Penn Park, Eco-Reps and carbon emissions are among the hundreds of environmental initiatives discussed in a recent 45-page progress report.
For the first time since it launched a campus-wide Climate Action Plan in 2009, Penn has provided an comprehensive update on the plan’s progress — focusing on what it has achieved, as well as what goals still must be met.
“I’ve been most proud that this has become a mainstream issue at Penn,” Vice President of Facilities and Real Estate Services Anne Papageorge said. “We’ve taken advantage of the public’s growing interest in sustainability, and we’ve been able to communicate and advocate that this applies to everyone.”
Among the updates provided, the report looked back on the recognition Penn has received for its sustainability efforts over the past few years. For example, the University has been recognized by the Sierra Club as one of the top 25 greenest campuses in the country.
Additionally, according to the report, Penn has been recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency as among the top 50 buyers of wind power nationwide.
Though the University’s carbon emissions have varied up and down within a range of about 2 percent over the past few years, Fiscal Year 2011 — which ended June 30, 2011 — marked the first time that emissions have risen since the launch of the plan.
This was in part due to the one million square feet added to campus real estate through major projects like Penn Park, Papageorge said.
The Climate Action Plan has not been limited to involvement from FRES alone, she added. Student activism has also played a major role in the push toward environmental sustainability.
Environmental Sustainability Coordinator Dan Garofalo pointed to groups like Eco-Reps — which currently has more than 200 student and staff participants — as a sign of growing support for the Climate Action Plan.
“It’s been very popular, very successful — we had more applicants than spots this year,” he said.
However, some are still looking to increase the visibility of groups like Eco-Reps across campus.
“I think we’re helping the Climate Action Plan move along, but it’s very difficult to reach so many people whose behavior would need to be changed in order to reach the goals,” Engineering sophomore Laura MacKinnon, who serves on the executive board of Eco-Reps said. “Our program is still limited in scope.”
The Climate Action Plan has also spilled over into the realm of academics, bringing in sustainability-related topics to more than 160 courses across various disciplines, according to the recent update.
In addition to the creation of a new Sustainability and Environmental Management minor and an Environmental Building Design master’s program, the University also announced the Vagelos Integrated Program in Energy Research in Sept. 2011.
Through VIPER — a dual-degree program between the School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering and Applied Science — incoming freshmen in the Class of 2016 will have the opportunity to study alternative energy sources.
One thing that the update did not address was Penn’s collaboration with peer schools in its sustainability efforts.
According to Garofalo, Penn has been actively meeting with institutions like Stanford University and the University of Chicago on a regular basis to share ideas.
“It’s a healthy competition” between the schools, Papageorge said, “We’re all looking to learn from each other.”
Ultimately, the Climate Action Plan’s goal is to make the University entirely climate neutral by 2042.
The closer, upcoming goal is in 2014, when Penn hopes to achieve a 17 percent reduction in energy consumption.
“When it was written, none of these things were discussed,” said Ken Ogawa, executive director of operations and maintenance for FRES. “We’ve gone from nothing to collaboration across the country.”
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