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Photo: Athena Panton

Penn's newest college houses, Hill College House and New College House, are frequently recognized for their environmentally friendly designs. Just last month, NCH was selected as one of six projects honored for sustainability. But Penn has also been working to improve environmentalism at older college houses, changes which students may not even have been aware of. 

As stipulated in the Penn Climate Action Plan 2.0, NCH has received a gold LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council for its environmentally efficient design. Similarly, University Architect David Hollenberg said Penn is confident that the recently renovated Hill College House will receive at least a silver LEED certification from the USGBC for its sustainable design.

According to Penn Green Campus Partnership website, some environmentally responsible renovations coming to the older buildings across campus include overhauls of heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, as well as the installation of more sustainable lighting.

Penn's Environmental Sustainability Director Daniel Garofalo said seemingly small changes in older buildings can make a large difference in helping them become energy efficient.

He referenced the new housekeeping protocols as an example of small-scale innovation that is taking place at Penn. 

The revised floor cleaning process that was introduced in NCH is gradually being phased into the other dormitories. The new process does not require the use of caustic chemical as “floor strippers,” or the energy intensive labor that comes with applying it.

“Less product, less fumes, less labor equals greater sustainability,” Garofalo said.

Garofalo also noted an automated heating and cooling system that Penn has installed in some rooms in the Quad and Mayer Hall. Under the new system, motion sensors on doors trigger the air conditioning system to turn on when a resident enters a room and shuts the system down once all residents leave. 

Other changes include replacing paper towels with microfiber-cloth for routine cleaning; using paints with low levels of volatile organic compounds, which has already been implemented in every college house and promoting fuel efficient modes of transportation, like bicycling.

“These are a few things that are completely out of view, but have a significant environmental impact,” Garofalo said.

Garofalo added that Penn was encouraging students to help with these sustainability efforts.

“We took a page from the U.S. Green Building Council and also looked at what our peer institutions are doing, whether it’s Stanford, or Duke, or Princeton or Yale,” Garofalo said. “And we came up with a check-list for student behaviors that would be really helpful for learning about sustainability, for being a leader among your peers in terms of the environment and actions taken that will improve the environment, and also, at the same time, minimizing waste and conserving energy.” 

Garofalo specifically urged students to follow the “Living Green" program, which promotes environmentally conscious habits like recycling and conserving electricity.

Hollenberg added that students can continue to help with sustainability efforts like these even after they graduate.

“Students can graduate as being part of a culture where sustainability really matters, and go out into the world and make a difference, carry that into their future lives," Hollenberg said.

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