College Green

A seminar I attended yesterday by Penn’s sustainability chief, Dan Garofalo, reminds me that there are a number of reasons to pursue green initiatives, even if you’re completely agnostic about climate change (“it’s a bunch of hooey”), or think there’s nothing anyone can do to stop global warming (“it’s too late”), or think there’s nothing your tiny local entity can do to stop global warming (“it requires a global solution”):

1. To conserve energy and save costs. By far the most important element of sustainability. Here, the greenies and the capitalists see eye to eye. So households install timed thermostats and low-energy light bulbs, businesses jigger their machinery to reduce energy consumption, and developers capture more runoff to lower their water bills.

2. To anticipate higher energy costs in the future and accordingly prepare yourself to run in ways that are less energy-intensive. If you think we’re heading towards a price on carbon, or that natural resources are becoming scarcer, then you do structural things today so you’re not stuck with a high bill tomorrow. So individuals make home and job decisions to minimize their auto dependence and companies switch to renewable energy sources.

3. To distinguish yourself from the pack. Penn is the number one purchaser of wind energy credits, which don’t save them a dime on their utility bill but garner them valuable recognition in the form of national awards and favorable press. This translates into an enhanced ability to attract students, faculty, and administrators. Much more bang for your buck than other public relations and advertising expenditures.

Sadly, other universities have been forced by fiscal pressures to cut their sustainability offices, and fold the most necessary initiatives into other siloes. I think that’s too bad, because I see a role for such offices in coordinating institution-wide initiatives, whether it’s about minimizing resource waste or clarifying brand identity. Kudos to my alma mater for getting, and staying, on the bleeding edge.
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