Engineering dean keynotes UN Committee on Sustainable Energy session

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Justin Schwartz, Harold and Inge Marcus Dean in the Penn State College of Engineering, addressed the United Nations Committee on Sustainable Energy during its hybrid 30th session on Sept. 22 in Geneva, Switzerland. The session is now available for viewing here.  

The session, titled “Concrete Actions to Attain Energy for Sustainable Development,” focused on how to support UN-member countries to fulfill the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Climate Agreement. The agenda and agreement call for international cooperation to eradicate extreme poverty and reverse climate change, respectively, on the path to sustainable development. Schwartz virtually delivered the keynote address for the section focused on how high performance in buildings and the built environment can help achieve these goals.  

“Engineering is science with a mission,” Schwartz said in his address. “We need engineers and scientists who can drive development and intellectually lead a vision for our growing world population of nearly eight billion people. Population growth should not invite more injustice, nor the human despair that too often results from it.” 

Schwartz specifically highlighted how the built environment comprises not only buildings, but also the communities in which they exist and the connections between communities — including the internet.  

“How we design our buildings, and our cities, impacts how people live and function day-to-day, but it goes much further,” Schwartz said. “The internet is the life blood of the modern built environment, from the concept to the execution of smart design and smart communities.” 

But the critical key, Schwartz noted, is equitable access between and within built environments.  

“The current pandemic has underscored the importance of buildings and the built environment delivering on both carbon reductions and dramatic improvements in quality of life, especially for the underserved worldwide,” said Scott Foster, director of the Sustainable Energy Division for the UN Economic Commission for Europe, which includes the United States. The division is responsible for developing and deploying Framework Guidelines for Energy Efficiency Standards in Buildings. “Equity and access need to be the hallmarks of the built environment and energy of the future. They are at the heart of the UN's 2030 Agenda."  

In 2018, Penn State and the UNECE launched the Global Building Network, an initiative established and headquartered at the University to coordinate the research, communication, dissemination and education necessary to advance energy efficiency and sustainability standards in buildings worldwide.  

Justin Schwartz, Harold and Inge Marcus Dean in the Penn State College of Engineering, addressed the United Nations Committee on Sustainable Energy during their hybrid 30th session on Sept. 22 in Geneva, Switzerland. He virtually delivered the keynote address for the section focused on how high performance in buildings and the built environment can help achieve sustainability goals. Credit: Penn State College of Engineering

Led by Esther Obonyo, an associate professor of engineering design and architectural engineering, the network currently includes nine university partners in the United States, Europe, Africa and Australia, as well as industry and government collaborators. The network is also supported across Penn State, including by the Institutes of Energy and the Environment, the  Pennsylvania Housing Research Center, the Department of Architecture and the Law, Policy, and Engineering (LPE) initiative. LPE is an interdisciplinary academic and research effort among Penn State Law at University Park, the School of International Affairs and the College of Engineering, which recently launched a master of engineering degree. Penn State also offers other several degree and certificate programs that help facilitate GBN’s educational goals, and the Department of Architectural Engineering in particular serves as a well-respected research hub that fosters global connections to implement local solutions, Schwartz said. The department partners with the World Bank and the Schlumberger Foundation to fund graduate students from eligible countries who specifically want to take the architectural engineering skills they learn at Penn State and implement them in their home countries.  

“Our programs create knowledge and provide education focused on energy efficiency and quality of life that comprehends local conditions and aspirations,” Schwartz said. “We prioritize participants seeing how social equity and justice can emerge from decisions on buildings in the local context, and how research can incorporate our varied starting points worldwide.”   

The issue, according to Schwartz, is that in-person education at Penn State can require extraordinary resources for international students. Penn State World Campus offers the opportunity to learn without moving across the world — but only if the student can access the internet, an issue for many in developing countries.  

“With the internet, we can collaborate, we can share, we can gain the technical skills and the advantage of global experience,” Schwartz said. “By partnering to provide education to deepening our research at the click of a button, we can solve our problems. We can align our building techniques to fulfill the codes that will benefit our own communities and the communities we are connected to across the globe; we can share ideas and test concepts to reduce carbon emissions; we can improve the old, yet critical global supply chains to make every city a port of access.” 

He concluded by urging others to join the GBN to connect and contribute to local solutions developed by global brainpower.  

Schwartz previously spoke to the UNECE in April as part of an expert panel on high-performance buildings.  

The Sept. 22 session was moderated by Lindsey Dickes Falasca, director of the High-Performance Building Hub at the Institute for Market Transformation, a nonprofit organization focused on improving regulations and business practices in the United States. Schwartz’s address was followed by a panel featuring Vivian Loftness, Paul Mellon Chair in Architecture and University Professor at Carnegie Mellon University; Jenna Cramer, executive director, and Chris Cieslak, vice president of program strategy and impact, both with the Green Building Alliance, a nonprofit organization that aims to empower people to develop better built environments.  


Last Updated October 25, 2021