First anniversary for Penn State's Sustainability Institute

A year ago, Penn State officially launched the Sustainability Institute with a mission to facilitate the integration of sustainability into all functions of the University. The vision was to bring together researchers, educators, students, staff and community members to break down traditional boundaries of the classroom and partner operations with community engagement.

"The Sustainability Institute has accomplished much in just one year,” said Craig Weidemann, vice president for Outreach. “Most importantly, it has created a very large umbrella that has engaged students, faculty and staff and has impacted everything from our physical infrastructure to our important research. The approach and outcomes have energized much of the University to participate in our institutional commitment to sustainability."

Sustainability is defined at Penn State as “the simultaneous pursuit of human health and happiness, environmental quality and economic well being for current and future generations.” Because innovation and change are paramount, the Sustainability Institute is open to a wide range of initiatives and supports a variety of projects that embody the three goals: learn, live and lead.

Reinvention Fund

Among its key initiatives is the Reinvention Fund. This internal grant program has awarded more than $875,000 to innovative, change-making proposals from faculty, staff and students. These proposals have come from University Park and several Commonwealth Campuses, including New Kensington, Great Valley, Harrisburg and Schuylkill . These proposals span from making athletics more sustainable to a photographic series regarding Marcellus Shale to a group who bring farmers and the community together—Crop Mobs.

“We have invested most heavily in projects that will utilize our campus and community resources to dissolve the traditional boundaries of our classrooms and operational programs to create experiential learning opportunities.”

-- David Riley, program manager

Funded projects were based on the Living Laboratory theme of Penn State's Sustainability Strategic Plan. The Living Lab is an immersive learning environment that utilizes the physical spaces, relationships, policies and processes of campuses and communities as hands-on learning opportunities.

“We have invested most heavily in projects that will utilize our campus and community resources to dissolve the traditional boundaries of our classrooms and operational programs to create experiential learning opportunities,” said David Riley, Reinvention Fund program manager.

Sustainability planning guidebook

A new sustainability planning guidebook is available for teams at the University units looking to integrate sustainability into their strategic-planning process. It is the result of a several-month process involving faculty from multiple colleges and staff from several units that aims to help Penn State units engage with sustainability in a strategic manner.

“Effective planning involves both creativity and discipline. The guidebook is a tool that can help organizations open their imaginations to the potential of sustainability and provide pragmatic techniques and processes that can help them set and achieve goals.”

-- Michael Dooris, executive director of the Penn State Office of Institutional Assessment

“Effective planning involves both creativity and discipline. The guidebook is a tool that can help organizations open their imaginations to the potential of sustainability and provide pragmatic techniques and processes that can help them set and achieve goals,” said Michael Dooris, executive director of the Penn State Office of Institutional Assessment.

The guidebook is available as a download.

Sustainable Communities Collaborative

The Sustainable Communities Collaborative (SCC) is the University’s strategic platform and opportunity to develop innovative University/community-based collaborations that engage Penn State faculty and students in existing courses from across the University through real world, community-identified sustainability projects. The SCC teamed up with the State College Borough as the pilot community for the partnership.

“This is a true Town-Gown partnership, which works to elevate and expand the opportunities for faculty, staff and students to be involved in the community and connect residents to the work being done on campus.”

-- Tom Fountaine, State College borough manager

“We are excited to expand upon the relationships the borough has developed with Penn State faculty, staff and students into a continuing partnership between with the Sustainability Institute through the Sustainable Communities Collaborative,” said State College Borough Manager Tom Fountaine. “This is a true Town-Gown partnership, which works to elevate and expand the opportunities for faculty, staff and students to be involved in the community and connect residents to the work being done on campus.”

Projects are identified and developed based on the partnering community’s sustainability priorities. Collaboration Teams bring together community representatives, faculty and students to define and carry out projects in a living lab setting. A recent celebration was held at the municipal building where teams, faculty and students discussed the work they have done in the pilot. A list of all projects is available online.

More about SI

The portal, www.sustainability.psu.edu, marked the launch of SI last February. It provides the latest news on sustainability at Penn State, as well as funding opportunities and information on courses and programs. Along with the website, the weekly Mainstream newsletter has made its way into inboxes. The newsletter shares inspiring stories, not only from Penn State, but from news outlets around the globe sharing Penn State’s work in sustainability. It also highlights government grant opportunities supporting sustainability and upcoming sustainability events on the University calendar.

Students can incorporate sustainability as a significant theme in their undergraduate program through the Minor in Sustainability Leadership. The SUST 200 course, the foundation for the minor, is offered at Abington, DuBois, Erie, Fayette, New Kensington and UP; and is slated to be offered at more campuses in the future. Students can find a listing of program requirements, courses that are eligible for inclusion in the minor and apply for the minor online.

SI is also home to such programs as Eco-Reps—first-year students who recently participated in No Impact Week challenge—and Green Teams, groups of faculty, staff and students volunteering to take specific actions to help their units operate in more efficient, innovative and healthy ways.

Penn State is working to close the loop on waste by introducing möbius this year, including new recycling and composting stations across University Park.

The nine-acre Sustainability Experience Center is a living lab setting that houses the MorningStar Solar Home and other programs aimed at facilitating the integration of sustainability into all functions of the University.

“The Sustainability Institute represents a unique and significant internal investment by Penn State in our collective future. It enables our continued transformation of campus and community into a Living Lab for sustainability, where we are all partners in this learning environment.” Denice Wardrop, director of Penn State’s Sustainability Institute.

To find out more about sustainability at Penn State, and to follow these stories, programs and more on social media outlets, visit www.sustainability.psu.edu.

Contacts: 
Last Updated March 05, 2014