The Sierra Club recently released its annual “Cool Schools” ranking, which rates participating four-year, degree-granting undergraduate colleges and universities in the United States on the basis of their campus sustainability practices. Of the 153 universities ranked in 2015, Penn State qualified as No. 38, making it one of the highest ranked universities in Pennsylvania.
Many of Penn State's sustainability efforts have been recognized as the “best of the best” or have garnered national attention. The National Recycling Coalition recently recognized möbius, Penn State’s waste management program at University Park, for its commitment to closing the loop on waste. Composting is the newest addition to the recycling areas in buildings across the campus to help Penn State reach an 85 percent solid waste landfill diversion rate.
Penn State has several LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) buildings, and all new buildings are required to meet LEED standards. The University is also taking part in the U.S. Department of Energy’s “Better Buildings Challenge” and has pledged to reduce the average energy use in many of its buildings by 20 percent over the next decade, joining universities such as Michigan State and the University of Virginia in the effort. However, Penn State tops the list with the largest commitment, pledging to reduce energy use in 28 million square feet of building space.
Students play a huge role in Penn State’s sustainability achievements. The Penn State Advanced Vehicle Team’s EcoCAR took top honors among 15 North American universities in the “Eco-CAR2: Plugging into the Future” competition. The team's mission was to take a 2013 Chevrolet Malibu (donated by General Motors) and modify it to become a unique hybrid with increased gas mileage and decreased emissions, while maintaining consumer acceptability. Penn State Lehigh Valley students traveled to Panama to help restore the native sea turtle population, which has decreased due to factors such as climate change and coastal development, as part of the CHANCE (Connecting Humans and Nature through Conservation Experiences) program.
The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education has given Penn State a gold rating in its 2014 STARS (Sustainability Tracking and Reporting System) report and Penn State’s Sustainability Institute continues to make progress integrating sustainability into the University’s research, teaching outreach and operations to prepare students, faculty and staff to be sustainability leaders in their professional, personal and civic lives.
The [Penn] State of sustainability:
- 400+ faculty engaged in sustainability-related research
- 300+ sustainability-related courses
- 88 percent of students walk, bike or bus to, from and on campus
- 56 percent of solid waste diverted from the landfill
- 60+ student sustainability organizations
- 18 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions
- 15 percent reduction in water use since 2005