The delegation from the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) had 27 students from the Master of Environmental Studies (M.E.S.) and Master of Science in Applied Geoscience programs in attendance at the World Water Forum. At the end of the week, some of us from Penn were invited to present solutions emerging from our institution.
On Friday morning, three classmates and I highlighted a few water-related sustainability initiatives currently in place at Penn. Rupal Prasad began with an overview of the University’s Green Campus Parternship and the structural layout of our nearly 200-year old campus. I then described our unique outreach programs and explained to the young audience how exactly we connect with our undergraduates, graduate students, faculty and staff. Since American college and university students generally move away from home and onto higher education campuses at the age of 18, it is important that they learn and engage in a sustainable lifestyle to carry forward after graduation.
Penn has several commitments to sustainability on campus. Penn’s President Amy Gutmann was the first Ivy League president to sign the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment. More than 600 colleges and universities have joined this commitment, which seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on college campuses through unique Climate Action Plans. The seven targets of Penn’s Climate Action Plan (C.A.P.) are: learning sustainability, conserving energy, reducing emissions, minimizing waste, designing green, local foods, and purchasing pratices.
A few of our key traditions that incorporate the C.A.P. goals include:
- Move-In Green, held annually in August, gives upperclass environmental leaders the opportunity to educate incoming students around recycling on campus, ways to reduce their carbon footprint, and opportunities to get involved in sustainability initiatives at Penn.
- Penn Eco-Reps: students and staff that work within the College Houses, Greek chapters, departments, and offices to develop educational events, activities, and campaigns aimed at supporting the University’s water conservation strategies, alternative transportation, consumer choices, and more.
- PennMOVES, held annually in since 2008, has collected close to 300,000 pounds of clothes, furniture, etc. that students choose not to bring when they leave campus in the summer. These belongings are diverted from landfills and sold to individuals and organizations in our local community; proceeds are donated to Goodwill Industries.
Penn also has over 20 student-run sustainability organizations, which aim to increase campus awareness of global environmental issues across the Penn community and throughout the world. One of these organizations was presented by Abby Waldorf, who spoke about Penn’s emergent wH2O Journal, a new initiative at the University that publishes an academic journal on gender and water issues each year (first issue will be published April 27). Finally, the Editor for the Oikos/Penn Student Reporter team at the WWF, Caroline D’Angelo, discussed what oikos international is, and Penn’s involvement with the student-led non-profit organization at the WWF. Twelve Penn MES students were on this reporter team and they interviewed experts in the field, wrote blog posts and used social media. Penn is also in the process of opening the first North American chapter of oikos.
This knowledge-sharing prompted discussions between campus representatives on best practices and challenges in promoting sustainability in colleges and universities. The journal was lauded as an important mechanism to focus attention on women and water issues. And of course, the Student Reporter program itself is an important solution for global sustainability issues, to help environmental and economics students learn how to communicate complex environmental issues to a broader public.