GEOG 432
Energy Policy

Case Study: Penn State University


Now that you've learned how industries and corporations are developing internal energy and sustainability policies as well as influencing those broader policies which will affect their businesses, let's take a more in depth look at institutional policy by exploring what Penn State is doing.

Penn State has been a leader in the adoption of green energy purchases, energy efficiency updates on campus, responsible purchasing, and recycling on campus for many years. With over 50,000 students, faculty, and staff on the University Park campus alone, the University really does function as an autonomous entity in a lot of ways. Behind the scenes, a whole host of operations staff works diligently to ensure that campus is running safely, efficiently, and economically. More recently, the University has made a big effort to promote all of the sustainable practices they are implementing and has been encouraging the PSU community to help them reduce energy consumption. In this case study, we'll look both at what they're doing and why it's so important.

You're part of the Penn State community, and we want you to know about all the activities going on across our campuses to be environmental stewards. From composting food waste to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Penn State utilizes its in-house expertise in climate change, energy, and environmental science to inform its daily operations.

This video, produced by WPSU, highlights some of the sustainability efforts at Penn State - in teaching, research, and operations. As you will see, Penn State is a leader in all three areas.

Sustainable Penn State (7:37)

Sustainable Penn State Video
Click here for the video transcript of Sustainable Penn State.

The Iroquois Indian confederacy centuries ago said, 'In all of our deliberations let us be mindful of the impact of our choices and our actions on the seventh generation.' The first problem we face is carbon- dioxide because of the fact that it's pretty obvious that climate change is underway. The second is the source of energy itself. The sun is our only renewable resource. Fossil fuels are not renewable. Uranium is not renewable. We know that about one-sixth of humanity does not have access to a reliable, safe, clean water supply. In another eight to ten years that number could grow to one-third of all humanity. Recent estimates suggest that current world population is approaching seven billion people. We have the likelihood of growing to ten billion or more in the next thirty to forty years. The fact that we're living on a finite Earth is really fundamental. We start to realize that our capacity to use up resources is greater than the Earth's capacity to replenish them.

One of my favorite tools is the ecological footprint. It would take five Earths if everybody lived like us. So, that kind of gives you the magnitude of what we're talking about changing here. We have to think about the whole planet; about bringing other parts of the world that don't have the opportunities that we have and how we can make that available to other people as well and do it all in a sustainable way. This is an absolutely urgent issue. It really is something that we all need to do in order to ensure that human rights are protected around the globe. Because we're intelligent beings on this planet it is a good assumption this we will learn how to make our use of the planetary resources sustainable. We can do this. There's absolutely no question that we can do it, so I am optimistic about this. But, the longer we wait, the harder it gets. We have a tremendous opportunity to provide leadership in the area of sustainability, and I don't think there's a university that's doing as much in this area as we are at Penn State.

Penn State's a four billion dollar enterprise, and if we were a corporate entity we'd be somewhere in the middle of the fortune one thousand. With the breadth of our research in academic programs and with the expanse of our alumni base, I think we carry a responsibility to take on the sustainability challenge head on. We have an extraordinary group of faculty, students and staff that are working on different dimensions of sustainability. We have more people working on energy- related research than probably any other school in the country. In fact, I think we're probably America's number one energy university at this point. To be number one in the world, we need to be more energy efficient. Not only we use a lot of energy, but we are most efficient. When students have the chance to see a sustainability principle put into practice and really make a difference it really tends to hit home. Sustainability ties together education at the undergraduate and graduate level, but even ties together our physical plant into research and education.

First LEED baseball park in the country, and it's very, very wonderful. Green roofs are a great addition to any building, especially in cities where storm water is a huge issue. I think we do have the ability to influence what's going on in the market place because of the issue of volume of what we're purchasing. EcoReps is a program where we try to make the students more aware of eco- friendly choices and decisions. We're working with students to have conversations with other students about environmental issues but really trying to get them to think about behaviors. And help out, spread the word about what's going on and how to reduce TV, video games and laptop use. That's about it. This is the great social cause of their generation. They see it that way; they're committed in the way earlier generations were committed on the Vietnam war, civil rights, and I think that those are the people who will be leading the way when it comes to questions about sustainability. They see the world differently, and they're connected to the world differently. They travel a lot more. And, so I think they are concerned about it. I think we have a role; we certainly have a responsibility because of our teaching research and service mission.

We're having a significant positive impact socially, but we're also having a significant positive impact on our bottom line. Really, it's a condition that you need to maintain, and the equation for that balance changes every day as population increases, as new technologies are introduced. Sustainability is an issue of science, it's an issue of education, it's an issue of research, but it is also an issue of social responsibility. The issues of sustainability or education for sustainability does not belong to a separate department. It belongs to everything any one of us does. Future generations like my children and my grandchildren will pay the consequences for the electricity I'm using, so reducing that and taking any small change makes a big difference for the future. I have no doubt that we're going to have breakthroughs and really have impact in this field from carbon capture to solar energy to fuels on through to energy-efficient buildings. These are the areas where I think our land-grant legacy really comes to the fore in the twenty-first century. We need to make sure that generations to come still have resources to work with. Why don't we all try and work towards this one goal?

Credit: SustainableState

Want to know more about something you saw in the video? Check out the links below!


  • Sustainability cannot be owned by any one department; instead it is a mindset from which all our departments must operate. Visit the Sustainability Institute's website to learn about the collective actions across our campuses related to sustainability.


  • Institutes of Energy and the Environment - PSIEE is the central coordinating structure for energy and environmental research, education, and outreach at PSU.

  • EMS Energy Institute - The EMS Energy Institute conducts research for developing advanced sciences and technologies for conversion and utilization of energy resources and for energy-related environmental protection.

  • H2E Center - The H2E Center is Penn State's hydrogen energy research center. In addition to being a focal point for activities on hydrogen production, storage, and utilization systems going on at Penn State, the Center also facilitates the development of hydrogen-based technologies.

  • Environment and Natural Resources Institute (ENRI) - Center for Policy Research in Environment, Energy, and Community, ENRI seeks to improve understanding and management of living systems, landscapes, and human-environment interactions with the object of sustaining and enhancing ecosystem services and human well being.


  • Sustainability Institute - The Penn State Sustainability Institute leads and supports campus sustainability initiatives through collaborative project development, implementation, and evaluation across the entire Penn State system. To learn more about what Penn State is doing to create a more sustainable campus environment, visit their site and find out how you can become involved. ESP has had several students complete inventories with the Sustainability Institute!

  • Office of Physical Plant (OPP) Energy - Office of Physical Plant (OPP) OPP keeps the university functioning. From repairs and routine maintenance, to utility operation and trash collection, OPP is responsible for all the services that keep the campus running smoothly. OPP works diligently to ensure that buildings and people are using our energy and other resources wisely and actively seeks to increase participation in conservation, recycling, and other environmental initiatives. Engineering Services in OPP is responsible for tracking the university's greenhouse gas emissions as well.

  • Finance and Business Environmental Stewardship - Focuses on funding environmental initiatives across campus including 2 positions- the Director of Sustainable Initiatives and an Environmental Purchasing Specialist for Procurement Services. They also provide funding to energy saving projects and seek to enhance building energy performance.

  • PSU's Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventories - PSU's Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventories Visit this site to learn more about the emissions profile for each of the Penn State campuses as well as the university as a whole. You can also learn about the university's initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.