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Gold and orange autumn leaves surrounded the BioPond on Nov. 18. Credit: Kylie Cooper

Penn's latest annual report on its Climate and Sustainability Action Plan 3.0 highlights significant reductions in campus carbon emissions, along with broader community and academic sustainability efforts.

This year’s report, released on Nov. 8, tracks progress made during the 2021 fiscal year towards the goals set in the University's third Climate Action Plan, which was released in 2019. The plan covers initiatives in seven sectors, ranging from academics, utilities and operations, to waste minimization and recycling.

The report highlighted University achievements made in the past three years, including reducing campus emissions through the Power Purchase Agreement, reducing on-campus building energy use by 41% and advancing the Environmental Innovations Initiative launched earlier this year.

The University recorded a notable 44.3% reduction in campus carbon emissions during the 2021 fiscal year, compared to the 2009 fiscal year — when Penn's sustainability office first launched a Climate Action Plan. The reduction primarily includes emissions directly generated by the campus, and indirect emissions created from energy generation purchased by the University. 

According to the report, the vast majority of campus emissions stem from electricity and steam. The Power Purchase Agreement, signed in 2019, aims to provide 75% of the required electricity for the academic campus and the University of Pennsylvania Health System through the construction of two new solar energy facilities. Though Penn's current steam supplier, Vicinity Energy, is set to be carbon neutral eight years later than the University's commitment to achieve a 100% carbon-neutral campus by 2042, Sustainability Director Nina Morris said the office is in talks with Vicinity to work towards meeting Penn’s goal by the same time.

Morris feels confident in Penn's ability to reach a 66% reduction in campus emissions by the 2024 fiscal year, a goal outlined by this latest action plan report.

The report also detailed progress made towards the academic offerings across the University, notably celebrating the Environmental Innovations Initiative launched by the Provost's Office in late 2019, which seeks to connect teaching and research related to the environment across the University's 12 schools.

Melissa Goodall, senior director of the Environmental Innovations Initiative, said the initiative's initial work will serve mainly as a listening period for the University to hear from students, faculty, staff, and other stakeholders. 

Goodall added that the initiative is working to establish a community around messages of climate change, stewardship of nature, and societal resilience, which include equity and inclusion. The initiative is currently brainstorming projects that will make a difference not only based on Penn’s impact on Philadelphia or the world, but also in terms of academics, Goodall said.

“We want to make sure that environmental justice courses are really visible — we want to make sure that health and environment courses are really visible, so we’re going to make some very public-facing outputs out of the report,” Goodall said.

Goodall is set to instruct ENVS102: "Humans and the Earth System" next semester alongside faculty co-leads Kathleen Morrison and Joseph Fransisco, an introductory climate course for students in the School of Arts and Sciences.

The Environmental Innovations Initiative is also working with two student groups, the Climate Leaders at Penn and Penn Climate Ventures, to help connect students to environmental fellowship programs and broaden student input within the initiative. Penn Climate Ventures Co-founder and Director Andrew Yu said the initiative has helped support the club, which will allow it to continue hosting events like the climate startup competition it held last year. 

“[The Environmental Innovations Initiative is] not really putting any limits on what we can accomplish or what we can envision, so [I am] super, super thankful for that,” Yu said.

In addition to its academic initiatives, Penn made changes across its operations.

The University's main campus now includes 38 LEED-certified projects, a standard that rates environmentally green buildings, in addition to 34 green roofs and recently featured campus renovations of Stemmler Hall, Lauder Institute, and Vance Hall. These measures address Penn’s attempts to reduce urban heat island impacts and address stormwater on campus, Morris said. According to the report, the University, as a level-two credited arboretum, also introduced new bird-friendly design guidelines to mitigate bird collisions for the over 84 different species that cross campus.

The report also highlighted an increase in the amount of waste the University sent to incineration and a decrease in the amount of waste it recycled. Recycling was heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Morris said, adding that the University encouraged proper recycling practices by providing Green2Go containers and recycling bins in all residential rooms in on-campus housing this year. 

Penn is also working with its waste hauler to increase scheduled waste audits in order to identify areas for improvement, according to the report.

“We're making significant progress on the things that we said we were going to do. And we still have about two years left,” Morris said.