The Penn State Student Sustainability Advisory Council recently presented 15 recommendations aimed at advancing sustainability initiatives around the University to members of Penn State’s administration.
The council developed the recommendations over the course of the semester, working closely with representatives from various Penn State units, such as the Office of Physical Plant, Housing and Food Services, Student Affairs and Transportation Services.
This year, recommendations fell into the areas of energy, fiscal responsibility, diversity, waste and education. Diversity is a brand new subcommittee started this academic year.
“I think diversity is a wonderful addition,” said Dylan Humenik, council co-chair. “Not many people think of sustainability and diversity as being related, but they are definitely intertwined.”
While many of the recommendations were new this year, several were carried over from previous semesters with the goal to build on progress the group has made.
The council’s energy subcommittee has had ongoing recommendations around the installation of electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, and they’ve seen progress with the creation of the new Penn State Policy BS21, which outlines procedures for the procurement and use of EV charging stations.
This year, on the heels of that success, the subcommittee recommended creating a construction policy that requires the University to consider installing preliminary wiring for EV charging stations in building projects that involve underground work or are located near parking areas, since the largest cost associated with EV charging stations is the underground wire installation.
In addition, the group is working to continue the momentum toward the first public EV charging station installation.
“A big milestone for us would be getting the first public electric vehicle charging station on campus in the Nittany Lion Inn parking deck, which is a very real possibility,” said Humenik.
The diversity subcommittee put forth a new recommendation related to the MorningStar Solar Home. The group advocated for the house to be supported by Student Affairs with the goal of increasing the use of the house to foster diverse exchanges and promote sustainability.
One of the most in-depth recommendations came from the waste subcommittee. The group tackled the lack of outdoor recycling bins on campus.
“We currently don’t have widespread outdoor recycling on campus,” Humenik said. “This spring, the subcommittee made a lot progress and the Office of Physical Plant was able to do a waste audit. Now we have some hard data to back up this need.”
The group found that 40 percent of what is thrown away in outdoor bins is plastic. They also did a cost analysis, taking into consideration the Centre County landfill and recycling costs, and found that plastic recycling would save the University money.
The council recommended repurposing some of the current trash bins as plastic recycling bins, beginning with a pilot group of 15-20 bins in high traffic areas of campus. In the future, the group hopes aluminum recycling will also be considered.
Some of the other suggestions the council presented included creating an Energy Ambassadors program, exploring a socially responsible investment portfolio, and requiring sustainable metrics to be considered in purchasing decisions.
The council will follow these recommendations closely and continue to meet with key stakeholders to provide input as the initiatives move forward. The committee chairs will also continue to meet with the Penn State administration to update them on the progress of these initiatives.
“None of these recommendations are just one year and we move on. We follow these throughout the semesters as they develop and grow.” Humenik. “It's tough to get something finished in one semester.”
More background on the recommendations is available online.
The council is comprised of 25 students and five ex-officio faculty and staff members. Humenik and Haley Bendis are the current co-chairs. It has launched a number of initiatives and pilot programs across a range of sustainability issues since its inception. The council accepts applications for new members in the spring.
For more information, visit Penn State’s Student Sustainability Advisory Council webpage.(Photo: the Council’s annual Sustainability Leadership Tree Award initiative.)