Taking action toward an even greener future

Text by Maria Zankey

Five years on the heels of the University’s wildly successful Climate Action Plan, Penn recently announced its intention to embark on an even more ambitious venture: Climate Action Plan 2.0, a roadmap for environmental improvement and sustainability on campus to 2019 and beyond.

Climate Action Plan 2.0
New initiatives outlined in Climate Action Plan 2.0 include updated goals for campus building performance and an expanded campus footprint to include a more complete representation of its institutional holdings. Photo by Stuart Watson

Five years on the heels of the University’s wildly successful Climate Action Plan, Penn recently announced its intention to embark on an even more ambitious venture: Climate Action Plan 2.0, a roadmap for environmental improvement and sustainability on campus to 2019 and beyond.

Climate Action Plan 2.0 builds on the University’s original 2009 commitment to reduce carbon emissions and expand sustainability-related teaching, research, and engagement. The updated plan sets forth a full agenda of new initiatives for Penn.

“Penn is proud to be at the forefront of sustainable practices and conservation,” President Amy Gutmann says. “As an environmental leader among American colleges and universities, we are putting our knowledge to work in comprehensive ways to improve our community and preserve the planet for generations to come.”

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New initiatives outlined in Climate Action Plan 2.0 include updated goals for campus building performance, enriched support for faculty research, and an expanded campus footprint to include a more complete representation of its institutional holdings under the plan. This potentially makes Climate Action Plan 2.0 the only proposal by an urban, research university to include its health system in its sustainability strategy.

The plan spells out hard numbers for energy, carbon, and waste reduction on campus, including an overall carbon reduction of 7 percent and a building energy reduction of 10 percent by 2019—in line with Penn’s long-term goal of carbon neutrality by 2042. The plan also proposes a 6 percent increase in the campus-wide recycling rate, aiming for 30 percent by 2019.

“We want to make our actions and policies transparent, since everything we do at Penn is about teaching students and providing examples of sustainable practices,” says Environmental Sustainability Director Dan Garofalo. “The way we take care of the campus, the way food is prepared in the cafeteria, the way we consume goods and services are all opportunities to demonstrate Penn’s commitment to sustainability. Building a comprehensive culture of sustainability doesn’t happen automatically; it happens because our community sees sustainable practices in every aspect of campus management and operations. It isn’t easy, but that’s where we’re headed.”

Climate Action Plan 2.0 sets a high bar, with the incorporation of the University of Pennsylvania Health System, the Morris Arboretum, the New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, Pa., and the University’s leased space and real estate portfolio into the plan. This increases the area included in the new plan, and also presents a challenge because many of the additions currently have no baseline for monitoring and measuring sustainability practices.

“It’s challenging because first we have to develop a carbon inventory—we’ll need that to know how being included in the Climate Action Plan 2.0 will affect emissions going forward,” University Architect David Hollenberg says. “These new additions have profound potential to affect not only the carbon footprint at Penn, but to deeply enrich the academic portion of the Climate Action Plan.”

The expansion of teaching, learning, and researching sustainability among faculty is also a major initiative under Climate Action Plan 2.0. The plan includes the creation of a Faculty Sustainability Network to provide outreach and support to those interested in sustainability education, the development of a sustainability speaker series, and the promotion of existing sustainability programming.

“When we launched the original Climate Action Plan, the academic initiatives focused on students, and those have been successful,” says Garofalo. “We want to take that vibrancy and expand services to faculty.”

There’s support for staff included under the Climate Action Plan 2.0, as well, including the expansion of the roles of sustainability coordinators in schools and centers. These roles on campus have developed somewhat spontaneously since the launch of the original plan.

Climate Action Plan 2.0
New initiatives outlined in Climate Action Plan 2.0 include updated goals for campus building performance and an expanded campus footprint to include a more complete representation of its institutional holdings. Photo by Stuart Watson

“Many of the things that we’ve done are only possible because of all of the support by the faculty and staff and students across the campus,” says Ken Ogawa, executive director of operations and maintenance for Penn’s Division of Facilities and Real Estate Services. “The successes we’ve achieved thus far have been because of our community. It’s just the nature of sustainability—everyone’s got to get involved.”

As the five-year anniversary of the original Climate Action Plan approached, there was universal agreement among the members of the Environmental Sustainability Advisory Committee that the plan needed to be updated.

“It didn’t take long for the collective wisdom to say, ‘We need to look forward and dig in deeper because so much has been accomplished, and there’s still so much more to do,’” Hollenberg says. “There’s a body of people around the University working on this plan in an even more deep way than in 2009.”

To read the entire Climate Action Plan 2.0 or for more information on how to get involved in sustainability efforts on campus, visit the Green Campus Partnership website.

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