New Kensington first to achieve campus-wide Green Paws milestone

William A. Woodard Jr.
December 02, 2015

“In the 21st century, I think the heroes will be the people who will improve the quality of life, fight poverty and introduce more sustainability.”
-- Bertrand Piccard

UPPER BURRELL, Pa. – “All in” is the betting standard in Texas Holdem. “All in” is the sustainability standard at Penn State New Kensington.

Accepting a challenge from Chancellor Kevin Snider, New Kensington became the first campus to successfully navigate the requirements for Level 1 certification by the Penn State Sustainability Institute’s Green Paws program. 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.”

Supported 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 are 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.”

To celebrate the campus achievement, the institute will sponsor a reception at 1 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 9, in the campus Conference Center. Members of the institute will award certificates to the teams.

For a list of campus green teams, visit

Campus green paws
The campus program is composed of a dozen teams comprising 79 faculty and staff. Green Paws is organized into four levels of certification that signify members’ progressions towards higher levels of efficiency, health, and environmental sustainability. The initial level constitutes nine categories, such as energy savings and waste reduction, as well as recycling and transportation efforts. 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.

Under the direction of coaches, the campus formed teams in March. The coaches attended a sustainability workshop, presented by Vanderbergh, to help them 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.”

In July, Enrollment Management became the first campus team to conquer the initial challenge. The last group achieved success in November. Many teams are on the precipice of Level 2 certification. For more on campus sustainability, visit

Other 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 in selected locations 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 more on the Sustainability Institute, visit

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.

“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.”

University-wide, more than 1,200 faculty and staff participate in the program. To view the requirements for all the levels, visit

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, a cadre of students, faculty and staff. Headed by Ruth Herstek, administrative support assistant in the Academic Affairs offcie, it is 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.

For more information, contact Herstek at

  • Recycle station

    Science Club member Brody Gerano helps fellow students identify compostable food waste, recyclable materials and disposable trash during lunch at Café 780. The Science Club and Green Team helped educate students on sustainable practices. 

    IMAGE: Bill Woodard

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Last Updated December 03, 2015