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Penn’s Green Institutional, Academic Initiatives Highlighted
March 17, 2009, Volume 55, No. 25


Dr. Eric Orts, Guardsmark Professor and faculty director of the Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL) at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, made a presentation to Vice President Joseph Biden and a small group of government leaders who were touring Penn’s Facilities and Real Estate (FRES) headquarters prior to convening the first meeting of the White House Task Force for Middle Class Families.

The group included six members of the cabinet—Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, and Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack. US Senators Robert Casey and Arlen Spector, US Rep. Chaka Fattah, Gov. Edward Rendell and Mayor Michael Nutter also attended.

Presentations were made in Penn’s FRES “command center,” where centralized monitoring of heating and cooling operations is done for the entire campus. Presentations were made by Ken Ogawa, Penn’s executive director of operations, who reviewed the basic mechanics of the command room and its campus-wide efficiency achievements, and professor of architecture Ali Malkawi, who reviewed Penn’s overall energy efficiency achievements as a whole, which have been made possible through the T.C. Chan Center for Building Simulation and Energy Studies, which Mr. Malkawi directs in the School of Design.

Dr. Orts then discussed how to “scale up” Penn’s example, originally presented by Penn President Amy Gutmann to the U.N. Secretary-General’s Global Colloquium of University Presidents (see “Scaling Up the Environmental Commitment and Contribution of Universities,” www.upenn.edu/president/gutmann/speeches/nov28-07.html.) He mentioned three general areas and examples of activities at Penn that provide possible opportunities for “scaling up.”

1. Energy efficiency. How can Penn’s example of energy efficiency improvements be “scaled up” to include not only other large institutions (such as many large businesses which have already been leaders in energy efficiency improvements with straightforward cost-cutting as a main objective) but also millions of households and small businesses? Investments in “green jobs” for retrofitting for better insulation and efficiency are a major component of the newly enacted stimulus package. (Details about allocations were later given at the task force meeting.) 

He cited a recent presentation in his Environmental Management course by a team of MBA and law students (Mat Abramsky, Catherine Courcy, David Luk, and Emily Schiller) that focused on the relatively new and affordable technology of “energy monitors.” Energy monitors combat what are called “vampires”—appliances and other plug-ins (such as cell phone chargers) that suck energy even when they are not being used. He suggested that this technology presents an opportunity for the creation of “vampire slayers” jobs to eliminate this waste, combined with other “green collar” construction jobs to improve the energy efficiency of US households. 

Gov. Rendell noted that Pennsylvania’s utility regulation provided the necessary incentives for these and other kinds of home energy efficiency improvements that could be “scaled up” nationally.

2. Harnessing the market by providing reliable environmental information. Referring to an upcoming conference-workshop IGEL is hosting on life cycle analysis, he suggested that consumers and businesses alike would benefit from an improved use of competent and reliable environmental information. One potential outcome of this conference might be a call for improved eco-labels and increased policing of environmental claims. The general idea is that the reliable provision of environmental information will “scale up” demand for environmentally friendly products and services by leveraging market forces. With respect to “green jobs,”  an expanding occupation of “environmental claim verifiers” could grow, included within traditional accounting and consulting firms, as well as government.

3. New advances in alternative energy technologies. A final concern is the need to generate breakthroughs in alternative energy technologies. Many scientists now believe that some large-scale environmental problems, such as climate change, cannot be solved without major new technological advances. They recommend research and development efforts on the scale of the Manhattan Project or Apollo missions to the moon. R&D of this kind, he argued, is the bread and butter of major universities such as Penn. He gave examples in this area of projects undertaken by Penn’s Energy Research Group, comprised of engineers and scientists, that include new high-efficiency solar materials, solar-to-fuel technologies and improvements in fuel cell technology. (For details, see www.energy.upenn.edu.) Broad commitments to the research and development of new energy technologies would drive a significant increase in the employment necessary to support this work.

In these and other areas, Dr. Orts said that Penn, Wharton and IGEL are committed to leading the way in “scaling up” innovative solutions to some of the most pressing environmental problems. The silver lining in the clouds of the current economic crisis is an opportunity to mount the serious efforts required to tackle some of these big problems with government leadership and investment, he concluded.

Related: The Inaugural Middle Class Task Force Meeting on Green Jobs;
IGEL Annual Conference-Workshop


Almanac - March 17, 2009, Volume 55, No. 25