Penn State's chief sustainability officer inducted into the Club of Rome

Paul Shrivastava, Penn State's chief sustainability officer and director of the Sustainability Institute — seen here speaking about his goals for implementing sustainability in higher education at an October 2018 conference in Pittsburgh — was inducted last month as one of the 100 members of the Club of Rome, which seeks solutions to pressing global problems. Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Paul Shrivastava, Penn State's chief sustainability officer, director of the Sustainability Institute, and professor of management in the Smeal College of Business, was inducted as a full member of the Club of Rome during its annual meeting Oct. 17-18.

“It’s an honor to be a part of a group with such dedication and consistency in what they execute,” Shrivastava said. 

Founded in 1968, the Club of Rome focuses, as it explains on its website, on making a difference by promoting an “understanding of the global challenges facing humanity” and proposing “solutions through scientific analysis, communication and advocacy.” The organization is limited to 100 members from around the world, who range from notable scientists and economists, to business men and women, to high-level civil servants and former heads of state. 

One of the Club of Rome’s goals is to shift the focus from just defining problems to solving problems, as explored in the organization’s regular peer-reviewed “Reports to the Club of Rome.” These reports discuss topics such as climate change, focusing less on litigating problems and more on putting together emergency response plans for the future. 

Perhaps the club’s most famous publication was its first report, "The Limits of Growth," published in 1972. Based on global simulation models created at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, it questioned the long-term capacity of the planet to absorb unlimited economic growth, pollution, and human population growth, and has become one of the classic works of the sustainability field. The book has sold more than 16 million copies and been published in 30 languages.

In celebrating its 50th anniversary this month, the Club of Rome brought together 400 leaders and dignitaries from around the world to Italy to discuss solutions to current global challenges, as well as to induct its newest members, including Shrivastava. 

Shrivastava said he has been following the Club of Rome’s work for nearly 45 years. The club’s priorities have “profoundly influenced me to implement my ideas and bring awareness to Penn State campuses,” said Shrivastava.

Shrivastava's ideas include an expanded focus on youth engagement, especially students at Penn State. One of his priorities is not only to familiarize Penn State students on all 23 campuses with the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which were ratified by more than 190 nations in 2015, but to encourage students to take action developing strategies to meet these goals. As explained on the U.N. website, the Sustainable Development Goals “recognize that ending poverty must go hand-in-hand with strategies that build economic growth and addresses a range of social needs including education, health, social protection, and job opportunities, while tackling climate change and environmental protection.” 

Shrivastava also seeks to emphasize the role of the arts and humanities both to build awareness about sustainability and to power innovations in how we think about sustainability. For example, in the past Shrivastava has helped create engaging videos about people’s ecological footprints — the collective environmental impact of an individual’s lifestyle choices. Videos specifically about livestock and produce were shown at farmers markets as a way to educate the public about their purchasing options. Shrivastava notes that, while science can be intimidating to some people, storytelling and the arts can more successfully reach a broad audience and stoke important societal conversations and sustainable behavioral change.  

Shrivastava said being invited to become a Club of Rome full member is not only an honor but a privilege and a commitment, and he plans on working with the organization for years to come to contribute to its continued problem-solving focus.  

Last Updated September 20, 2019