Pennsylvania State University Greener Behrend Task Force

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Type: Policy

Status: Adopted

Source File:


Our continued abuse of the earth may result in drastic repercussions if current systems of development, waste treatment, consumerism, and education are not refined. Penn State Behrend recognizes this potential impact, and has formed a task force to address sustainability issues on campus.

Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, will have a campus community that is educated about and committed to establishing and maintaining a responsible relationship with the fixed and finite natural resources on which we depend.

To develop and implement strategies and related programs for campus practices and policies that further ecological sustainability within the college community.

Members of the college community recognize that we live in an environment where natural resources are plentiful, yet finite. Recognizing that higher education is not values neutral, we believe that institutions have a responsibility to identify and promote responsibility and citizenship among all constituents and constituent groups. Penn State’s land-grant history and its mission to create and disseminate knowledge by being a world-class leader in research, education, and service underscore this belief.

Consequently, we believe that we have a responsibility to foster and build a respect for the environment, including: (1) appreciating the place of humans and institutions within their surroundings; (2) committing to live within our environmental limits and consider the full cost of our endeavors; (3) assuming a leadership role in communicating and teaching civic responsibility.

The Greener Behrend Task Force is addressing seven main issues:

Reduce energy use and promote cleaner fuels

The college relies on electricity and natural gas for most processes that require energy consumption. It is not feasible to eliminate electrical use for lights, computers, or most other equipment; nor can we reasonably stop using internal combustion engines in our cars and other vehicles. Therefore, implementation of this goal incorporates a practical approach to energy reduction.

One unexpected result of the space program has been a new understanding of the functioning of our planet. When the first astronauts saw the Earth from space, they recognized it for what it is, a small, fragile blue-green sphere that is a closed system.

This view of our planet inspired the development of the Gaia hypothesis by Dr. James Lovelock and Dr. Lynn Marguils (Gaia, A New Look at Life on Earth). Named after the ancient goddess of the Earth, the Gaia hypothesis cast the Earth as a living organism, with regulating systems that correspond to human organs.

If we apply this theory to Behrend, the energy system would correspond with our nervous system, which helps us relay information and do work. Information is transmitted through our nervous system via electrical impulse, and it is the use of electricity that constitutes the majority of Behrend's energy use.

Our process toward an efficient, environmentally sound energy system will be measured by the following indicators:

1. Amount of energy used;
2. Source of energy;
3. Research into alternative fuels; and
4. Energy consumption by vehicles on campus.

Use water in a conservative and respectable manner

View a brochure about storm water management.

The college is concerned about water use throughout campus, including academic, athletic, dining and housing facilities, and grounds. The college’s water comes from the City of Erie’s water system, which gets most of its water from Lake Erie. Since 1996, annual water consumption at the college increased from about 2.7 million cubic feet to 3.8 million cubic feet. We would like to see per capita water use decrease by 25 percent over the next decade.

If we return to our comparison of Behrend to a living organism, water would be one of the most important elements. All of life originated in a watery womb, and water covers over 70 percent of the Earth's surface and constitutes over 70 percent of a human's body. With water covering that much of the Earth's surface, water shortages seem to be unfounded. Unfortunately, only one percent of the water on Earth is freshwater. Freshwater is the kind of water humans use for their daily actives (bathing, drinking, cooking, cleaning, and disposing of wastes). Almost 70 percent of freshwater usage is for agricultural purposes only.

Freshwater is abundant in most of the United States (in our area especially, thanks to the Great Lakes, which contain 20 percent of the world's surface freshwater), but it estimated that 40 percent of the world's population is facing severe water shortages (Bill Moyer, Earth on the Edge). Mexico City is actually sinking because of the rate at which the ground water is being used. The problem is world-wide: underground aquifers are being used faster then they are being regenerated and are also becoming contaminated.

Behrend's water comes from the City of Erie's water system, which gets most of its water from Lake Erie. While the Great Lakes contain 20 percent of the world's surface freshwater, Lake Erie contains four percent of that. Polluted runoff constantly endangers the health of Lake Erie. In 1970, Lake Erie was declared "dead" due to the lack of diversity in the life of the lake. One of the causes of the loss of life in the lake was the high level of nutrients from such point source pollutants as industrial dumping and sewage. The "death" of Lake Erie played an integral part of the development of the first Earth Day. The 1972 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between the United States and Canada was also a result of the "death" of Lake Erie. Since that time, point source pollutants have been decreased, however, non-point source pollutants continue to threaten the health of the lake. Lake Erie has dramatically recovered and is no longer considered "dead," but much work remains to be done.

Behrend is part of the US Environmental Protection Agency's Project MS4: Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System.

Our indicators for the water goal are:

1. Amount of water used;
2. Amount of gray water used; and
3. The quality of water (drinking and in Fourmile Creek).

Minimize solid and liquid waste

Behrend produces relatively little liquid or hazardous waste. Consequently, efforts related to waste reduction will focus on reducing the use of and recycling paper and cardboard, plastic and glass bottles, and aluminum cans.

In natural systems, there is no concept of waste. One organism’s waste is another organism’s food. Unfortunately, most human-made systems have not reached the level of sophistication that natural systems have achieved. Since the industrial revolution, more products have been consumed than in all the years previous to the evolution. Much of this consumption is because our culture has become overrun with disposable products. Products are not designed to be re-used, and upon disposal do not decompose. Our disposal methods also do not promote decomposition. Our earth is also being contaminated by hazardous waste. In Pennsylvania alone there are some 3,950 metric tons of nuclear waste. As our consumption rates increase, the problem of what to do with our waste will become more serious and pressing. Already, some communities have to ship their waste to other locations. The answer is not dumping waste in the ocean or shooting it into space, but a fundamental change in the way that we manufacture and use products.

There is a new industrial revolution underway, one whose first tenant is “waste equals food”. This is a change in the way products are manufactured. It involves an integration of systems so that materials can be reused in processes and products. Behrend can become a leader in the new revolution by evaluating its systems to see how waste from one system can be used as “food” for another system.

  • One way this can be done is by implementing a composting program. Waste from food services becomes “food” for landscaping.
  • Recycling gray water would reduce the amount of water sent to the wastewater treatment plant, and would reduce water bills.
  • The possibility of creating a wetland for wastewater treatment could be explored.
  • A switch from disposable items to durable items can significantly decrease the amount of waste produced.
  • While there is a recycling program in place at Behrend, often recyclable materials end up in the trash. It could also be possible to expand Behrend’s recycling program by beginning to recycle more materials. Currently, glass, plastic, cans, paper, batteries, and cardboard are all being recycled here, but with a little initiative, other materials could also be recycled.

The vision for this group is Behrend as a zero-waste campus that is partnered with green companies for supplies and sells its recyclables instead of paying for removal.

Indicators of our progress towards a zero waste campus are:

1. How much waste is created;
2. How much waste is recycled; and
3. Closed loop initiatives.

Increase the healthfulness of food and reduce its waste

Specific areas to be addressed include enhanced healthfulness of food served on campus and improvement of processes related to waste reduction: composting, recycling, and food purchasing policies in college dining facilities. Supplying additional vegetarian options, participating in an “eat low on the food chain” program, and initiating composting will all address this goal.

Food is the energy input needed for the human component of the Behrend system. The source of this energy can be some of the most damaging practices on the planet. It is estimated that it takes up to 10 calories of energy to grow one calorie of food in conventional agricultural practices. Most processes are heavily mechanical, most fertilizers and pesticides are made with petroleum products; crops are shipped to process plants, packaging plants, grocery stores, and finally your house. Run-off from agricultural areas contributes heavily to the pollution of bodies of water (one nutrient that contributes to Lake Erie’s pollution is phosphorous—an agricultural runoff).

College students are especially susceptible to unbalanced diets due to a number of factors (time restrictions, space to cook, first time on their own). One of the responsibilities of this group is to increase the healthfulness of available food and work on educating the Behrend community on healthy eating.

There are no accurate counts of the amount of waste that is created by food services at Behrend, but there are estimations based on a study done at University Park (see source file for table).

Much of this waste could be turned into valuable compost, which could then be used for landscaping purposes. Turning the waste into compost would not only cut the amount of waste going to landfill, but would also cut maintenance cost associated with the purchasing of mulch and other fertilizers. A community garden/CSA could also benefit from a composting program. A composting program at Behrend could also help to educate the college/local community on the benefits of composting.

Behrend is setting a goal to increase the number of vegetarian/vegan meal options by ten percent in the next three years. These are the steps Penn State Behrend is taking to move toward that goal:

  • Bruno’s will look into offering a vegetarian soup everyday.
  • Bruno’s will attempt to offer more vegetarian options every day of the week.
  • A comment section has been added to Bruno’s Web page so anyone can make comments.
  • Housing and Food Services will expand their menu of vegetarian alternatives so there is a greater variety from week to week.

Increasing the amount of local food purchased by five percent is also another way Penn State Behrend is moving toward sustainability. Behrend is thinking about requiring that local vendors buy from local sources, helping the local economy, and decreasing the energy requirements associated with transporting food. Penn State could also offer assistance through its agriculture extension on sustainable farming techniques. A Community Supported Agriculture on the Behrend campus could be a source of additional revenue and can also provide community members with fresh, local produce.

Conserve Nature
Protect and Conserve natural areas

Visit the Arboretum at Penn State Behrend.

At the college, as in any place where human activities are multifaceted, the demands of those multiple uses on the land and its resources are complex and contradictory. Growth and development too often come at the expense of irreplaceable natural resources, aesthetic value, ecological function, and ecosystem integrity. Among efforts to address this goal is a plan to identify and protect a portion of the campus as an ecological conserve.

One of the most important aspects of sustainability is our relationship to the land. Not only is it our only home, but there is also an intimate connection between every living thing and the Earth. There are few studies more fascinating, and at the same time more neglected, than those of the teeming populations that exist in the dark realms of the soil. We know too little of the threads that bind the soil organism to each other and to their world, and to the world above…This soil community, then, consists of a web of interwoven lives, each in some way related to the others—the living creatures depending on the soil, but the soil in turn a vital element of the earth only so long as this community within it flourishes. ~Rachel Carson; Silent Spring

Ancient religions worshipped the Earth as a deity, and had important ritual associated with the changing of the seasons (some of these remain in modern-day religions: Easter and Passover correspond with the beginning of spring and the spring equinox; Christmas, Hanukah, and Kwanzaa correspond with the beginning of winter and the winter solstice). Nature can also be a great place of healing; Roger Ulrich has conducted studies in which he has discovered that patients heal faster, have fewer complications, and need less pain medication if they simply have a view of the outdoors.

Nature is also our original teacher and many inventions stemmed from the observations of nature (i.e. Velcro: One day after a nature walk, George de Mestral noticed that both he and his dog were covered with burrs. His interest was piqued and he studied the burr under a microscope. It was then that he discovered the small hooks that allowed the burr to stick to his clothing. This discovery inspired him to invent a fastener with hooks on one side and the other side with loops. Thus Velcro was born). Nature can also provide respite from every day stresses; too much “direct attention” (the type that is needed for taking notes in class and studying) can lead to “direct attention fatigue”. A good cure for direct attention fatigue is finding an environment that is full of fascination, and will allow the direct attention to rest. Nature is full of fascination, and the more that is understood about nature, the more fascination it yields.

Access to nature must be maintained/increased at Behrend, not only for ecological and aesthetic reasons, but also for the health of the community. The natural beauty of the 725-acre campus, including the first so generously donated for development of a presence for Penn State in 1948 by Mrs. Mary Behrend, has been celebrated for years. Through the generosity of other benefactors and out right purchases, Behrend has acquired additional land and now owns 725 acres, which the master plan calls to be developed in an environmentally conscious fashion. This entails not only protecting sensitive ecosystems, but also maintaining the “small college in the forest” atmosphere of Behrend.

It is important for Behrend to ecologically improve its lands in every way possible. One possible way is to form an ecological conserve in which students and the members of the Erie community can learn the principles of ecosystem functioning, sustainability of resource use, and environmental stewardship. There is an opportunity to include in the reserve the mitigation wetlands along the Bayfront Connector (this would be beneficial since some Behrend faculty members have already instituted research programs).This conserve would allow our students to learn the principles of basic and applied ecological research in an outdoor classroom without par in the region. The developed part of campus can also be improved ecologically, and has long benefited from the efforts of Dr. Edwin Masteller and local garden clubs. It is aim of these determined people to create an arboretum and garden-like ambiance in which open space, natural areas, buildings, and walkways blend into an aesthetically pleasing and environmentally sound use of the land.

It is important to look at Behrend’s landholdings as a comprehensive whole; any discussion of environmental stewardship and sustainable development must include the developed and undeveloped sections of land. In addition to protecting sensitive areas, our current practices must be addressed. What is the percentage of native vs. non-native plants on campus? How much land is mowed, and how often? What other practices on campus effect the ecological viability of the campus (i.e. pesticide use)? Based on these issues, our success at protecting the local ecosystem can be measured by: 1) amount of land protected; 2) percentage of native vs. non-native plants; 3) number and nature of unsustainable land maintenance practices.

Green Practices
Incorporate “green” practices into the construction and renovation of facilities

The environmental sustainability of the college’s buildings and grounds during design, construction, renovation, and maintenance is an important component of an integrated plan to address sustainability. By using practices that create healthy places to work and enjoy and that are environmentally responsible and cost effective, we can successfully address this goal.

Our daily interactions with buildings are much more common than our contact with nature. It has been estimated the average American spends up to 90% of their lives indoors. The air that we breathe while inside buildings is usually re-circulated air from an HVAC system. HVAC stands for heating, ventilation, air-conditioning, and controls all of those functions. HVAC seems like an essential part of a building's system, but it is not. Humans have lived in inclement climates for centuries and had innovative ways to maintain desirable temperatures in their buildings.

In hot climates, buildings were designed to maximize natural ventilation, walls were used to keep courtyards cool, and plantings were used for shade. In cold climates, buildings were oriented to absorb maximum amounts of solar heat, material had high thermal mass (good for insulation and heating), and plantings were used to protect from the wind. HVAC's are detrimental to buildings' inhabitants. Re-circulating air can spread airborne disease and certain fungi are known to grow in air conditioning ducts.

Issues such as these can be resolved by designing green buildings that respond to their environment by using some vernacular building styles. Inclusion of plants inside buildings not only provides access to nature (which is known to be beneficial), but they can also help with air quaility, heating and cooling. The use of green practices creates buildings that are healthier and more enjoyable to be in, and more energy efficient. Two of the better methods for evaluating the greenness of buildings are the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) ratings system and the EPA Energy Star program.

The Behrend Master Plan calls for all new buildings to fit into the design standard set by the older, historic buildings. This standard will eliminate the use of flat roofs on new buildings, however there are a number of buildings on campus now that possess flat roofs. Left as they are, they will continue to be eyesores and stand out more, as more pitched-roof buildings are built. The master plan also calls for buildings to be built into the hill where applicable. This practice eliminates grading work that needs to be done for normal construction, and also helps the insulation of the building. In the winter the earth heats the building and in the summer it is kept cool. With all the new development happening on and around Behrend, it is important to ensure the greenness of all new buildings.

Indicators of our "greenness" will be: number and ranking of LEED and Energy Star buildings.

The first step in having buildings recognized by the LEED or Energy Star programs is understanding the requirements. Therefore, there needs to be a review of LEED and Energy Star standards to aid in our understanding of the issues related to the sustainability of building construction and maintenance. With a better understanding of what constitutes a green building, new buildings can be evaluated before they are built.

Included in the LEED rankings are not only issues related to the building itself, but the maintenance as well using environmentally safe cleaning products. The opportunities to reduce the salting of walkways and roadways by using practices such as heating of walk ways (geothermal energy), and using environmentally acceptable materials to melt the ice, etc. will be explored.

Promote ecological stewardship within the college community

An integrated effort to educate the college community will encompass the goals of the Greener Behrend Task Force, and the specific performance indicators developed for each goal. This education and stewardship effort will be coordinated and conducted by an education and stewardship committee comprised of faculty members, staff, and students.

The heart and soul of Behrend's sustainability mission is the education of the community. Only so much can be accomplished from the top down. To truly instill change, Behrend must have an educated and devoted community. When the community takes the issues of sustainability and the initiatives of the task force upon themselves, a great change will be seen. An understanding of the issues related to sustainability is the first step towards action. During the research for University Park’s Indicators Report, the environmental knowledge of graduating seniors was tested; these are their findings:

  • 40% of graduating seniors did not know the world's population to the nearest billion
  • 63% were unable to name one federal or state law that protects the environment
  • 43% were not aware that acid rain is a common phenomenon in Pennsylvania
  • 72% had no idea that they were living within the Susquehanna River Basin
  • 40% were unable to name even two tree types on campus.

Educating people to the issues related to sustainability must be done in a sensitive manner, or people can become discouraged or even rebel against the idea. Perhaps the best way to promote sustainability is to explain how it is in people’s best interest to become more sustainable. Adopting sustainable practices can have high initial costs, but in the long run, cost less. This is a problem since most people only look at the immediate gratification. Emphasizing immediate benefits can help to over-shadow the up front costs.

This method of gradual introduction can be executed for numerous green innovations. Of course, there will always be those people that will be motivated simply by exposure to the issues. A gradual education process must be started at Behrend. Incoming freshman can be educated from the get-go, but current students and the faculty/staff also need to be educated. Earth Day is a great opportunity to inform the community about sustainability issues, but issues need to be addressed every day.

Check out background info tab to view the goal-by-goal break down of educational opportunities