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The Sustainability Institute

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"Sustainability is the simultaneous pursuit of human health & happiness, environmental quality and economic well-being for current and future generations."
Penn State's Sustainability Work Plan

Penn State is a public research university that educates students from Pennsylvania, the nation and the world, and improves the well-being and health of individuals and communities through integrated programs of teaching, research and service. The University has embraced sustainability as a foundational principle that enriches all of its pursuits and missions, and is committed to advancing the understanding and resolution of sustainability challenges on campus, in our communities and around the world.

The Sustainability Institute (SI) was created to lead Penn State toward the University’s sustainability mission: a comprehensive integration of sustainability into the University’s research, teaching, outreach and operations that prepares students, faculty and staff to be sustainability leaders in their professional, personal and civic lives.

Meet the staff.

Since the Sustainability Institute was founded in 2013, Penn State has made impressive progress on sustainability.

We have facilitated or supported faculty and student projects with dozens of community partners in Pennsylvania and abroad. These academic, student life, outreach, and research projects and programs have supported:

  • Community sustainability projects carried out in over 30 courses in 11 colleges that worked on solar energy, regional composting, storm water mitigation, diversity and inclusion for hiring policies, hazard assessments, and traffic safety with local governments and non-profits.
  • Zero waste initiatives in the College of Nursing’s simulation labs across the Commonwealth, the President’s box in Beaver Stadium, and THON, the nation’s largest student philanthropy.
  • Students created semester-long Sustainability Showcase, won first-place in the National Collegiate Wind Energy competition three times, and built a low-cost high-yield greenhouse in Cameroon that secured a large grant from World Hope International.
  • Students from the Sustainabiltiy Leadership minor who joined 200 students from across the Commonwealth in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to brief regluators on climate and energy regulation.
  • Our Student Farm created a community supported agriculture program, selling produce to the University Park dining halls, and serves as a site for our Sustainable Food Systems program.
  • Arts based community sustainability education and outreach through performances of Julia Wolfe’s Anthracite Fields, Storied Images: Marcellus Shale photographic exhibition, and Plastic Entanglements exhibit at our Palmer Museum of Art.
  • Curricular innovations from individual classes across the Commonwealth from Chenango to World Campus and programs in Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management to Education Policy Studies.
  • Over 2,000 faculty and staff in 200 offices have participated in the Green Paws Program and created over 70 Green Teams in different departments.
  • Ongoing and widespread energy, waste, food, and water initiatives in our operations, purchasing, administration, and staff.

These are just a few examples of the work we have supported and facilitated for the last five years. It has paid off. Penn State is a Gold-rated institution by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

Sustainability Institute Programs

Sustainable Communities

The Sustainable Communities Collaborative (SCC) is the University’s strategic platform and opportunity to develop innovative University/community-based collaborations that engage PSU faculty and students in existing courses from across the University through real world, community-identified sustainability projects. Through the SCC, Penn State will initially partner with selected communities in Pennsylvania to meet their sustainability goals.

green teams

Green Teams are groups of faculty, staff and students volunteering to take specific actions to help their organization (college, department, building, etc.) operate in a more efficient, innovative and healthy way. Currently, the University has 102 Green Teams, with 22 of them at the Commonwealth Campuses, operating in various departments.The Penn State Sustainability Institute sponsors the Green Team program and supports it with information resources and training.

green pawsThe Green Paws Program is a simple, yet effective way for faculty and staff to "green" their workspace and earn a Green Paws Office Certification for their efforts. The Program is organized into four levels of certification that signify an office's progression towards higher and higher levels of efficiency, health and environmental sustainability. More than 2,000 faculty and staff participate in the Green Paws Program.

The interdisciplinary Sustainable Food Systems Program aims to make our own Penn State campus and food system a living laboratory for engagement in sustainable agriculture and food systems by strategically linking classroom education with experiential education, research and community outreach.

Minor in Sustainability Leadership image

The Intercollege Minor in Sustainability Leadership allows students in any major to incorporate sustainability as a significant theme in their undergraduate degree program. Through a combination of coursework and immersive experiences in sustainability, students develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes required to become sustainability leaders in their respective fields. A wide variety of courses from across the university are eligible for inclusion in the sustainability leadership minor.

Engage with the Sustainability Institute

Penn State’s Sustainability Institute provides limited, supplemental funding support for speakers, films and outreach events addressing scholarly and/or creative work on the topic of sustainability. Programs that solicit funding from other sponsors will be favorably reviewed. Funding is contingent on the Outreach Fund’s balance. Requests will be reviewed in a timely fashion by Sustainability Institute staff. Apply for funding.

Mainstream: Penn State's Sustainability Highlights is a weekly newsletter showcasing sustainability-related stories involving all campuses at Penn State. You can sign up for the newsletter and view archives of previous issues. You can also connect with sustainability at Penn State through social media — Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram.  Sign up to receive Mainstream.