, or Sustainability and Environmental Management.  
Undergraduate Minor The Undergraduate Minor in Sustainability and Environmental Management allows students to learn the nature of environmental constraints which face organizations and individuals in the modern world, and to understand how these constraints can be effectively considered as part of the decision-making process in for-profit and nonprofit organizations. Students in any of the four undergraduate schools may elect to take the minor.  

The Vagelos Integrated Program in Energy Research (VIPER) enrolls talented, prepared, and motivated students who are interested in energy science and engineering. A joint program of Penn’s School of Arts and Sciences (SAS) and the School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS), VIPER leads to dual Bachelor of Arts (BA) and Bachelor of Science in Engineering (BSE) degrees by combining majors from each school.

Masters of Environmental Studies Program Master of Environmental Studies, offered by the School of Arts and Sciences in addition to its Department of Earth and Environmental Science, draws together courses across the University in the natural, social, and biomedical sciences, as well as in humanities, engineering, law, and business.  
Initiative for Environmental Studies Certificate in Ecological Architecture - Penn is proud to offer a cross-departmental certificate in the School of Design as part of the graduate degree coursework in Architecture and related disciplines. Students will develop an understanding of the dynamic interaction between the natural and built environments with a program of elective courses in Landscape Architecture, Historic Preservation, City Planning, Engineering, Environmental Science, and Legal Studies.
Environmental Management at Wharton The Environmental and Risk Management Program, in the Wharton School, founded in 1998, coordinates the MBA in Environmental and Risk Management, the undergraduate concentration in Environmental Policy and Management, and the undergraduate minor in Organizations and Environmental Management.
Program on Law, the Environment, and the Economy

Law and Environmental Studies: The University of Pennsylvania Law School offers a program of study in the Specialty Area of Environmental Law, and a joint program conferring a JD/MES in Environmental Studies. In addition, students may earn a Certificate of Study in one of several disciplines as part of their three-year JD degree, such as Environmental Policy (regulation) or Environmental Science (hard science).

Organizational Dynamics Sustainable Development Concentration

Organizational Dynamics Sustainable Development Concentration
In collaboration with other Penn departments and external partners, Organizational Dynamics has created a series of courses designed to help leaders implement sustainabiity initiatives today.

This program is funded through Dow Chemical Company and is a Master's Degree in Organizational Dynamics focused on applying sustainability principals broadly across an organization.

ENVS 494: Towards Sustainability on Penn's Campus

Toward Environmental Sustainability on Penn’s Campus, taught every fall since 2007, involves Penn students in exploring and proposing ideas and creating reports for the administration on the best methods of advancing the University’s sustainability goals.

The Arch The Center for Undergraduate Research & Fellowships (CURF) supports projects that lead to environmentally sustainable programs and policies, contribute to scientific innovations related to sustainability, or deepen our understanding of the social, cultural, artistic, and humanistic aspects of sustainability through Undergraduate Climate Action Research Grants. Grants range from $2,500 to $5,000 and the projects are conducted under the direction of a Penn faculty member. 
View a list of the Climate Action Grant recipients »
IGEL The Initiative for Global and Environmental Leadership (IGEL) is a global initiative on business and the environment that brings together business leaders with professors at Wharton and other Schools at Penn to discuss and research selected topics concerning business and the natural environment.  
Engineers Without Borders PennEWB is the University of Pennsylvania chapter of Engineers Without Borders. On campus, around Philadelphia, and around the world, PennEWB seeks to address the challenges of international development through educational initiatives and the implementation of hands-on, sustainable engineering projects.
The Biosphere at Kings Court English House The Penn Energy Research Group unites researchers to create fundamental scientific understanding and technological solutions that enable the development of new alternative-energy sources and improves energy capture, conversion and use, while disseminating knowledge and educating an energy-aware community.
PennPraxis The PennPraxis Project, created by Penn's School of Design, works directly with the City of Philadelphia on its new, state-of-the-art, pedestrian-friendly waterfront area.
TC Chan Center The T.C. Chan Center, in collaboration with Tsinghua University, brings together experts from around the world to develop strategies for sustainable environments and high-performance, energy-efficient buildings.

The Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology, in the School of Medicine, acts to create change in environmental and public health policies, often working directly with local communities to improve environmental health, medicine, and justice, especially around issues of environmental exposure.  
TerraPass TerraPass, a world-leading system for funding renewable energy projects, was developed by Prof. Karl Ulrich with his MBA class on "Problem Solving: Design and System Improvement" in fall 2004. The system charges customers an annual fee, proportional to the size of each customer's car, which then helps fund organizations devoted to energy reduction and conservation. Terrapass works to reduce individuals' carbon footprints and has reduced over 1 billion pounds of carbon.  
The Biosphere at Kings Court English House

The Biosphere at Kings Court/English House is an active student experience designed to enhance the interaction of College House residents with their environments, especially in relation to food and nature.