30 minutes outdoors for 30 straight days

The Environmental Protection Agency reports that Americans, despite the country’s beautiful spacious skies, purple mountain majesties, and amber waves of grain, spend 90 percent of their time indoors. 

For the month of April, Penn’s Green Campus Partnership is urging faculty and staff at the University to go outside and enjoy nature for 30 minutes each day. The 30x30 Challenge, organized by the Sustainability Office, is open to all Penn employees, and runs April 1-30.

“We’re always looking for activities and ways to engage the campus population, and this seemed like something that would be a natural for Penn because we have a beautiful campus,” says Dan Garofalo, the University’s environmental sustainability director. “It’s very pedestrian-oriented, and even though we’re in the heart of the city, it feels like a very bucolic landscape, especially certain precincts of campus.”

Faculty and staff who sign up for 30x30 pledge to spend at least a half hour every day enjoying nature—breathing fresh air, and observing the ever-changing weather and seasons. Participants can do so during their lunch hour, before or after work, or at home.

The Sustainability Office’s suggestions for outdoor activities include walking or biking to work, eating lunch outside, exploring a neighborhood park, holding a meeting outdoors, or going for a run outside instead of in the gym.

Garofalo says Penn employees are deeply committed to their professional responsibilities, often eating at their desk and working through their lunch hour, and may miss an outdoor experience for days at a time unless they make a conscious effort to bask in nature.

“Our workforce here is very dedicated and people work long hours because they take their jobs very seriously,” he says. “It really helps to provide people an incentive and a fun way to engage with the outdoors.”

Bailey Rowland, a student in the Master of Environmental Studies program and a Sustainability Office intern who is organizing the 30x30 Challenge, says they will be holding optional group activities that participants can attend during their lunch hour.

The organizers will also present walks along the Schuylkill River and to the nearby Woodlands cemetery, a special Earth Day program, talks with University Landscape Architect Bob Lundgren and University Landscape Planner Chloe Cerwinka, and a final picnic.

Faculty and staff who sign up for 30x30 will be given journals to write about their outdoor experiences, an idea Rowland says she borrowed from her environmental education class.

“I think [journal writing is] a really good way to open up your senses and not just be outside thinking about other things,” she says. “[Journal writing will allow you] to really focus on your experience of being outdoors in nature and then maybe even looking back on it in the future and seeing the effects it had on you.”

In the case of bad weather, Garofalo says rain can present a refreshing and eye-opening experience for someone to go outside when he or she usually would not.

“What do you see differently in the rain?” he says. “What do you see differently at a different time a day than you usually walk? It puts you in touch with the natural world in a way that you would otherwise just miss.”

Employees can sign up for the 30x30 Challenge at the Green Campus Partnership website. The deadline is Friday, March 27.

The organizers are still finalizing dates for the group activities; up-to-date information, in addition to daily tips, will be emailed weekly and listed in the 30x30 Challenge Facebook group.

For more information, email the Green Campus Partnership at sustainability@upenn.edu.

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