A workweek’s refocus on lasting sustainable change

Starting Monday, Oct. 16, and running through the end of the week, Penn’s Office of Sustainability will host its fifth “ReThink Your Footprint” campaign.

The goal, says Dan Garofalo, the University’s environmental sustainability director, is to “grab people’s attention and create lasting change.”

Being sustainable is a main initiative of Penn—most notably outlined in its Climate Action Plan 2.0—and initiatives like ReThink are a good way to remind faculty, staff, and students about the University’s commitment to green living.

“Each school at Penn does a lot throughout the year to keep everyone engaged sustainably,” says Joe Gomez, a senior building administrator at the School of Nursing and also the school’s sustainability coordinator. “But what ReThink as well as the Power Down Challenge do is get all the schools at one time on the same page.”

On Monday, the School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS) will host a sustainability fair at Levine Hall, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Leandra Davis, SEAS’ director of design and construction and sustainability coordinator, says folks are invited to learn about Penn’s sustainability efforts involving food, water, power, purchasing, book and electronic recycling, and more. Similar to last year, there will also be a “water tasting challenge,” where participants can taste three different types of water—tap, filtered, and bottled—and try to tell the difference.

“The idea is to show people that filtered water does taste great,” Davis says. “There are filtered water bottle filling stations throughout campus, so there really isn’t a need to use plastic water bottles, which aren’t sustainable.”

On Wednesday, Oct. 18, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Penn Nursing will host a recycling fair at Fagin Hall, which will collect various items, including eyeglasses, shoes, e-waste, batteries, and writing utensils; linens and towels for the Pennsylvania SPCA; and textbooks.

“A big push this year is to collect old nursing textbooks that can be donated to Penn Nursing Student Services for distribution,” says Gomez. “Other textbooks will be donated to the Greenfield Intercultural Center.”

Back again this year is the pop-up clothing swap at Houston Hall’s lobby, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., on Wednesday. Participants reduce landfill waste and encourage upcycling by bringing clothing items to swap with others. Clothing that is left at the end will be donated.

Many of the themes of ReThink in the past have revolved around waste minimization, says Garofalo. But this year, there’s also a focus on rethinking our relationship with the environment. From 4 to 5 p.m. on Wednesday, there will be a “What Makes Penn an Arboretum” talk led by Chloe Cerwinka, a landscape planner in Penn’s Office of the University Architect, at the Split Button in front of the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center.

Other events, or “happenings,” can be found on the Sustainability Office’s website. Schools and departments are also welcome to host “micro events,” as Garofalo calls them, such as smaller scale sustainability-focused film screenings or related, educational lunches.

This year, ReThink is taking place at the same time as Food Week, hosted by Penn Dining and Bon Appétit, and also during the student-led Green Week. The culminating event for ReThink on Friday, Oct. 20, is the Penn Environmental Group’s GreenFest, to be held on College Green.

“We’re hoping that joining forces with these different events will increase student involvement, as well as faculty and staff,” says Elizabeth Main, the Sustainability Office’s own sustainability coordinator.