DEP Secretary Pat McDonnell tours sustainability initiatives during recent visit

Campus tour provided a snapshot of sustainability efforts taking place at Penn State

Audrie McSain, sustainability experience center coordinator for Penn State's Sustainability Institute, discusses features of a net zero home and other sustainability-related projects throughout the 9-acre site with faculty, staff and leaders from Penn State's Sustainability Institute and Pennsylvania DEP. Credit: Andrea MurrellAll Rights Reserved.

During a visit to Penn State on April 17, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary Pat McDonnell joined Paul Shrivastava, chief sustainability officer and director of Penn State’s Sustainability Institute, Marcus Kohl, DEP regional director for the north-central office, Michelle Halsell, assistant director of Penn State’s Sustainability Institute, and Michael Stefan, director of state relations at Penn State, for a campus tour that provided a snapshot of sustainability efforts taking place at Penn State.

“It was great touring Penn State and seeing firsthand their facilities focused on sustainability, how agriculture interacts with the environment, and energy programs,” said Secretary McDonnell. “I foresee a lot of good partnership opportunities for DEP and the University that will advance our shared missions.”

The tour was an opportunity to openly discuss and highlight ways sustainability goals of the University and the commonwealth are aligned, such as significantly reducing greenhouse gases by 85% and 80%, respectively, from 2005 levels by 2050. “Secretary McDonnell’s vision of sustainability aligns well with our work in communities, and we are eager to support his efforts in climate action and sustainability of food, water and energy systems,” said Halsell.

The tour began with a visit to Pegula Ice Arena, one of more than 40 LEED-certified buildings at Penn State. The group also visited a Zagstersite which offers on-demand bicycle access at a low cost to anyone desiring a healthy, convenient, and sustainable way to travel around campus.

A stop at the Sustainability Experience Center, a 9-acre living laboratory, offered numerous examples of innovative solutions for sustainable living. Audrey McSain, coordinator for the site, and Penn State student Liam Cummings pointed out energy-producing and conservation features of the Morningstar Home. The 100% renewable-energy powered home features the Eco-Machine, a biodigestor that purifies wastewater, a wind turbine, Community Garden, and research forests which are all situated on site located on Porter Road.

The tour continued with a visit to the Orchard Road Solar Array where Meghan Hoskins, director of operations and partnership at the Sustainability Institute, provided information about the array which provides 2,500 megawatt-hours of solar energy, 1 percent of University Park’s electricity needs, each year. The onsite solar array produces more than just electricity by serving as a living lab for education and research of students and the Penn State community.

The group also toured the Student Farm. Another example of a living laboratory, the farm is part of the Sustainable Food Systems Program which engages students with sustainability challenges and solutions in food and agriculture. In 2017 alone, the Student Farm at Penn State sold 8,684 pounds of and donated another 2,534 pounds of the produce grown on its 1-acre site. Leslie Pillen, associate director, farm and food systems, and Benjamin Chronister, Penn State student, discussed how the Student Farm Club goes beyond farming and into the community to address topics such as food system sustainability, food insecurity, food waste, agricultural production, culinary skills and more. 

The tour highlighted five of countless sustainability programs, projects and partnerships at Penn State. Shrivastava noted, “As a land-grant university with 24 campuses across the commonwealth, Penn State is uniquely positioned to contribute to sustainability across Pennsylvania in an inclusive way and make a positive impact on our communities. We are doing this by anchoring sustainability in the UN Agenda 2030 and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals.” Those interested in learning more about the Sustainability Institute and the Sustainable Development Goals can visit

Last Updated April 29, 2019