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The Sustainability Institute

What is Sustainability?

There are many definitions of sustainability. In fact, sustainability can mean different things to different people. For many years, the term “sustainability” equated environmentalism, people working to protect the planet from pollution, litter, and chemicals while trying to recycle and reduce their overall footprint on the planet.

While environmentalism is an important facet in sustainability, it is not the only facet.

The definition Penn State uses is a slight variation on one of the original definitions:

Meeting the needs of the present while enhancing the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

As one can see, the definition is broad, meaning the scope of sustainability must be broad.

At Penn State, we are aligning our sustainability efforts with a system of goals that has been agreed upon by the international community, the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

Sustainable Development Goals

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.

United Nations' Sustainable Development GoalsThe seventeen SDGs serve as a guide to tackling the world’s most pressing challenges – including ending poverty and bringing economic prosperity, social inclusion, environmental sustainability, and peace to all countries and people by 2030.

Addressing the SDGs will require transformations in how societies and economies function and how we interact with our planet. Education, research, innovation, and leadership will be essential in helping society address these challenges.

How do the SDGs and Penn State connect?

Much of Penn State’s Strategic Plan is aligned with the SDGs. The plan looks to attain these goals by carefully stewarding our natural resources, enhancing health and well-being of our students and communities, digital innovation, and integrating humanities- and arts-based perspectives.

Penn State desires to be a leader in creating transdisciplinary research-based solutions to these challenges.

With twenty-four campuses and traditional strengths in agriculture, engineering, healthcare, arts and humanities, Penn State is poised to implement the SDGs across the entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

The Sustainability Institute’s Role

The employees in the Sustainability Institute support the sustainability movement at Penn State as consultants and coaches who guide and bolster sustainability efforts at the University. The Sustainability Institute has expertise in a number of areas, including student and staff engagement, curriculum development, student-community projects, operations, research, and more. However, for sustainability to grow, the charge of creating sustainability must be adopted by the units and colleges. This way, sustainability grows organically. As it grows it is nurtured by the Sustainability Institute.

Work Plan

The Sustainability Institute’s Work Plan for 2018-2021 outlines the process by which the institute and, more broadly, the University will work to meet the needs of the present while enhancing the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Review the Sustainability Institute’s Work Plan.