Strategic plan's fourth goal supports sustainability research

September 27, 2011

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State’s University Sustainability Council is drafting the University’s first strategic plan for sustainability. The council is seeking public input for the five-goal plan during the drafting process. The fourth goal of the plan seeks to integrate sustainability into Penn State’s research programs.

"The creation of new knowledge and its widespread application are critical elements in addressing this important challenge. We are fortunate at Penn State to have all of the ingredients necessary to make remarkable contributions: disciplinary excellence, a culture of collaboration, extensive outreach tools and a model of integrated research and teaching," explained Denice Wardrop, co-chair of the Sustainability Council, assistant director of the Penn State Institutes of Energy and the Environment and senior scientist and professor of geography and ecology. "The challenge is to synergize them and focus a portion of that collective power on sustainability."

The goal states that the University will: "Develop, advance, integrate and deploy the knowledge, science and art of sustainability at Penn State. We will accelerate and expand research into sustainability challenges from multi-disciplinary perspectives to develop and implement solutions in our local, regional and global communities."

To support this goal, the University Sustainability Council is considering the following general strategies:

-- Create a research culture that is capable of identifying and responding adaptively to sustainability challenges.

-- Utilize the existing institutes to develop a portfolio of sustainability research and identify priority areas so that the creation of knowledge proceeds in an effective manner.

-- Actively engage private industry, government and nonprofit organizations in the prioritization of sustainability as a focus area for research and educational innovation.

-- Implement our sustainability research and outcomes in other missions of the University, including operations, curriculum and outreach (i.e., our living laboratory) and in the broader community.

Sustainability already is addressed across Penn State’s research programs with many researchers presently involved in sustainability-related research. In a survey of University Park investigators conducted this past spring, 389 faculty in 70 departments self-identified as conducting sustainability-related research.

Penn State sustainability research activity is spread across many disciplines and across many scales of project size. For example, the Greater Philadelphia Innovation Cluster for Energy Efficient Buildings (GPIC) project is a Penn State-led, $129 million initiative charged with making buildings more energy efficient. Buildings currently consume approximately 40 percent of all energy utilized in the U.S. and 70 percent of all electricity generated. A 50 percent reduction in energy use in buildings would have the equivalent effect of taking every car and small truck in the U.S. off the road.

President Barack Obama touted the importance of Penn State's research efforts in moving the nation toward a clean energy future during his visit to Penn State last February. "Making our buildings more energy-efficient is one of the fastest, easiest and cheapest ways to save money, combat pollution and create jobs right here in the United States of America," he said. Referring to the GPIC project, he added, "You're preparing to lead the way on a hub that will make America home to the most energy-efficient buildings in the world."

There are a variety of other active sustainability-focused projects and initiatives under way at Penn State. For instance, an interdisciplinary team of investigators is exploring ideas for building-integrated wind energy in middle-rise buildings in urban areas of Pennsylvania. In addition, the School of Hospitality Management in the College of Health and Human Development recently started a sustainability initiative for the hotel and restaurant industries. Additional sustainability projects are listed at online.

This fall, town hall meetings will be held at each Penn State location to give individuals the opportunity to discuss the plan in its current form and offer suggestions in support of each of the plan’s five goals. For a list of town hall meeting dates, visit online.

Individuals also may share ideas by email at or at online. Ideas submitted through Nov. 23 will be shared in a timely manner with the University Sustainability Council for their thoughtful consideration during the planning process. The final draft of the Strategic Plan for Sustainability is scheduled for completion by Dec. 31.

For a list of initiatives Penn State is already doing, visit online.

For more information about the Strategic Plan for Sustainability, please refer to our FAQ page at online.

  • Click on the image above to visit the form for sharing ideas with the University Sustainability Council, or send an email by Nov. 23 to

    IMAGE: Penn State

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated May 21, 2015