Penn Staters at three campuses discuss environmental justice

University Park, Pa. -- Office of Physical Plant electrical engineer Blair Malcolm left the "Environmental Forum: Improving Lives, Protecting Resources” realizing that when he makes decisions at work he "should be considering the best environmental choice for Penn State, and how those choices affect others outside my community.”

Kristen Saacke Blunk, director of the Penn State Agriculture and Environment Center, offered the audience of about 100 Penn State faculty and staff her insights on the “face” of environmental injustice. “Who benefits from economic decisions and who loses? Who participates in decisions and who does not?” she asked the audience.

Saacke Blunk drew from her vast experience addressing environmental issues, both globally and locally, to explain how environmental problems, such as deforestation in Haiti, could be addressed in a way that also benefits the health and welfare of the local residents. After the keynote speech, attendees from Penn State Harrisburg, Greater Allegheny, York, University Park and Dickinson School of Law brainstormed about the environmental issues that impact Pennsylvanians. Their long list included activities such as natural gas extraction from Marcellus Shale and how this impacts the drilling areas, both positively and negatively.

As Malcolm noted, “efforts to save energy at Penn State result in reducing the use of coal," our predominant energy source to create electricity and heat for campus. "At the same time it addresses the negative effects of mining, transporting and consuming that fuel source. That not only helps Penn State, but the communities affected by mining pollution and those people along the route from the mines to campus.”

“These are challenging economic times and we must be on a relentless search for ways to increase efficiency and cut costs,” said Al Horvath, senior vice president for finance and business/treasurer. “At the same time, however, we must also maintain our values and further secure our leadership as socially innovative business leaders that ensure that all people have access to and benefit from our commitment to sustainability. The days of focusing narrowly on first cost and ignoring full cost are over.”

This sentiment is represented as a main theme in Penn State’s new strategic plan. The plan calls on us to “enhance diversity”, “serve the people of the Commonwealth” and to practice “environmental sustainability” in all aspects of our work.

Examples of how Penn State is integrating the “social dimension” of sustainability into its business strategies already abound, including its Blue Cleaning Program that was implemented to protect the health of our custodial staff and building occupants through improved indoor air quality, while also reducing the environmental impact of conventional cleaning supplies on the building materials. The new cleaners are cost-competitive and still keep Penn State buildings and workspaces sparkling.

The forum, held on May 18 at the HUB-Robeson Center on the University Park campus, was the fifth installment of a series of events organized by the Finance and Business Environmental Stewardship Key Initiative. With the help of Outreach, this year’s event was broadcast via PolyCom to Penn State Harrisburg and Penn State Greater Allegheny. Past events featured Evan Pugh professor of geosciences Richard Alley, TV scientist Bill Nye, director of Buildings and Grounds at the University of California at Davis, Sal Genito, and last year, Kevin Lyons, chief procurement officer, and Magda Comeau, green purchasing manager of Rutgers University.

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Last Updated June 04, 2010