PA Environmental Resource Consortium honors campus sustainability champions

Matthew J. Long
June 17, 2020

The Pennsylvania Environmental Resource Consortium (PERC) recently announced this year’s Campus Sustainability Champions (CSC) for Penn State, highlighting the contributions of students, staff and faculty for their work to advance sustainable development.

This year’s selected student honoree for Penn State was Madison Mitchell, student and executive director for the Sustainability Institute’s Council of Sustainable Leaders (CSL). For the past year, Mitchell has led a cohort of student leaders in developing strategies to improve sustainability practices among students and the Penn State community while emphasizing one or more of the UN 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Some affiliate student organizations in CSL include the University Park Undergraduate Association, the Council of Commonwealth Student Governments, Lion Ambassadors, the Performing Arts Council and THON.

Mitchell was recognized specifically for her leadership on student-engaged sustainability through her organization of the Sustainability Showcase Series, a weekly event traditionally held at the HUB at University Park and hosted virtually this spring. CSL began hosting the events in Fall 2017 with support from the Sustainability Institute and many other colleges and units throughout Penn State. An average of over 100 attended the events each week to hear from a variety of speakers, including Isaac Vergun, a youth climate activist and plaintiff in the Juliana v. United States federal climate lawsuit, business leaders from Perdue and PepsiCo, and Special Operations veterans with FORCE BLUE, a non-profit organization dedicated to marine conservation efforts.

“I wasn’t expecting to be honored for my work,” said Mitchell. “I am very thankful to PERC for the recognition and for being able to work with such fantastic people at the who are truly dedicated to their work.”

Andy Lau, associate professor of engineering, was also recognized as a 2020 honoree for his lifetime achievements in teaching, green building and solar energy. “It is an honor to be recognized for my life of commitment to learning and teaching how to live more lightly on Earth,” said Lau of being named a Campus Sustainability Champion this year.

Robert Cooper, Mike Prinkey and Shelly McKeague, members of OPP’s Energy and Engineering team, were also among PERC's 2020 CSC honorees. The team brought together students, renewable energy experts, Sustainability Institute staff members, the Nature Conservancy and other industry professionals to develop and finalize a Request for Proposal (RFP) for a large-scale project to keep Penn State on track to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 35% by this year and by 85% by 2050, from its peak in 2005.

One crucial consideration was cost; the team needed the price of solar generated electricity to be at or below breakeven with fossil fuel based generation, so utility costs would not increase and tuition would not be impacted. They also prioritized the enhancement of ecosystem benefits and minimization of site impacts, while improving soil health and creating wildlife habitat. In June of 2018, Penn State sent the RFP to 43 solar project developers and selected Lightsource bp as their partner to build, own and operate the large-scale solar project. Penn State will purchase 100% of the electricity, under a 25-year power purchase agreement (PPA) – providing Penn State with estimated of more than $14 million over the contract term.

The project, which is currently under construction, consists of 150,000 solar panels that is expected to produce 25% of Penn State’s statewide electricity and prevent 57,000 tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere each year, while also serving as a home for ecological and solar research and teaching and providing incoming to landowners leasing their land for the project.

“Penn State's solar project was a massive undertaking that our Energy and Engineering team could not have carried out without the participation and expertise offered by many talented Penn State students, faculty, staff, solar energy experts, and contractors,” said Cooper. “This project and the multi-faceted projects completed by the other PERC campus sustainability champions highlight the ingenuity of the environmental and sustainability research landscape found in higher education institutions across Pennsylvania.”

PERC is an organization made up of 70 member and affiliate colleges and universities across Pennsylvania. The Campus Sustainability Champion title is awarded annually to students, faculty, administrators, and staff of Pennsylvania colleges and universities who have made meaningful contributions benefiting social, economic and/or environmental sustainability on their campus, in their community, or in society at large. The Campus Sustainability Champion award signifies outstanding leadership in the transition to a sustainable future. The full listing of honorees’ accomplishments can viewed at the PERC 2020 CSC page.

Last Updated June 17, 2020