On October 15th, 2019, The University of Pennsylvania rolled out its five-year Climate & Sustainability Action Plan 3.0 (CSAP) at the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy following Climate Action Plans 1.0 and 2.0 in 2009 and 2014 respectively. The plan represents Penn’s commitment in preparing the university to address evolving environmental challenges into the future. In attendance were many of the 150+ faculty, students, and staff members that worked on the CSAP 3.0 over the past 15 months.
The plan centers around seven broad goals:
1. Academics (labs and research opportunities)
2. Physical Environment (urban/architectural design and water management)
3. Utilities and Operations (building emissions)
4. Purchasing (food and equipment)
5. Transportation (electric vehicles, bikes, buses)
6. Waste Minimization and Recycling (waste tracking)
7. Outreach and Engagement (student programs)
Since the release of CSAP 1.0 in 2009, Penn has taken significant steps in mitigating the university’s impact on the environment, including the reduction of building-related carbon emissions by 30%.
But how does Penn’s climate plan stack up against other top schools? Is Penn doing enough? We put together a table comparing the University of Pennsylvania with similar schools to try to answer that question.
Table 1: Sustainability Goals and Accomplishments by School
In terms of goals for carbon neutrality, Penn is in the middle of the pack with the 5th earliest year set for carbon neutrality. Duke plans on going carbon neutral by 2024 and Harvard plans on going fossil free neutral by 2026; both Universities are significantly ahead of the other eight in terms of reaching net zero emissions. However, it is also good to note that the year 2050 is a goal set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change so it is likely that Universities with 2050 as their target year (Cornell, Dartmouth, Yale, Columbia) will eventually set the goal to an earlier time.
Penn has also been able to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions significantly faster than other schools. Although Penn saw a similar decrease in emissions with its peers when comparing the year of the report and the baseline year at face value, the university was able to accomplish this in a shorter amount of time. For example, both Penn and Yale decreased greenhouse gas emissions by roughly 23%, yet Penn was able to do this in 5 years compared to Yale’s 13 years.
Nonetheless, one could argue that the amount of commuters using sustainable transportation is lacking. Though 48% of commuters at Penn use sustainable transportation, this is minor compared to peer institutions that have reported data on transportation such as Harvard and Columbia. Given Penn is located in an urban district with many public transportation options, this is an area that can be easily improved on campus.
Although a quick glance at the table would make you think Penn is not adequately managing its waste, one should remember the university has only reported its recycling rate and not its full waste diversion like other universities. Penn claims that it composts all leftover food from the dining halls and has also seen a rise in waste-to-energy incineration. A combination of these two factors would make it reasonable to assume the net waste diversion is higher than its recycling rate, but by how much would require more research.
Another thing to note was the breadth of Penn’s CSAP 3.0 plan. The plans of many other peer institutions do not go into as much empirical depth. It is not that their reports provided little information, but rather the data was portrayed more qualitatively than quantitatively. This made it harder to fully understand the details of the institution’s progress and the scale of their accomplishments.
Read about each university’s Climate Action Plans Here: