|Submission Date||Dec. 17, 2020|
Pennsylvania State University
PRE-2: Points of Distinction
Assoc Director, Analysis & Assessment
Name of the institution’s featured sustainability program, initiative, or accomplishment:
A brief description of the institution’s featured program, initiative, or accomplishment:
In 2019 Penn State partnered with solar developer Lightsource bp to design a 70-megawatt, off-site solar energy project that would supply 25 percent of the University's system-wide electricity needs over the next 25 years. The project is tied for the largest solar project in the state of Pennsylvania. This innovative partnership was carefully designed to be a national model in maximizing the sustainability benefits of a utility-scale solar project.
In choosing a contractor for the project, Penn State worked closely with the Nature Conservancy (TNC) to ensure the selected project would not impact land with high biodiversity value. Applicants, including Lightsource bp, were asked to use a mapping tool developed by TNC to score proposed sites for their potential impact. This commitment to ensuring from the start that solar projects are not developed on lands that should be conserved for biodiversity and climate change resilience makes Penn State’s project a national leader that TNC hopes other utility-scale solar projects will also adopt in the future.
Lightsource bp also agreed to construct the facility in a regenerative fashion, meaning steps would be taken not only to minimize damage to the ecosystem on the land but also to improve soil health and create wildlife habitat. In this way, if years from now the solar array was to be removed, the land would still be usable for other purposes. Additionally, Penn State researchers are involved with the selection of grasses, shrubs and plants for the site and its perimeter that will promote biodiversity and pollination.
In addition to helping conserve the land, Penn State and Lightsource bp included terms in the Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) to provide greater opportunities for both community and university engagement. The solar array will become a living laboratory for students and faculty to explore and develop practical real-world experience in designing utility solar projects that help conserve the environment. Funding for student projects is part of the PPA.
The project is now complete, and began producing electricity for Penn State on October 1, 2020.
Which of the following impact areas does the featured program, initiative, or accomplishment most closely relate to?:
Website URL where more information about the accomplishment may be found:
STARS credit in which the featured program, initiative, or accomplishment is reported (if applicable):
A photograph or document associated with the featured program, initiative, or accomplishment:
Name of a second highlighted sustainability program/initiative/accomplishment:
A brief description of the second program/initiative/accomplishment:
In order to encourage broader ownership of, and responsibility for, sustainability throughout Penn State, the Sustainability Institute (SI) has promoted the formation of new structures and engaged with existing ones, in an effort to institutionalize sustainability throughout the University. The goal is to move beyond the model of a single office with responsibility for all sustainability initiatives on campus, to that of a distributed network, with the SI serving as the connector, convener, communicator and cheerleader.
This role is empowered by the presence of sustainability as a recurring theme in Penn State's institutional strategic plan for 2016-2025 "Our Commitment to Impact", with Stewarding Our Planet's Resources as one of its six thematic priorities, and Ensuring a Sustainable Future as one of its Foundations. All units on campus are expected to address these areas in their own strategic plans.
The SI has chosen the UN's Sustainable Development Goals as the framework for this institutionalization, as it reinforces for the Penn State community that sustainability has social justice and economic components, in addition to environmental ones.
The SI has encouraged colleges, campuses, and support units to adopt a structure that includes a sustainability Chairperson, Council, and Charter. Chairs are designated by deans, chancellors, or directors. Chairs, in turn, engage their peers to form a Council, which develops a Charter, that lays out goals and strategies for advancing sustainability within that unit. As of December 2020, nine of Penn State's thirteen University Park colleges, the College of Medicine (in Hershey), and the University Libraries, have designated a Council Chair. The Chairs for the colleges meet every two months as a group, convened by the SI, to discuss common challenges and opportunities.
The SI has also convened a Sustainable Operations Council, comprised of leaders in operational units - including Physical Plant, Purchasing, Transportation, Food Services, Human Resources, IT, etc. - plus Athletics, a student representative, and a member of the Faculty Senate's University Planning committee. This group meets monthly to share information and discuss priorities.
Green Teams - groups of employee (primarily staff) peer-to-peer educators - are another sustainability network convened and supported by the SI.
The SI has also engaged with governance structures at the university in an effort to get them involved in sustainability pursuits. Examples of groups with SI staff representation include five committees of the Faculty Senate, the University Staff Advisory Council, and the University Research Council.
The SI also encourages sustainability networking within Penn State's ~20 Commonwealth campuses. Annually, it hosts two to three regional forums. These daylong events feature report-outs by each campus, presentations on topics of mutual interest, and opportunities for both structured and informal discussion. Webinars, organized by the SI, are held twice a semester to encourage ongoing interaction within this group. A number of these campuses are also pursuing the Chair-Council-Charter structure described above.
Finally (but no less importantly), the SI has also worked to activate, empower, and support students' efforts in sustainability, including: the Council of Sustainable Leaders, comprised of leaders of student sustainability-related clubs; the Student Sustainability Advisory Council, an advisory group to the President; various climate action groups; a Global Youth Summit for the Club of Rome; and more. In addition, there are student efforts that are paralleling the council/governance structures, with the University Park Undergraduate Association (student government) and Council of Commonwealth Student Governments having formed sustainability committees.
In summary, the Sustainability Institute's goal is for sustainability aspirations, ideas, and actions to be owned and pursued broadly throughout the University. The above list is representative but not comprehensive; there is much going on.
Which impact areas does the second program/initiative/accomplishment most closely relate to?:
Coordination & Planning
Website URL where more information about the second program/initiative/accomplishment may be found:
STARS credit in which the second program/initiative/accomplishment is reported (if applicable):
A photograph or document associated with the second program/initiative/accomplishment:
Name of a third highlighted program/initiative/accomplishment:
A brief description of the third program/initiative/accomplishment:
Penn State has long been recognized for its strengths in interdisciplinary research. The breadth of sustainability-relevant disciplines that co-occur on campus facilitates research collaborations, and also produces a diverse array of single-investigator projects. Our current STARS report shows that over 19% of our faculty are engaged in sustainability-related research.
New sustainability-relevant research initiatives have arisen, and existing ones have expanded, including some that focus on transdisciplinary research - or research that involves external stakeholders in problem formulation, as well as in solution development.
The breadth of research has also expanded since our last STARS report: 75% of academic departments now have one or more researchers engaged in sustainability-related research. (We've expanded our definition of "research" to include creative accomplishments, to include the Arts, and to be consistent with Penn State's Promotion and Tenure guidelines.)
Examples of research initiatives include:
- Insect Biodiversity Center
- Studio for Sustainability and Social Action
- Center for Energy Law and Policy
- Institute for Sustainable Agricultural, Food, and Environmental Science
- Global Building Network for high-performance buildings
- Center for the Business of Sustainability
- Energy 2100: Building the future energy economy
- and many more
In addition to these larger initiatives, there are individuals and smaller research groups doing work that is no less important. For example:
- Investigating how justice-oriented citizenship can address sustainability issues in all communities;
- Social and environmental consequences of tourism and ecotourism;
- Examining how inequalities are produced and reproduced across generations; and
- Socioeconomic implications of extractive industries and commercial farming in Africa.
Over the last STARS reporting period more internal seed grant competitions with a sustainability focus have arisen to spur external grant success. Examples include:
- the Institutes for Energy and the Environment (IEE) runs annual seed grant competitions under their thematic foci: Climate and Ecosystem Change, Future Energy Supply, Health and the Environment, Smart Energy Systems, Water and Biogeochemical Cycles;
- the Materials Research (MRI) sponsored a "Materials That Matter at the Human Level" seed grant competition in 2019;
- the Smeal College of Business offers annual Sustainability Research Grants.
Penn State continues to encourage student research opportunities. Drawdown Scholars is a summer research experience for undergraduates that focuses on strategies for reversing global warming. The program started in 2019 with over 50 undergraduate researchers for an 8-week residential summer program, and continued in 2020 with 20 students mostly doing remote research for the summer.
Students also have opportunities to participate in "living lab" projects where campus facilities provide learning/research opportunities. For example:
- Two new solar projects - the off-site 70-MW PPA, and the on-campus 2MW array on Orchard Road - have both included funded opportunities for student research projects;
- The "Oak Road Meadow Project" - a proposed planted meadow ecosystem located along Oak Road - provided an opportunity for both undergraduate and graduate landscape architecture students to create a design that featured sustainability elements; and
- Students enrolled in the APEX Program in the Smeal College of Business conducted an Opportunity Analysis for Lion Surplus, the University's on-campus store that handles the removal and re-sale of University-owned equipment in environmentally responsible ways.
Which impact areas does the third program/initiative/accomplishment most closely relate to?:
Website URL where more information about the third program/initiative/accomplishment may be found:
STARS credit in which the third program/initiative/accomplishment is reported (if applicable):
A photograph or document associated with the third program/initiative/accomplishment: