2021 Sustainability Spotlight showcases interdisciplinary work across Penn State

Matthew Long
February 01, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — On Jan. 13, Penn State’s Sustainability Institute hosted the 2021 Sustainability Spotlight via Zoom, where sustainability champions from 11 Penn State colleges, eight Commonwealth Campuses and the Sustainable Operations Council highlighted notable accomplishments from the past year advancing climate action and institutionalizing sustainability across Penn State.

University President Eric Barron emphasized Penn State’s continuing research leadership in climate science that has helped catalyze climate solutions on a national level; its leadership in energy research among all higher education institutions as an Energy University; and its capacity to further draw down greenhouse gas emissions past current targets. 

“It’s going to take a great deal for us to transition to renewable energy sources that minimize greenhouse gas emissions,” said Barron at the Spotlight event opening. “This is only the beginning. Penn State has much more to offer both on the research [and] energy transition to renewable energy, curricular innovation. Our students will live in a climate altered world and we must prepare them for that world.”

Paul Shrivastava, director of the Sustainability Institute and chief sustainability officer at Penn State, noted that Penn State is intensifying its response to climate change, highlighting several dozen climate related events and nine climate initiatives that have emerged at Penn State over the last year, including a faculty senate resolution and student petition to support Penn State on the path to becoming carbon neutral.

Shrivastava also praised the actions of the many Penn State operational units that have created Sustainability Councils to work in ways tailored to the particular strengths and needs of their units. Most recent to join this growing list of units with formalized councils are the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications, University Libraries, and Penn State Fayette, the Eberly Campus.

The Sustainability Spotlight offered an opportunity to celebrate the many innovative ways Penn State entities are institutionalizing sustainability and prioritizing climate action in their units.

For example, the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences is creating a greenhouse-gas-emissions inventory how-to guide to assist other colleges in tracking, and ultimately reducing, their greenhouse gases. The College of Arts and Architecture has created sustainability faculty teaching fellows and a sustainability teaching roundtable series. The College of Engineering has created a national Drawdown REU undergraduate climate research program. Smeal College of Business’s Center for the Business of Sustainability has helped establish a Smeal Sustainability Alumni Network. 

At the Commonwealth Campuses, Penn State Brandywine is conducting a curricular inventory to identify sustainability opportunities in its teaching and education. Penn State Harrisburg is working with community partners on an aging-in-place smart home research initiative to support a local community. Penn State Altoona, which established the first sustainability council of any unit — having celebrated its 10th anniversary last year, is working on sustainable land use and forest management programs.

The Spotlight concluded with feedback from Executive Vice President and Provost Nicholas Jones, who praised Penn State’s growing commitment to sustainability.

“There are conversations taking place that weren’t taking place a few years ago. There are connections being forged within units and across units. And, perhaps most importantly, there’s action,” Jones said.

At the event, attendees agreed that, in light of the ongoing impacts of the COVID pandemic and economic fallout, a key focus for Penn State’s sustainability councils in 2021 will be around promoting greater community resilience across the commonwealth. A recording of the Sustainability Spotlight is available to watch here.

Last Updated February 03, 2021