Penn State creates Sustainability Communications Initiative

May 14, 2014

Penn State has created the Sustainability Communications Initiative with the help of a $37,500 seed grant from the University’s Sustainability Institute Reinvention Fund.

The Arthur W. Page Center for Integrity in Public Communication, a research unit housed in the College of Communications, will be the home for the Sustainability Communications Initiative (SCI). The grant was secured by two of the Page Center’s senior research fellows -- Denise Bortree, associate professor in the Department of Advertising/Public Relations, and Lee Ahern, assistant professor in the Department of Advertising/Public Relations. They will lead the project.

“This will be a major effort for the Page Center with three key areas of emphasis,” said Bortree.  “We believe it will establish Penn State as a leading institution in sustainability communication research and practice.”

The three areas of emphasis are: first, that the SCI will conduct original sustainability communication research that can be shared with communication practitioners; second, it will partner with other organizations to create databases of existing sustainability research that will be shared with the media and communication practitioners; and, finally, it will work with student groups at Penn State to promote sustainability knowledge and behaviors on campus and in the State College community.

Beyond the grant provided by the Reinvention Fund, the Page Center has committed to fund the SCI for at least three years. 

“We want to develop, highlight and share best practices in sustainability communication across disciplines,” said Ahern.  We hope to publish annual reports on sustainability communication with a focus on creating research that is useful to the practice of communication.”

It is anticipated that the SCI will partner with other organizations to maintain a “curated database of sustainability communication research.”  Plans are to distribute article summaries to media outlets to raise journalists’ level of interest in and knowledge of sustainability communication. In addition, a second database of sustainability and corporate social responsibility reports, videos and other materials such as ads, press releases and social media content, will be maintained. This will be available to academics, communication professionals, undergraduates and graduate students. 

Outreach projects, with the participation of Penn State students, will act as a living laboratory in which students, faculty and staff work together to implement best-practices in sustainability communication.

“This effort will leverage Penn State’s vast resources in the areas of energy, environment and green technology, making it a one-of-a-kind initiative at a major university,” Bortree said.  “We’re excited to begin.”

In addition to Bortree and Ahern, the SCI will involve a full-time graduate student and provide opportunities for participation by numerous undergraduates interested in research into sustainability communication.

Last Updated May 14, 2014