Environmental Sustainability Advisory Committee (ESAC) Full Meeting Recap

college hall and cherry tree in bloom
December 1, 2020

On November 30, 2020 all members of Penn's Environmental Sustainability Advisory Committee (ESAC) convened for a Fall 2020 ESAC Full Meeting. The ESAC Full Committee, consisting of members at large and ESAC subcommittee Co-Chairs and members, meets semi-annually during both the Fall and Spring semesters. Co-Chairs for each of the subcommittees were invited to share committee goals and priorities for the 2021 fiscal year. Representatives from the Faculty Senate Committee on the Institutional Response to the Climate Emergency (CIRCE) and the Environmental Innovations Initiative (EII) were also invited to report on progress and goals for the upcoming year. 

A recap of the primary initiatives for each group can be found below:

Utilities and Operations

From a utility perspective; steam, electricity, and chilled water are the main contributors to carbon emissions on campus. Therefore, the Utilities and Operations ESAC subcommittee will focus on studying options to mitigate emissions from campus steam, expanding school and center awareness of utility usage, optimized maintenance to improve energy efficiency, and enhanced recommissioning measures. The group is also exploring an internal cost of carbon and is in the process of identifying relevant stakeholders.

Physical Environment

The ESAC Physical Environment subcommittee is focused on stewardship of the campus’ built environment. Priorities for this group include updating design guidelines to include bird strike deterrents and wellness aspects, determining priority aspects for implementation within an Ecological Landscape Stewardship Plan, supporting Penn's Real Estate team in incorporating sustainability practices, including Morris Arboretum and the New Bolton Center into Penn's carbon footprint accounting, and exploring Penn's water footprint. 

Purchasing

Over the past year, the ESAC Purchasing subcommittee has made significant progress towards understanding and identifying potential avenues for air travel offsets. This continues to be a focus for the group as they embark on a pilot program and further explore local opportunities. This group will also assess the sustainability of Penn's food purchasing, with support from Student Eco-Reps, explore vehicle purchasing practices, identify opportunities for the expansion of more sustainable auto-replacements in Penn Marketplace, expand communication of managed print services, and assess the sustainability of furniture purchasing at Penn.

Waste Minimization and Recycling

In fiscal year 2020, Penn's campus saw a 26% reduction in total waste materials generated on campus as compared to the 2019 fiscal year. This reduction is due in part to campus depopulation occurring in March of 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. While it is expected that total waste generated on campus will increase as campus repopulates, the ESAC Waste Minimization and Recycling subcommittee is committed to continuing to minimize waste generated on campus. Initiatives such as conducting waste compliance audits, promoting Desk-Side Recycling and Centralized Trash, and continuing to display newly developed signage in dining halls which direct students on recycling and disposal of new materials.

Transportation

While the COVID-19 pandemic has brought challenges for the ESAC Transportation subcommittee as commuting practices shift, this group continues to focus on the goal to further an accessible integrated multi-modal transit system to service campus. Key initiatives over the next fiscal year will include exploring opportunities for improving sustainability of parking facilities, improving communication of transit incentives, and exploring opportunities to improve access and safety for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Outreach and Engagement: Behavior Change

The ESAC Outreach and Engagement: Behavior Change subcommittee has been exploring the UN Environment Programme's Little Book of Green Nudges to identify opportunities to make sustainable choices easier for the Penn community. Some key initiatives for this group include the exploration of onboarding practices at Penn, expansion of the Green Labs program, investigation of Green IT programs, and adaptation of Green Living and Green Office programs to remote work.

Outreach and Engagement: Strategic Marketing and Communications

As part of CSAP 3.0, a working group has been formed to develop an overarching, cohesive strategic marketing and communications plan for sustainability at Penn. The goals of this subcommittee include and are not limited to raising awareness of Penn Sustainability's ongoing efforts, engaging all segments of the Penn community, and identifying and sharing target actions and research opportunities.

CIRCE

Simon Richter, Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures and Chair of the Community and Policy Subcommittee for the Faculty Senate CIRCE, provided a summary of both CIRCE’s progress and a recap of Penn’s first annual Climate Week. Climate Week @ Penn featured 45 unique events, organized by 28 separate Penn organizations. The CIRCE is a mechanism for faculty to provide input in matters concerning sustainability and climate action. Members are passionate volunteers dedicated to helping Penn exceed CSAP 3.0 goals. The committee consists of 3 subcommittees including Research and Education, Operations, and Policy and Community. Noteworthy achievements in the past year include Bring It Home guide that describes practical ways for Penn faculty and staff to respond to the climate emergency and a video produced in collaboration with Kleinman Center for Energy Policy explaining how to navigate PA Power Switch

EII

Joe Francisco, President’s Distinguished Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences and co-director of the EII, provided a status update on the EII. The EII’s is supported by the Provost and President with a mission to bring together researchers, scholars, and students to develop new ideas and innovative solutions for our global environment. The Initiative is currently in the process of hiring for a Senior Director and hopes that this position with start in the Spring of 2021.

About ESAC

President Amy Gutmann's signing of the Presidents’ Climate Commitment in 2007 charged Penn to develop a strategic plan outlining the University’s goals for carbon reduction. To carry out this mission the Environmental Sustainability Advisory Committee (ESAC) was formed.

The Environmental Sustainability Advisory Committee is a cross-campus collaboration that includes a representative group of faculty, staff, and students who advise the President on environmental sustainability issues. ESAC subcommittees developed recommendations for short- and long-term actions to address the Commitment's requirements. These recommendations now serve as the backbone of Penn’s Climate and Sustainability Action Plan 3.0. There are eight ESAC Subcommittees: Academics, Utilities & Operations, Physical Environment, Waste & Recycling, Purchasing, Transportation, Outreach & Engagement - Behavior Change, and Outreach & Engagement - Strategic Marketing & Communications. Please refer to this diagram for a full map of the ESAC subcommittees and working group structure.

If you are interested in joining one of our eight Environmental Sustainability Advisory Committee (ESAC) Subcommittees, please contact us at sustainability@upenn.edu.