Campus Life

Sustainability Institute and GreenGov Council partner on sustainability series

Monthly webinar series helps PA state and municipal employees learn to incorporate sustainability into their work

Penn State's Sustainability Institute, located in the Land and Water Research Building, has partnered with the Pennsylvania GreenGov Council to educate state agency and municipal employees on ways to incorporate sustainability into their work and operations, drawing upon the expertise of Penn State faculty, staff and students. Credit: Matthew LongAll Rights Reserved.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — In 2021, Penn State’s Sustainability Institute (SI) and the Pennsylvania GreenGov Council are co-hosting a monthly webinar series to educate employees in state agencies and municipal governments about how they can incorporate sustainability into their work.

From understanding how to adapt to climate change, to incorporating issues of environmental justice into planning, the series will give participants opportunities to hear from Penn State faculty and other subject-matter experts on matters that have real-world impacts on daily governance. 

“The idea is to make each one of these topics more relevant to them [participants], not only in their own personal lives but in their work roles and how we can all pitch in and make a difference,” said Mark Hand, director of the GreenGov Council. “Change is not easy, but incremental changes do make a difference and we are seeing that in the two years of this program.”

The GreenGov Council was re-established by Gov. Tom Wolf in an executive order in January 2019 to help the state reach its climate goal of an 80% reduction of net greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2050. Housed within the Pennsylvania Department of General Services, the council helps to integrate sustainability into the commonwealth’s policy, planning, operations, procurement and regulatory functions. 

Hand and Matt Reis, assistant director of GreenGov, worked with SI to find ways in which Penn State could support the state government’s sustainability efforts and developed the initial pilot of this webinar series over the course of 2020. Hand and Reis, who both have facilities backgrounds working with state agencies, worked in tandem with SI staff to identify topics and experts who can best help government agencies further Pennsylvania’s sustainability goals.

"After the success of our pilot series last year aimed at state workers, we are excited in 2021 to expand the audience for the webinars this year to also include municipal government officials and to provide resources for how sustainability can be incorporated into municipal decision-making," said Peter Boger, assistant director for outreach and engagement at SI. "Our partnership with the GreenGov Council on this series is yet another example of Penn State fulfilling its land-grant mission to operate in service of the entire state, helping advance sustainability for all."

The subject areas for the webinars are as varied as the different aspects of sustainability itself. For example, more than 150 people attended last month’s webinar featuring Penn State’s Gerald I. Susman Professor of Sustainability Karen Winterich, who discussed the behavioral science behind encouraging people to make more sustainable decisions. 

On May 9, Penn State’s Peter Buck, academic program manager at SI; Nyla Holland, senior in political science and African American studies; and Nebraska Hernandez, senior in geography, will showcase a comprehensive mapping tool they are developing to allow researchers and governments to examine at the census tract level environmental and health factors in Pennsylvania connected to questions of environmental justice. They will show how the tool can be used to drive future policy conversations to address disproportionate environmental burdens endured by communities of color and low-income communities.

For the next webinar on March 12, Emily Starr, board co-chair for the US Green Building Council Central PA and senior project manager at KCI Technologies, will provide an overview of available green building certification programs and lead a discussion on the aspects of green building design that consistently produce high performance, as well as high occupant satisfaction. 

“Sustainability is relevant to the operations of all commonwealth agencies as we prepare for an everchanging future,” concluded Reis. “This is a great opportunity where we can have subject matter experts specifically talk about actions we can do to increase general knowledge around sustainability.” 

Each webinar is held at 1 p.m. on the second Friday of the month and consists of a 30-minute presentation followed by a 15-minute Q&A session. The dates, topics and presenters for upcoming scheduled presentations are:

March 12: "Green Buildings" – Emily Starr, board co-chair for the US Green Building Council Central PA, senior project manager at KCI Technologies

April 9: "Climate Action Plans for Institutions" – Patrick McDonnell, secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection

May 14: "Hidden Burdens: Using Mapping to Advance PA’s Environmental Justice" – Peter Buck, academics program manager at SI; Nyla Holland and Nebraska Hernandez, environmental justice interns at SI

June 11: "Solar Electricity and REC Procurement for State and Local Governments" –  Devin Pennebaker, Penn State’s Facilities Engineering Institute; Greg Knerr, commodity manager at the Pennsylvania Department of General Services

July 9: "Climate Risk Assessment in PA" – Bill Easterling, Penn State professor of geography

While the series is aimed at state and municipal workers, it is open to faculty and students from universities to attend as well. All interested attendees are asked to complete this sign-up survey and indicate which presentations they plan to attend. The GreenGov Council will review the survey sign-up submissions and send out invitations to each interested participant for their selected webinars. 

To learn more about the GreenGov Council, sign up for its quarterly newsletter. For any questions regarding registration or webinar content, contact the GreenGov Council at

The Pennsylvania GreenGov Council was established to help Pennsylvania achieve its goal of an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (from 2005 levels) by 2050. Credit: ProvidedAll Rights Reserved.

Last Updated March 11, 2021