Green Paws teams bring sustainable solutions to New Kensington campus

William A. Woodard Jr.
April 29, 2015

UPPER BURRELL, Pa. -- A pandemic is infecting Penn State New Kensington. It started in 2011 and methodically spread to every office and department on campus. It feeds off the host until the office turns “green.” It is called Green Paws, and fortunately, there is no known cure.

Sponsored by the Penn State Sustainability Institute, Green Paws are teams of faculty and staff volunteering to take specific actions to help their offices or departments operate in a more efficient, innovative and healthy way. The groups work in conjunction with the institute’s Green Paws program to earn certificates of achievement.

“Working together through the Green Paws program, New Kensington faculty and staff will be building their capabilities to create an environment where discussions about how to create a thriving society and innovations towards that goal are encouraged and practiced,” said Lydia Vanderbergh, associate director of employee engagement and education for the Sustainability Institute. “As the first campus to roll this out to all their faculty and staff, New Kensington is showing its leadership and setting an example for the Penn State community.”

Kevin Snider, chancellor of the campus, is a big proponent of the program. He encouraged the campus community to learn about sustainability and put it into practice. Since April 1, campus teams have been reducing waste and saving energy. New Kensington is the only Penn State campus with 100 percent participation by its faculty and staff.

“Sustainability is one of the focus areas in our strategic plan,” Snider said. “We can succeed in improving our overall sustainability on campus with simple, relatively easy steps that require only small changes on our part.”

Green Paws

Green Paws is a four-step program for resource efficiency in the office. Each level comprises nine sustainability categories: energy, recycling, waste reduction, purchasing, outreach and production, events and meetings, transportation, kitchens and break rooms, and publications. Each category has a checklist of certain criteria to meet, and each level makes the office "greener." Certification is bestowed upon those who complete the checklist at each level.

“By working through the steps, the campus community will understand that teams can work together to learn that sustainability is building a skill set of thinking about the social, environmental and economic issues,” Vanderbergh said. “These issues impact how people need to think differently in order to strengthen communities and organizations. Actions include group activities to foster conversations about our learnings and practices.”

The campus groups were assembled in March under the direction of team coaches, who attended a workshop in April on campus. Presented by Vanderbergh, the workshop helped the coaches to define sustainability, review the Green Paws checklist, and practice team building and motivation activities.

“At the training, we discussed how CEOs from around the world are recognizing that sustainability is one of the five most pressing challenges to corporations,” said Vanderbergh, who holds a master’s degree in energy and environmental policy from George Washington University. “They are looking to our universities to prepare our students to address this challenge.”


Sustainability is a key initiative of Snider’s five-year strategic plan that was unveiled last year. It cuts across several of the strategic goals and highlights the campus’ intent to become an even more important leader in the community. Sustainability, poverty initiatives and STEM programming are the main ingredients in the campus plan, and the campus is engaging the community in these critical areas.

In addition to focusing the next generation of students on sustainability, the campus intends to affect the sustainable future by moving lessons, visibility, education and action into local communities over the coming years.

“The need for sustainability has never been greater,” Snider said. “We are poised to do even more during the next five years to help our community.”

The campus’ sustainability plan goes hand-in-hand with the institute’s Green Paws program. According to Vanderbergh, Green Paws addresses three parts of New Kensington’s strategic plan, including seeking opportunities for operating, teaching and serving students and the region, and creating an eco-friendly and healthy campus environment.

“Penn State New Kensington will be a recognized leader for the way in which it engages community in three critical areas affecting western Pennsylvania: poverty, sustainability and STEM-related programming in K-12 schools,” Vanderbergh said.

Sustainability activities at the New Kensington campus are under the auspices of the PSNK Green Team comprising students, faculty and staff. They are committed to reducing waste and exploring ways to use resources responsibly.

“The Green Team has done an excellent job of mapping out how we can succeed in improving our overall sustainability on campus,” Snider said.

Green initiatives

Green teams aren't the first sustainability initiatives at the New Kensington campus. The continuing effort of the greening of the campus has been underway since 2008 when three environmentally friendly water bottle refilling stations were installed around campus. Known as hydration stations, the fountains decreased the use of plastic bottles and alleviated the amount of trash that would wind up in landfills.

Five years ago, "Going Green" was implemented with single stream recycling. The campus provides a fast, easy and efficient way to recycle without the hassle of sorting recycled materials. Single stream recycling allows end-users to discard plastics, paper and cans into one container. Green and blue containers are located in high-traffic areas throughout the campus. Dumpsters are located behind the Athletics Center and in the lower parking lot behind the Science and Technology Building.

Supported by an $11,000 grant from the Sustainability Institute, the campus created a compost site in October that is nourished with pre- and post-consumption food waste from Café 780, the campus' main eatery. The campus has turned into a living laboratory, which provides students the skills they need to become sustainability leaders within the community. In the fall, compost products will feed the pollinator garden, which is located in the southwest section of the campus, adjacent to the campus' nature trail. The garden serves as a habitat for native birds, bees and butterflies.

Penn State has been the leader in sustainability initiatives among colleges and universities. The Campus Sustainability Office, established in 2008, promotes and ensures environmentally-safe activity at Penn State. Its initiatives protect and enhance the financial, human and ecological resources of the University, and the planet.

For information on joining the campus green team, contact Ruth Herstek at 724-334-6032 or

For a list of campus Green Paw teams, visit

For more sustainability at the campus, visit

For more on the Sustainability Institute, visit

  • Sustainability trainer

    Lydia Vanderbergh, associate director of employee engagement and education for the Sustainability Institute, trained Penn State New Kensington coaches in April on sustainability practices.

    IMAGE: Bill Woodard

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Last Updated April 30, 2015