Overall Rating Gold - expired
Overall Score 66.74
Liaison Krista Bailey
Submission Date Oct. 20, 2014
Executive Letter Download

STARS v2.0

Pennsylvania State University
AC-8: Campus as a Living Laboratory

Status Score Responsible Party
Complete 4.00 / 4.00 Mary Easterling
Assoc Director, Analysis & Assessment
Sustainability Institute
"---" indicates that no data was submitted for this field

Is the institution utilizing the campus as a living laboratory for multidisciplinary student learning and applied research in the following areas?:
Yes or No
Air & Climate Yes
Buildings Yes
Dining Services/Food Yes
Energy Yes
Grounds Yes
Purchasing Yes
Transportation Yes
Waste Yes
Water Yes
Coordination, Planning & Governance Yes
Diversity & Affordability Yes
Health, Wellbeing & Work Yes
Investment ---
Public Engagement Yes
Other Yes

A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Air & Climate and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

In April 2014 a group of Penn State faculty, staff, and students committed to responding to the threat of climate change convened on the University Park campus for a workshop entitled "Penn State's Carbon Emissions: Getting to Zero". The goal was to begin imagining a workable plan to achieve zero effective emissions by 2050. A series of concurrent workshops was held on topics such as "physical plant retrofitting", "promoting emerging technologies for alternative energy and carbon sequestration", and "assessing and changing carbon-intensive practices and cultures". This conference marks the beginning of a living lab-type initiative to address Penn State's greenhouse gas emissions.


A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Buildings and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

AE 597C: Sustainable Building Project MGMT is partnering with Penn State’s Office of Physical Plant to review Penn State’s current LEED and Green Building Policy and to make recommendations to PSU leadership on how to revise this policy. The activity includes a review of PSU experiences in adopting LEED, lessons on LEED Silver, Gold, and Platinum projects, and a debate on the merits of LEED 4.0 vs Green Globes as potential new standards for PSU projects. The class will also provide tours of Penn State’s SALA Building to students in a freshman experience course.

EDSGN 497: Sustainability Leadership Projects Students in this course utilize online modules and practicum experiences to gain the capacity and confidence to provide tours of the MorningStar Solar Home on the Penn State campus. Learning objectives include the knowledge of the core design principles of passive design, local materials, and prefabrication techniques, and also organize event for local organizations at the facility to build awareness of the facility as a teaching resource, and to help pursue the mission of the MorningStar as an instrument for transformation.


A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Dining Services/Food and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

Two students are overseeing a pilot program to bring reusable carryout food containers to campus dining halls, beginning with Pollack Dining Commons in Spring 2014. Working closely with Food Services staff, the students have been instrumental in moving the project forward and provide a valuable perspective on what might or might not sell to their peers.


A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Energy and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

EDSGN 497: Sustainability Leadership Projects Students in this course utilize online modules and practicum experiences to gain the capacity and confidence to provide tours of the MorningStar Solar Home on the Penn State campus. Learning objectives include the knowledge of the core design principles of passive design, local materials, and prefabrication techniques, and also organize event for local organizations at the facility to build awareness of the facility as a teaching resource, and to help pursue the mission of the MorningStar as an instrument for transformation.


A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Grounds and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

Penn State's main composting facility - the Organic Materials Processing & Education Center (OMPEC) - is a partnership of College of Agricultural Sciences, Hospitality Services, Housing and Food Services, and Office of Physical Plant. Feedstocks include materials from grounds maintenance - such as logs, brush, and leaves - as well as food residuals and animal waste. The resulting compost and mulch are used for enhancing soil quality and growing conditions on campus. The site serves as a learning laboratory for students, as well as a demonstration facility for workshops and seminars.

The wood from Elm trees removed on campus due to disease or failing health is salvaged and repurposed into furniture and other products that are sold. OPP partners with the Alumni Association on this project. It results in a much higher reuse of the wood instead of mulch. Proceeds from the sale of products is split between OPP and the Alumni Association. OPP’s share goes to the Tree Replacement Endowment which is used to purchase and plant new trees on campus. We have sold close to $500,000 of Elms Collection items in the 3+ years the program has existed.


A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Purchasing and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

In 2010, Penn State Office of Physical Plant, Procurement Services, and the Smeal College of Business launched an ambitious collaborative effort: to develop a new standard for carpet purchasing, installation and removal that would reduce the first cost by 3-5% and the total cost of ownership by an estimated 20% and ensure 100% of Penn State carpet never sees a landfill. A team of MBA students, under leadership of a Smeal College of Business faculty member, completed a thorough analysis, ultimately leading to the selection of vendors that would allow Penn State to meet its objectives of reduced cost and improved environmental performance.


A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Transportation and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

The Penn State Biodiesel Plant initiative is a collaborative effort of Penn State Cooperative Extension, the Office of the Physical Plant, the University Fleet Garage, Farm Services, and faculty in the College of Engineering. The group is developing a pilot-scale commercial biodiesel plant on the University Park campus that will be used to provide about 20% of the university fleet's diesel fuel needs. The ultimate goal of the project is to grow and harvest canola, press the seeds for vegetable oil, utilize the oil in university dining halls and restaurants, collect the used vegetable oil, and process it into biodiesel. The system will be expanded to include two parallel processing lines, to allow for side-by-side tests of different processing strategies and feedstocks. See http://extension.psu.edu/natural-resources/energy/biofuels/resources/psu-biodiesel-plant.


A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Waste and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

Student "EcoAmbassadors", University Park students interning with the Environmental Protection Agency and working through the Campus Sustainability Office, partnered with OPP, Housing, Residence Life, and Runkle Hall residents to conduct promotions, communications, and research for an initiative "Green It Together" with a goal of zero waste in residence halls. They were successful and created a program that will now be rolled out in 50 residence halls. See http://sustainability.psu.edu/spotlight/runkle-hall-quest-zero-waste


A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Water and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

Penn State faculty and staff have worked together over the years to create a "living filter" to recycle wastewater on the UP campus. Treated wastewater is piped from the campus wastewater treatment plant to an area know as "Big Hollow", where it is sprayed over 600 acres of farm fields and trees. The thick soil in this area, along with the vegetation, naturally filters the remaining nutrients out of about 2 million gallons a day of treated wastewater. This system reduces the need for large, unsightly retention ponds. Students and faculty conduct ongoing research on this system at the Penn State Spray Center Research Facility. See http://sustainability.psu.edu/spotlight/where-does-water-go.

Another student project related to water was piloted at Penn State's wastewater treatment plant. The project aims to build a simple microbial fuel cell using only cheap materials that spontaneously generates electricity from wastewater. “The system could eventually provide residents of poor urban communities with cooking fuel, renewable electricity, sanitized fertilizer, and disinfected drinking water.” See http://sustainability.psu.edu/spotlight/award-winning-students-find-sustainable-solution-water-sanitation


A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Coordination, Planning & Governance and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

Ten MBA students from the Smeal College of Business helped to guide three units (Schreyer Honors College, Information Technology Services, and College of Communications) in incorporating sustainability into their strategic planning process, using a guidebook developed by the Sustainability Institute.

A College of Communications class organized a "Sustainability Unites" meet-up of sustainability-focused student clubs and groups on campus. This student-led initiative will, hopefully, catalyze increased student involvement in sustainability and interactions among the clubs. The class also is working with the Sustainability Institute Communications team to provide input to a web-based student portal with information of relevance to students such as courses, majors, careers, and other areas that the students might identify.


A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Diversity & Affordability and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

The “World in Conversation Project”, a Center for Public Diplomacy in Penn State's College of the Liberal Arts, relies on student facilitators and the Socratic method to generate candid dialogue on some of today’s most difficult social issues—from race to the Middle East to college drinking culture. World In Conversation grew directly out of SOC 119 (“Race and Ethnic Relations”) in response to the need to bridge deep divides that existed between racial and ethnic groups at Penn State following death threats and the ensuing student takeover of the HUB in 2002. This fall the Center will partner with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to sponsor trained Penn State undergraduate dialogue facilitators to lead groundbreaking virtual conversations between NATO military cadets and civilians in conflict zones, beginning with Afghanistan.


A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Health, Wellbeing & Work and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

The new Hort Woods child-care center on campus recently received Platinum level LEED certification. The Center's curriculum is integrated with the Penn State College of Health and Human Development. According to Linda Reichert, Center Director, “The HHD Family Studies students do full-time internships here, and School of Visual Arts students work with the kids on a variety of sustainable arts. The School of Music students also do activities with preschoolers every week. Kids get exposure to tap dancing, ballet and even traditional Irish dancing. We are very lucky to have the campus as an oasis of resources for child enrichment.” It is a true living laboratory for Penn State. http://sustainability.psu.edu/spotlight/penn-state-child-care-center-awarded-platinum-leed-certification


A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Investment and the positive outcomes associated with the work:
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A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Public Engagement and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

The nine-acre Sustainability Experience Center is a destination for students, teachers, business leaders, and citizens to experience and experiment with ways to apply the practices of sustainability to food, water, building materials, and energy systems. The Center includes a net-zero energy solar home, a community garden, wind turbine, solar carport, sustainability research facilities, and other features. Student interns offer tours to K-12 school groups and other community groups. See http://sustainability.psu.edu/live/what-penn-state-doing/buildings-teach/learning-grounds


A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory in Other areas and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

LED Growth Chambers: Penn State researchers from theatre arts and horticulture collaborated with Office of Physical Plant to fine-tune lighting for improved plant growth and energy conservation in greenhouses. The research team explored how using theatrical LED fixtures in place of traditional lighting could reduce energy consumption in plant growth chambers, without compromising plant growth. Initial results suggest the potential for lower energy and maintenance costs as well as reduced plant stress and improved health. See http://sustainability.psu.edu/spotlight/research-moves-leds-theatre-stage-greenhouse


The website URL where information about the institution’s campus as a living laboratory program or projects is available:

Within the Office of Physical Plant's strategic plan for 2014-2018 is a strategy to "expand academic partnerships" with a dual vision of directly enhancing the University's academic activities and directly benefiting from its faculty and student expertise. In other words, this strategy is to expand Living Lab partnerships.

The information presented here is self-reported. While AASHE staff review portions of all STARS reports and institutions are welcome to seek additional forms of review, the data in STARS reports are not verified by AASHE. If you believe any of this information is erroneous or inconsistent with credit criteria, please review the process for inquiring about the information reported by an institution or simply email your inquiry to stars@aashe.org.