Symposium takes closer look at sustainability

Text by Tim Hyland

Penn has made remarkable strides toward environmental sustainability in recent years.

The University is a national leader in the use of wind energy, buying 200,000 megawatt hours of wind power each year—enough to account for 46 percent of its total energy needs.

PennDesign's T.C. Chan Center is working to create a comprehensive carbon emissions inventory that will help campus officials better save energy in years to come. Recycling programs have been greatly expanded, environmentally focused degree programs have been launched and several new campus facilities are being built using the latest “green” construction techniques.

In short, there’s little doubt that sustainability is a hotter topic on campus today than ever before. And so it’s only fitting that sustainability has been chosen as the theme of the 2009 Founder’s Day Symposium. “Seeking Sustainability: Penn Confronts the Local and Global Challenge” will be held on Friday, Jan. 16 from 3-5 p.m. at the School of Nursing’s Claire M. Fagin Hall.

The fourth annual event, co-hosted by the Penn Faculty Senate and Wharton's Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership, will feature a panel discussion moderated by President Amy Gutmann. The panel participants will be Gary Bernstein from the Department of Physics and Astronomy, Eugenie L. Birch from the Department of City and Regional Planning, William W. Braham from the Department of Architecture, Robert Giegengack from the Department of Earth and Environmental Science and Wharton’s Eric Orts, who serves as director of the IGEL.

“We wanted to pick a topic that was broad enough that we could get faculty representation from across the different schools,” explains Faculty Senate Past-Chair Larry Gladney, a Professor of Physics and Astronomy. “But we also wanted to pick something that was relevant to what the mission of the 21st century university ought to be.”

Sustainability, Gladney says, certainly fits the bill.

“One of the reasons we’re doing this is because we’ve made these institutional responses that become, at some level, ends unto themselves—those actions are mostly handled within the realm of the administration,” Gladney says. “Sustainability is one of those things where we have to go a bit deeper than just looking at how the University operates itself.”

Gladney hopes the event can bring some clarity to the many ways the University’s schools and faculty are already looking at sustainability—and encourage new efforts, too.

“It’s possible that everyone is looking at the same elephant,” Gladney says. “We’re all focused on different parts and we’re experts on those, but it’s actually feasible that we can have a common vision come out. And then the question is, how do you link together each piece and identify where there’s already expertise here? If we did that, it would be a huge achievement.”

For more information about the 2009 Founder’s Day Symposium, visit the Faculty Senate website at

Originally published Jan. 8, 2009

Originally published on .