Sustainability

Environmental sustainability is a defining issue of the 21st century, and higher education can play a leadership role in addressing global climate change. Through the research, teaching, and operational practices articulated in its Climate and Sustainability Action Plan 3.0 (CSAP 3.0), Penn is dedicated to promoting a sustainable culture and implementing environmentally conscious policies.

research on the Schuylkill River

Learning Sustainability

Through the CSAP 3.0, Penn continues to make sustainability scholarship a priority by incorporating issues relating to climate change and sustainability into curricular and co-curricular offerings for all students. For the entire Penn community, the goal is to expand awareness of critical issues, highlighting Penn’s leadership role in creating a more just and equitable local, regional, and global society. 

The Sustainability Course Inventory is a step toward expanding the awareness and availability of information about sustainability courses at Penn. This document can help students identify sustainability classes that fit into their particular curricula and learning schedules to increase sustainability literacy across campus.

The Environmental Innovations Initiative aims to bring together researchers, scholars, and students and build collaborations across disciplines such as climate change, sustainability, and environmental equity, among others.

Penn President Amy Gutmann with two student volunteers during Move-In Green 2018

Penn President Amy Gutmann with two student volunteers during Move-In Green 2018

Conserving Energy

The most significant way to reduce the University’s carbon footprint is by decreasing energy consumption. Because of this, an extensive energy management and conservation strategy figures prominently in Penn’s Climate and Sustainability Action Plan 3.0.

Penn has signed a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) for the creation of a solar power project moving the University significantly closer to meeting its commitment of a 100% carbon neutral campus by 2042. The agreement will result in the construction of two new solar energy facilities with combined capacity of 220 megawatts, which is projected to produce approximately 75% of the total electricity demand of the academic campus and the University of Pennsylvania Health System.

Designing Green

One of the world’s most attractive urban campuses, Penn is home to significant achievements in planning, landscape design, and architecture. The award-winning Penn Connects campus development plan is steering Penn’s commitment to a healthy built environment. Following the recommendations of the CSAP 3.0, Penn is implementing new strategies to increase ecologically managed green space, decrease energy consumption, and promote awareness of sustainable design.

Penn’s West Philadelphia campus is a designated Level II Arboretum under the ArbNet certification. The Penn Campus Arboretum curates and manages a diverse collection of trees, focused on preserving and sustaining the urban forest for the well-being of the community, environmental benefits, research, and educational opportunities. Penn’s campus is an urban forest with over 6,500 trees in its collection, over 240 species of trees and shrubs, 10 specialty gardens and 5 urban parks. The implementation of the Ecological Landscape Stewardship Plan will build on landscape best practices and will articulate improved ecological design and management of landscape and open space across campus.

Minimizing Waste

While waste may not be the largest contributor to Penn’s carbon footprint, it is certainly the most visible. Penn’s ReThink Your Footprint campaign inspires individuals to adopt the mantra of reduce, reuse, recycle—in that order—across campus. The CSAP 3.0 calls on the University to decrease its municipal solid waste and increase its recycling rate by continuing to refine management of the most common waste streams on campus: landfill trash, single-stream recycling, compost, electronic waste, construction, and demolition waste. Special Recycling and Reuse Collection locations can be found throughout campus and accept a variety of items that are not accepted through single-stream recycling.

Reducing Emissions

penn staff member biking to work

As the largest private employer in greater Philadelphia and a destination for thousands of daily commuters, Penn recognizes the significant impact of auto travel on the environment. Penn Transit’s rich portfolio of programs and initiatives have helped the University increase the number of staff and faculty choosing sustainable commuting options, while continuing to maintain a safe and accessible campus. The CSAP 3.0 continues these efforts by promoting programs and services designed to provide faculty, staff, and students with a wider array of environmentally sustainable commuting options. Examples include the Bike Commuter Reimbursement Program, the SEPTA Employer Commuter Discount Program, and campus electric vehicle charging stations, among others.

Purchasing Practices

Purchasing Services seeks to increase the purchase of products with a reduced environmental impact compared to similar products and services that serve the same purpose. This initiative encourages the University’s preferred suppliers to offer products that promote environmental stewardship, inviting Penn faculty and staff to fulfill their purchase requirements with environmentally friendly products. Some examples of sustainable procurement programs include:

  • Schools and Centers can participate in Penn’s Managed Print Services (MPS) Program to save money and print materials.
  • The Catering@Penn website provides search functionality for information about Penn’s Preferred Contract Caterers in support of the University’s environmental and economic sustainability priorities.
  • Ben’s Attic is an easy and sustainable way to find a new use for items that are no longer needed (lab equipment, furniture, and office supplies) by School and Center departments.
student watering plants at orchard

The Food and Wellness Collaborative has turned an unused expanse of turf into a productive growing space.

Eating Local

Penn Dining is firmly committed to providing its community with sustainably produced, locally sourced food, and has partnered with Bon Appétit Management Company to achieve this end. Bon Appétit’s Farm to Fork initiative enables Penn to purchase local, healthy, flavorful food produced through practices that respect farm workers and animals and replenish our shared natural resources for future generations. This commitment invites students, staff, and faculty to engage in educational opportunities about healthy lifestyle choices, sustainable agriculture, and a low-carbon diet.

Wellness

The CSAP 3.0 brings focus to the intersection of the topics of wellness and sustainability among the campus community. The leap from environmental sustainability to personal wellness is not far if we raise our awareness of our surroundings and practice habits that promote a healthy environment.

The Penn Park Farm is a new initiative that marks the expansion of the Penn Park Orchard into Penn’s first campus urban farm. The farm, located in Penn Park, hosts a wide variety of sustainability and wellness programming and boasts a hoop house and in-ground beds for growing.

The 30x30 Challenge encourages the Penn community to get outside, learn about local ecology, and appreciate the beauty of nature. Participants challenge themselves to spend at least 30 minutes outdoors in nature each day for all 30 days of April.

The NatureRx program supports the writing of “prescriptions” to be out in nature, since research has shown that time spent in nature can have a positive impact on our health and well-being. NatureRx encourage the Penn community to go out in nature to reduce stress and anxiety, increase energy, and have protective, restorative time. Find nature now by visiting our map.

Educational Programs

Penn abounds with opportunities for students, faculty, and staff to research, learn about, advocate for, and implement sustainability practices on campus and beyond.

The mission of the Department of Earth and Environmental Science is to bring the time perspective of the Earth scientist to bear on contemporary problems of natural resource conservation and environmental quality.

The Kleinman Center for Energy Policy focuses on projects that foster thoughtful and impactful energy-related research, develop the next generation of energy leaders, and create conditions for energy policy stakeholders to explore options and develop agendas.

Penn Program in the Environmental Humanities is a collective of scholars, students, artists, scientists, and educators whose mission is to generate local and global awareness and engagement in the emergent area of the environmental humanities.