Introducing the Young Environmental Professionals Network of Philadelphia

By Bert Barnes, IGEL Graduate Coordinator & second-year MES student

The Philadelphia area is characterized by a wide variety of industries, including medicine, education, financial services, telecommunications, and manufacturing. Over time, numerous institutions have sprung up to aid the development of the professionals working in these industries. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for environmental services, an integral but often-overlooked part of the area’s economic and social fabric.

As an environmental professional who has worked for years in the Philadelphia area, I’m familiar with numerous professional organizations, from the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce to the smaller, specialized organizations. Only one cultivates relationships across functions within the environmental services industry and related fields: Society for Women Environmental Professionals, which is restricted to women. As the environmental dimension of law, insurance, and other disciplines continues to grow in importance (and as Philadelphia emerges as a leader in sustainability), one must wonder why the professional landscape lacks an organization that unites young professionals within these roles.

We are launching the Young Environmental Professionals Network of Philadelphia (YEPN) in response to this void. YEPN will be a place for young professionals working in environmental fields to connect, learn, and develop. Professionals from all of Philadelphia’s industries will be represented within the organization. Already, we have received interest from people in consulting, law, energy, insurance, and engineering. If you’re interesting in learning more, check out our LinkedIn and Facebook groups. Feel free to contact me with questions, as well.

The first YEPN happy hour is taking place from 6 to 8pm on Tuesday, September 27 at Crow and The Pitcher, just south of Rittenhouse Square on 19th Street. Chris Crockett, Chief Environmental Officer of Aqua America, will be speaking at the event. If you have found yourself pondering the questions mentioned above, or if you’re just interested in learning more about your fellow environmental professional and the opportunities in the Philadelphia area, I would encourage you to attend!

The Impact of Brexit on Climate Policy: The EU and the Paris Agreement

By Claudio Marcantonini, Deputy Director, Florence School of Regulation Climate

On 10 June, the European Commission officially began the legislative process for the ratification of the Paris Agreement by presenting a ratification proposal for the European Union, aiming for the agreement to enter into force as soon as possible. This will happen when at least 55 countries, representing at least 55% of global green house gas (GHG) emissions, will ratify the agreement. The Commission’s proposal will need to be approved by the European Parliament and the Council. After that, the Council will deposit the ratification with the United Nations Secretary General, on behalf of the European Union. Meanwhile, each EU Member States will ratify the Paris agreement, individually.

For the Topic of the Month, this July, we will write about the EU and the Paris agreement. We will review the main aspects of the Paris agreement, describe what the EU has promised to do in Paris, and explore the possibility of having an international carbon price. But before starting talking about the Paris Agreement, we will talk first about the impact on climate policy of the most significant event that happened in Europe in decades: the referendum on the exit of UK from the EU.

The Impact of Brexit on Climate Policy

The UK’s decision to leave the EU may have important implications for the future of both the British and EU climate policy. During the past 15 years, energy and climate policy in the UK has been developed within the EU policy framework, and the UK has been one of the driving forces for the liberalisation of the European energy market and of the climate change policy. As a result, the UK energy market is integrated with that of the rest of Europe. The UK (like all EU member states) has participated in the EU ETS, the single European carbon market. The UK and the EU have now to renegotiate all their relations including those in the areas of energy and climate. The results of this negotiation, which will take at least two years, are still unpredictable, and it is still unclear at what level the UK will take part in the European energy and carbon markets.

The UK, with the 2008 Climate Change Act, has set the goal of achieving 80% GHG emission reduction by 2050 with respect to the 1990 level. The main British parties are committed to this target and the result of the referendum does not imply any change in climate policy. It is probable that Brexit will impose a revision of the EU pledges submitted for the Paris Conference. Before the conference all countries were invited to present the so-called Intended National Determined Contribution (INDC), which are voluntary commitments to reduce GHG emissions that formed the basis of the Paris Agreement (more on this in the next post). The EU presented the INDC on behalf of all the 28 Members States (at that time). With the UK out of Europe, the EU has to recalibrate its INDC and the UK has to present its own contribution. On the one side, this means that if UK wants to pursue stronger climate actions, the British government can potentially submit more ambitious INDC and freely decide to implement stronger climate policy. In the fifth carbon budget, which covers emission reduction for the period 2028 to 2032 and that was presented few days after the referendum, the British government confirmed its commitment in cutting emissions and set a target of 57%, higher than the emission reduction of the EU INDC. On the other side, however, Brexit might pave the way towards a weaker approach to fight climate change. The UK will probably go through a period of economic and political instability that might move climate policy down the priority list. Moreover, with the victory of the Brexit, politicians that supported Brexit, will have a more leverage role in shaping the future national policy. Many of them are for a reduction of the effort to reduce GHG emissions; some are climate skeptics and willing to repeal the Climate Act at all. Once outside the EU, the UK will not be subjected to the EU targets on energy and climate policy, and the national legislation can be changed with a simple majority. For example, the UK now has a target of 15% of energy consumption from renewables energy by 2020, as part of the EU 20-20-20 target. It is still unclear if, without EU pressure, the UK will maintain this commitment. All these uncertainties could also make it more difficult for the private sector to invest in low-carbon technologies in the UK. Lastly, on international climate policy, Brexit will probably reduce the international leverage of UK. In climate negotiations a country’s influence depends significantly on its share of global emissions and wealth. As a member of EU, the UK had access to the table of the major players, while, out if EU, it risks being moved to a secondary position.

From the European side, the EU has to recalibrate its climate policy without the UK. This may imply a delay for the forthcoming climate and energy legislation and probably also for the EU ratification of the Paris Agreement. The EU will lose a country that has been traditionally a supporter of cutting GHG emissions. As a consequence, the opinions of those countries that are more reluctant on strong climate policy, could weight more heavily in the EU. The UK has also been in general a promoter a small role of the central EU government. Indeed, the UK opposed a European Carbon tax in the 90′ and supported the creation of the EU ETS; for the 2030 energy and climate package, it was among the countries not in favor to have renewable binding targets as EU has for 2020. With the UK out on the negotiation for the 2030 EU policy, there might be also a redefinition of the renewable and climate policies. At international level, the UK generally supported the EU in promoting strong actions and helped the EU in the negotiations that lead to the success of Paris COP21. Without the UK, the EU will be smaller and without one of the stronger voices for international actions, this could weaken the EU’s role in the international decision making process, although it will still remain one of the fundamental player.

Originally published July 4, 2016

Post reproduced from EUI website with permission from author.

Applying Circular Economy Principles to Agriculture

By Neelam Ferrari

If you are reading this article, it is likely that you are aware of the benefits of reducing food waste and utilizing resources efficiently, towards feeding a growing global population.  When it comes to agriculture, this is even more important as farmers need to be aware of costs around water, fertilizer, labor and other items.  Once a plant is harvested, much of that plant is not needed for its primary purpose, which is consumption.  For example, take a look at corn.  A corn plant on the typical US farm grows anywhere between 6 and 12 feet high, and the roots can add another 6 feet.  Also consider that on a typical corn plant there are only 1-2 ears of corn per stalk.  So for two ears to be harvested, there is a lot of extra biomass that goes along with it, which is not edible.  Instead of discarding this excess material as waste, it makes good environmental sense and good business sense to find some value for this material.  This is a great opportunity for the circular economy (CE).

The World Economic Forum recently wrote an article stating that farmers produce more than enough food for the global population, so people really should not go hungry.  This is a perfect justification for CE applications, which blend technology with business in an attempt to use everything in an industrial process.  Moreover, the waste of one industry can be the fuel for another, so that all of the component fit together like a puzzle.  Connecting these pieces of this puzzle can be a challenge, but as technological advances in fields like biotechnology and material science become more widespread, more industries are learning of the benefits.  So in the example above, does the remaining biomass from a corn stalk have no value?  It is probably the opposite.  Even though the stalk can not be eaten, it does have value as it can be burned for fuel, or ground and reused as an organic fertilizer.  Also, there is still nutritional value, so the remaining biomass can be blended into feedstock for other livestock.  By reusing the stalk, growers can also sell to other industries, instead of just discarding or burning as trash.

In addition to finding new uses for what was once ‘wasted’ can applying CE principles lead to new ways to grow crops so that waste is not generated in the first place?  This could be where we look more closely at the innovative work taking place at the MIT Media Lab’s OpenAG Initiative.  OpenAG has built a prototype food computer where the goal is to create specific climates that are compatible with commercial crops in order to optimize phenotypic characteristics.  For example, if growers wanted a particular type of tomato with a targeted color, taste, and texture, a “climate recipe” can be created and shared resulting in the desired tomato.  By optimizing food production in this manner we can also save water, energy, and money.  This will be a topic explored in future posts.

The CE holds tremendous promise for the agriculture sector and we really can now start to think seriously about making significant changes in the global food production system.

Practises that make sustainable development a reality

By Willem Adrianus de Bruijn

The only way to survive with more than seven billion consumers is that each and every one of them spends his money only on products that keep nature in perfect condition.

Consumers will do so the very moment that they are allowed to deduct from their taxable income the money they spend on such products. They will then be driven by self interests and financial interests, two powerful drives in the behaviour of mankind, to maintain ways of living that keep the integrity of Nature.  To safeguard this integrity will be the goal with which these consumers spend their money.

They will continue to demand goods and services that do not impair the environment until they live in harmony with nature.  Then they will not pay income taxes anymore.  The damages to the environment done by the ways of living of consumers will at that time have been reduced to zero.  The costs of these damages by our present ways of living are more than the amount of income taxes, which consumers pay.  When consumers do not harm nature more public funds will therefore be available.

Another way to remunerate the consumer for keeping nature sound is by reimbursing him with a percentage of the purchase price of the ecological products he buys.  This percentage could be an average of the income tax rates consumers pay.  This method can also be applied in countries where consumers do not pay income taxes.

Producers will have to satisfy the demand of these consumers by supplying the goods and services that sustain the good condition of nature.  The goal, which producers pursue will then be the same as the goal of the consumer, to maintain the integrity of nature.  This will be the sense of the development of the economy.

The sense of development is determined by the goal with which the consumer spends his money.  This is a new concept, which I have founded in the science of economy.

The only goal with which the consumer can spend his money in the present economy is, Consume more.  This goal is sustained by the macro economic practise of maintaining growth in development.  Growth in the development of the economy implies producing more, however production figures are incorporated in the statistics of the GNP’s only if that what is produced is also sold, thus consumed.  To maintain growth in development implies therefore that consumers consume always more.

It is not possible to continue consuming more of limited resources without inevitably depleting them.  Having consumed more of the limited resources of this planet since commerce began and particularly since the beginning of the industrial revolution has brought us to the limits of nature, where commerce is stagnating.  No growth is possible anymore, except in economies where the limits of nature have not yet been reached, as was the case in China.  The statistics about the economies in the industrialised and developed countries show that there is no more growth in the development of these economies.  Even the approximately 0% interest rates central banks maintain, like the FED and the ECB, cannot get the economies going again, let alone growing.

When producers and consumers pursue the goal of maintaining the integrity of Nature, the macro-economic practise to keep the economy going will become, to preserve this integrity in the development of the economy.

The prerequisite to remunerate the consumer for buying products that leave the environment unblemished is based on three new concepts.

As explained above, one is, the consumer determines the sense of development with the goal, which he pursues when he spends his money.

Another one is, the consumer has a professional responsibility in the operation of the economy, namely to maintain ways of living that safeguard the integrity of Nature.  It is indeed only the consumer who can ensure this integrity, because he can do it by adapting his ways of living until he lives in agreement with nature.

A third concept is, in order to achieve an optimum efficiency in the utilisation of resources, costs have to be managed at the source of the incomes, which they generate. This means that the people who earn the incomes should manage the costs with which they create them.  When consumers manage the costs of living the efficiency of utilising natural resources in their ways of living will eventually attain the best possible efficiency.  At that moment more than enough goods and services will be produced so that there is no more poverty because there will be enough for everybody.   Everyone can then enjoy compatible levels of well being.  People who share satisfaction live in peace.

This will happen when the consumer is paid for managing his costs of living in order to safeguard the integrity of Nature.  The sooner this is done, the quicker the ecological- and economic crises are solved, poverty is terminated and people will live in peace.

Not to remunerate the consumer for doing his job leaves him consuming more and thus further damaging the planet until it is destroyed.  The time left to do so seems to end in 2030, according to the Club of Rome.  It is less than half a generation away.

Considering the logic to reward the consumer for keeping the environment in impeccable state, the theory sustaining the need to pay the consumer is not one to be discussed but one to be applied.  Any activity should be undertaken to oblige lawmakers to legalise these payments.  Knowingly refusing to do so makes from these lawmakers criminals committing crimes against humanity.

Exploring Diverse Approaches to Urban Agriculture: A Case Study of Three Connecticut Cities

By Ben Laufer, in partnership with Joanne Spigonardo of IGEL


Urban agriculture and urban farming, historically often referred to as “community gardens,” have reemerged in recent years due to growing interest in environmental sustainability and local self-reliance. Proponents of the concept have vouched for urban farming’s ability to repurpose land in an effort to spur economic development, provide educational opportunities, reduce current environmental impacts, and strengthen public health. However, few studies have been conducted that create metrics to thoroughly evaluate the impacts of urban agriculture in different sectors. As a result, a lack of data and conclusions have followed, creating a growing landscape of farms without many necessary tools and appropriate information to yield consistent and effective results. Due to the local characteristics of urban farms, there has been little uniformity between organizations’ efforts, leading cities even within states to have differing models and reasons for implementation. The foundation of this report will be constructed from an analysis of US urban agriculture trends and impacts. This report aims to look at case studies from three of Connecticut’s most populated, culturally diverse, and food insecure cities (New Haven, Hartford, and Bridgeport) the role of urban agriculture in each and the impacts and setbacks they’ve experienced. In the concluding remarks, propositions of how to best create effective, innovative, and adaptable solutions will be discussed, as well as the potential for urban agriculture’s role in future sustainable development.

For the complete report, click hereUrban Farming Report Draft IGEL-3

MIT OpenAg Lab – Building a Food Computer

By Neelam Ferrari
Moravian Academy Student

Hi, my name is Neelam Ferrari. I am a rising high school senior at Moravian Academy and I have been working as a summer intern at the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  My work is focused on a project which is part of the Open Agriculture Initiative at the Laboratory.  The OpenAg Lab is focusing on building a ‘Food Computer’ which involves an open source approach to the global food production and distribution system, through a combination of collaborative genetics, computer science and robotics, and web based public outreach. With an increasing global population over the next 30-50 years, and more anticipated weather driven food shortages as a result of climate change, the lab is hoping to develop technologies that can help feed the world in the future.

My contribution to the project involves working with laboratory instrumentation, independent research, and public outreach.  I am using a hand-held spectrometer to take readings from different varieties of test plants in the lab, analyzing data, and identifying which characteristics are most important in understanding the plant’s phenotype. The spectrometer measures the color characteristics, which can be related to physical appearance and flavor and this data goes into the ‘open phenotype’ library for other researchers to use. In addition, I am researching in more detail about the pigment characteristics related to anthocyanin, brix and carotenoids. These pigments recorded by the spectrometer are related to characteristics such as color, ripeness, flavor and sugar content. This information here can be used to guide future experiments in the lab.  Finally, I have created a thread on the OpenAg’s public forum “OpenAg for High Schoolers”, where I keep high school students informed about the events occurring at the lab and discuss any new discoveries that are made.  It is also a place for students to communicate with me and start projects, like those at OpenAg, in their own schools.

The projects at OpenAg are heavily involved with several components of sustainability: economic, ecological, and social.  Economic issues include providing new jobs, providing an adequate amount of food for the population, and trade between countries.  Some ecological issues include soil and water degradation. Finally some social issues include utilizing these technologies for low income families as well as creating a community based on the technologies.  These issues are closely related to the daily challenges faced by many of the companies involved with the Wharton Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL).  How these goals are achieved, in my opinion, will be one of the defining issues of the 21st century.







Thinking About the Future of Sustainability and What It Means for the Global Economy

Submitted by Members of the IGEL Network


“Leadership in the global economy is one that takes a long term systems view of the world.  This lens understands complexity and intended and unintended consequences of actions. While this perspective leads with strong direction, it also understands that change is constant and therefore flexibility is an imperative.  This leadership understands the tug and pull of the natural and man-made worlds.  Yet, through leadership it creates value for all.”
– Bernard David | Chairman, | CO2 Sciences, Inc.

“The future of corporate sustainability leadership means that companies will push governments hard to step up environmental standards, green tax reform and climate policy ambitions.”
– Arthur Van Benthem, Faculty, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

“The future of sustainability leadership and its effects on the global economy largely hinge on education. As leaders of the electronic waste recycling community, it has been an honor and a privilege for ERI to be able to share our insights with the tremendous business and research minds of Wharton and IGEL. Based on our shared commitment to sustainability and the preservation of natural resources, we formed an instant connection. We’re excited to see how the report IGEL developed from this research will help to fuel positive change via informing the thought leaders of the next generation.”
– John Shegerian, Chairman & CEO, Electronic Recyclers International

“Sustainability is about creating a better planet, better business and better communities. At CHEP, we help our customers become more efficient, reduce costs and achieve their sustainability goals,” said Kim Rumph, president of CHEP North America. “We are honored to work with IGEL in promoting the importance of sustainable business practices worldwide.”
– Kim Rumph, President   & CEO, CHEP

“Leaders in corporate sustainability skillfully balance the needs of their customers, business and communities. It takes both foresight and immediate action. The simple changes and program evolutions we embrace today must complement more complex, long-term programs and revolutions that can better serve customers and their communities in the future. Those companies that can balance today with tomorrow, evolution with revolution, local with global, and business with stakeholders will ultimately build a more sustainable future for all.”
– Laura T. Bryant, Assistant Vice President – Corporate Communications & Sustainability Enterprise Holdings Inc.

“The essence of leadership is all about building a sustainable global economy for the well-being of people and the planet. Sustaining the world economy will require addressing many significant challenges including rapid population growth and mass urbanization, limited financial and natural resources, high or extreme risk of water shortages, and rising energy costs, coupled with the impacts of aging, failing and insufficient infrastructures as well as climate volatility and ecosystem degradation. This will require transforming many of our current policies and practices, and creating shared value with sustainable business model innovation. For example, governments need to better translate globalization into real benefits for their citizens. Civil engineers must now focus on the needs and the outcomes, not the prescribed project, process and/or standard.  While this will require a new mindset, standards and protocols, the outcome will satisfy the need, produce affiliated benefits and reduce unintended impacts, all the while conserving funding, resources and the public’s good will and confidence. In short, it will all be about creating infrastructure that is environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable to equitably meet the needs of human welfare and to realize healthy communities.”
– Paul F. Boulos, President, COO and Chief Innovation Officer, Innovyze

“Sustainability leadership in the future will include continuing to do good things that are now being done without falling into the trap of calling any worthwhile activity “sustainable”. Environmental sustainability, financial sustainability, social sustainability are all terms that are too often used without proper definition. Future leaders will work to ensure that term “sustainability” will be well defined and used in a way that the average person can understand, thus increasing the leader’s credibility.”
– Stan Laskowski, Faculty, School of Arts & Sciences, University of Pennsylvania

“Penn, and IGEL more specifically, have taught me that sustainability and existing business goals are often much closer than most companies and individuals realize. Nowhere is that truer than in supply chains, where greener operations often mean reduced costs and more efficient production. Because of this symbiotic relationship, I want to work in transforming supply chains and hope one day to work on creating zero-waste production facilities.”
– Austin Bream, C’17, W’17, University of Pennsylvania

“Simply put, sustainability leadership is business leadership in a global economy.  Successful, growth oriented businesses are ones that understand how their revenue model depends on natural and human capital – not just financial capital  – and where the future license to grow may be constrained by limited capital in regions around the world. IGEL has helped to bring business leaders together to discuss these issues, and sparked important conversations on the future of sustainability leadership.”
– Libby Bernick, Senior Vice President, North America, Trucost

“The State of Sustainability can be achieved when Humankind devises a humane and globally equitable strategy to maintain the human population at a level at which efficient and frugal use of natural resources are implemented.”
– Robert Giegengack, Faculty, School of Arts & Sciences, University of Pennsylvania

Thinking about the future of sustainability and what it means to the global economy

By Professor Robert Giegengack, University of Pennsylvania

Words matter.

“Sustainability”, as widely used in environmental and economic dialogue, does not describe a condition likely to be achieved in the near future, if ever.

Before the modern era of environmental wordsmithing, a “sustainable system” was one that could continue to function indefinitely without depleting the resources on which it depended.

Many natural systems are understood to be sustainable to the extent that they have persisted for many years, indeed for millions or hundreds of millions of years. Systems that were not sustainable have not persisted, and thus are not available for inspection.

* * * * *

Resource economists of various stripes have suggested that certain artificially constrained systems could be described as “sustainable” if they yielded predictable products from year to year without diminution of the resource base that provided that productivity. Thus, individual commercial fisheries have been described as “sustainable” if the annual yield of harvested fish was replenished within a year and thus would allow a similar harvest the following year, and in subsequent years. The lobster fishery in the Gulf of Maine is now described as “sustainable” because the annual harvest has been stable for years.

However, the concept of a “sustainable fishery” ignores the resources that are used in maintenance of the fishery and in collecting the harvest. The primary resource so used is, of course, the energy that is required to drive the boats, collect and process the product, and regulate the performance of participants in the fishery. All of those activities use energy, most of it derived from combustion of fossil hydrocarbons, which, in our outrageous hubris, we choose to call “fossil fuels”.

Gifford Pinchot, the son of a wealthy NY importer and real-estate speculator, studied “sustainable forestry” in France in 1899-1900, and returned to endow, with his father, the Yale School of Forestry (now Forestry and Environmental Studies). Pinchot was well connected in Washington, and by 1905 had become the Director of what eventually became the US Forest Service, with administrative authority over millions of acres of forest and grasslands across the USA. From his training in France, Pinchot advocated “the art of producing from the forest whatever it can yield for the service of man.” To Pinchot, the national forests were to be used for commercial benefit, but in a way that would not diminish the value of the resource through that exploitation. Pinchot did not use the term “sustainable”, but he imagined that the yield of forest products would not exceed the rate of regrowth. Pinchot’s environmental ethic placed him at odds with the preservationists of his era, who hoped that the national forests would be preserved for public enjoyment rather than exploited for commercial gain. No doubt Pinchot was influenced by the management of European forests, all of which had been managed for so many generations that, effectively, no undisturbed forest survives in Europe.

The US National Forests continue to be exploited for commercial gain, but the judgment of the sustainability of that gain does not include the energy cost or administrative cost of maintaining the infrastructure that allows exploitation of forest products. Today, the US Forest Service spends ten times as much money maintaining logging roads into the interior of the national forests as royalties from the extraction of forest products yields. That is not “sustainable”.

* * * * * *

We know that the coal, oil, and natural gas that now power much of modern civilization accumulated over the 550 million years of Phanerozoic history. As far as we know, no fossil hydrocarbons that we identify today accumulated prior to that time.

We began extracting and burning fossil hydrocarbons on a commercial scale in the middle of the 18th century. While many projections have been offered of the expected lifetime of the fossil-fuel industry, no reliable estimate has suggested that there will be any extractable fossil fuel after 2300 AD. Thus, we will have used up the global supply of fossil fuel in 550 years, or ONE MILLION TIMES faster than that resource is being replenished.

As long as we operate in an industrial economy dependent on fossil hydrocarbons as an energy source, NOTHING THAT WE ARE DOING IS SUSTAINABLE!

What we seek in a “sustainable” system is a system in which all resources would be extracted at rates that would not exceed the rate at which those resources are being replenished (by natural processes).

We can imagine an industrial society in which all required energy comes directly from the Sun (that is how human society operated prior to ~1750). While that energy is not “sustainable”, since it is derived from the fusion of elemental hydrogen within the Sun, we know with some confidence that the solar fusion reactor will continue to operate for several billion years before the hydrogen that drives the fusion reaction is fully depleted. To the human time frame, several billion years is essentially forever, so we can think of direct Solar energy as inexhaustible, and systems that depend on that energy source (most systems on the surface of Earth) as potentially sustainable.

The Sun delivers an average of 342 watts/m2 to the Earth’s surface. That is 8,500 TIMES the amount of energy currently used by all of human civilization.

However, there are consequences to our use of Solar energy as a fully renewable resource. We will use that resource to extract the other resources we need (metallic and non-metallic ores, food, etc.), and many of the resources we routinely extract are not being replenished at the rate at which we extract those resources. Some of the metallic ores on which we depend are not being replenished at all; they accumulated under geochemical conditions that prevailed earlier in Earth history and are not represented anywhere on Earth today. Thus, even if we are able to convert our industrial society to one driven entirely by direct Solar energy, we will still need to extract other resources at rates that greatly exceed the rates at which they are being replenished. That will not be “sustainable”.

So, comprehensive recycling of key resources must be achieved along with conversion of human society to full dependence on direct Solar energy. Recycling of products that have been dispersed by patterns of human use will require vast amounts of energy, but in a Solar-powered world vast amounts of energy will be available. That recycling will be most efficient if recycling strategies can be built into the industries that today use those key resources (in this context, the work of Scott Cassell’s Product Stewardship Institute is a clear example of a pathway to a future that is less unsustainable than the pathway we are on).

And there is another problem: The industrial systems that we now use to provide human civilization with the products it demands generate huge amounts of waste. Today, that waste is being dumped into natural reservoirs (air, water, soil, etc.) at rates that greatly exceed the capacity of those reservoirs to neutralize or assimilate those wastes. We are contaminating the reservoirs of the renewable resources on which we depend (water, air, soil nutrients, etc.).

So, a human society that imagines itself as moving toward a sustainable configuration will also have to recycle products that today we consider waste, and to keep those products from contaminating other resources on which we depend. 

[Some futurists have offered the possibility of capturing and processing asteroids that stray into the near vicinity of Earth. A single iron-nickel asteroid 1 km in diameter would provide as much of those 2 metals as civilization has used to date. The challenges of harvesting those resources and delivering them to Earth are, of course, daunting, but not beyond imagination, especially with an inexhaustible supply of Solar energy.]

In 2006, Penn’s President Amy Gutmann signed the “President’s Climate Commitment”, in which she pledged Penn to review its resource use comprehensively, and to undertake to reduce the University’s “carbon footprint” substantially, maybe even to zero (!!). In response to that announcement, Stan Laskowski (one of my EES colleagues and former Deputy Regional Administrator of EPA Region 3 for 20+ years) designed a course entitled “Sustainability at Penn”. He asked me to “co-teach” that course with him.

I agreed to do so if Stan would agree to change the title to “Toward Sustainability at Penn”. Stan and I taught the course, ENVS 494, for 2 years, and then I taught it with Dan Garofalo (Director of Sustainability at FRES) for another 2 years. Now Dan teaches the course himself…

That course allowed (or forced) me to explore the concept of “sustainability” very critically, with a group of smart, committed, principled, idealistic young people. I think we agreed that absolute sustainability is not an achievable goal, for Penn or for any other institution. We decided that the goal of our course would be to help Penn become less unsustainable. Perhaps we should redefine the concept…

So, here is my “redefinition” of “sustainability”:

Sustainability is a state in which humankind:

  1. extracts natural resources at rates that do not exceed the human capacity to discover replacement and/or substitute resources; 
  2. re-uses those resources as much as possible; and 
  3. disposes of the ultimate waste products of that activity at rates that do not exceed the capacity of natural systems to assimilate and neutralize those wastes. 

The State of Sustainability can be achieved when Humankind devises a humane and globally equitable strategy to maintain the human population at a level at which efficient and frugal use of natural resources allows conditions 1-3 to be met.

Others have addressed this issue, of course. In 1990, Herman Daly, one of the early students of sustainable natural systems, offered this definition: 

[sustainability will be achieved when:]

  1. For renewable resources, the rate of harvest should not exceed the rate of regeneration (sustainable yield); 
  2. [For pollution] The rates of waste generation from projects should not exceed the assimilative capacity of the environment (sustainable waste disposal); and 
  3. For nonrenewable resources the depletion of the nonrenewable resources should require comparable development of renewable substitutes for that resource. 

I did not read Daly until long after we had offered ENVS 494. He reached basically the same conclusions, long ago. Daly did not say, specifically, that sustainability is unachievable. I think it is unachievable.

Of course, I prefer not to use the term “sustainability” at all. It belongs with that litany of environmental buzz-words that we use so carelessly, not because we define them precisely, but because they make us feel good:  

Natural, organic, pure, pristine, artisanal, chemical-free, hormone-free, antibiotic-free, non-GMO, anti-oxidant, local, Omega-3, pomegranate (?) – the list goes on and on, ad nauseum.

Words matter. Sustainability is not a useful word. Sorry (!)

Wharton Has Been Walking on the Circular Economy for Years

By David Mazzocco, LEED AP
Associate Director of Sustainability and Projects, Wharton Operations


Interface Logo


In anticipation of IGEL’s 10th anniversary, Wharton Operations would like to showcase an IGEL founding sponsor, Interface carpet.  When I joined the Wharton community, I was pleased to hear Wharton Operations used Interface carpet for the majority of our projects.  Early in my career as a young professional making the case for ‘green building’, I found company founder and chairman Ray Anderson’s 1998 book Mid-Course Correction very influential.  It demonstrated how the vision of a single leader can challenge us to make real, sustainable change and, in his words, “become restorative through the power of influence.” Interface’s bold, pioneering vision to create a sustainable company and measure success beyond the bottom line steered the company away from the typical take-make-waste business model toward one that’s “renewable, cyclical, and benign.”  This mission not only defines a circular economy, it has also revitalized an industry.

Each year, the United States dumps approximately 4 billion pounds of carpet into our landfills; roughly 800 million square yards or equal to covering the floor area of Wharton’s Huntsman Hall 22,000 times over.  According to the Carpet & Rug Institute, 70% of all carpet is replaced each year for reasons other than wear, such as it’s the wrong color, a dated look or a change in tenant.  Carpet manufacturing is also a resource intensive process, consuming billions of pounds of petro-chemical and other non-renewable natural capital to provide the energy and base ingredients in the final product.  Take.  Make.  Waste.  This cannot go on indefinitely.

In 1994, Ray Anderson had his awakening when he realized his company was part of the problem and not part of the solution.  He challenged his company to “make history rather than just making carpet.” With Interface’s “Mission Zero” promise, a new focus emerged: to radically redesign processes and products and to pioneer new technologies and systems to eliminate any negative impact the company has on the environment by 2020.  Their innovative, holistic approach where everything is examined is an example every company should emulate.

In support of Penn’s Climate Action Plan, the Wharton Operations Green Campus program works to minimize solid waste and pursue sustainable building practices.   We must also uphold a level of quality within our facilities that one has come to associate with Wharton.  An effective carpet management strategy is part of that plan.  In 2012, Operations leadership visited Interface and were impressed with their manufacturing process, waste reclamation program and sustainability goals. Working with our vendor Metropolitan Flooring, we began using Interface carpeting almost exclusively.  Through Metropolitan and the Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE), all carpet removed from Wharton buildings is either returned to Interface to make new product or recovered for other industrial uses.  No carpet enters a landfill.

From a design standpoint, our projects group appreciate Interface’s aesthetic and high quality products that wear extremely well.  Of course from a sustainability perspective, their products meet our requirements to contain high recycled content, natural fiber options and adhere to strict indoor environmental quality standards; critically important for building occupants with chemical and allergen sensitivities.  Stemming from the company’s origins, Interface products are also a modular carpet tile rather than a roll product.  From an operations standpoint, the modularity provides flexibility in patterning, installation and maintenance.  If a tile is stained or damaged beyond repair, just that tile is replaced rather than the entire carpeted area minimizing waste, cost and down time to the affected area.  The damaged tile is then returned to the manufacturer to make new product, completing the cycle.

Other carpet companies have since started following the Interface model to varying degrees.  They provide great products and are used regularly across Penn’s campus.  Interface will always be the standard bearer, however, by taking a leadership role to demonstrate that the principles of sustainability and financial success can co-exist within business.  It created a new level of success that includes cultural dividends.  Innovation and leadership.  Values Wharton knows well.

So, on your next visit to Wharton, look down.  Know that the carpet you are walking on is doing more than covering the floor.  It is part of the solution.

Going Local: The Impact of Renewable Energy on Circular Economy

By Sirui Ma

Moving toward circular economy, rethinking and redesigning the production and recycling cycle is crucial to diminishing externalities. In order to “close the loop”, a variety of efforts are concerned, including materials used in production, easiness to dismantle disposed products, etc. Among all efforts that contribute to a “closed loop”, introducing renewable energy to the production process is one of the most essential. The significance of renewable energy is not limited to the concept “renewable”, which is often related with less carbon emission. One other advantage of renewable energy is its peculiar characteristics: LOCAL.

Why Renewable Energy?

Carbon emission is one of the major barriers to “close the loop” since a large percentage of manufacturers are still heavily relying on burning fossil fuels such as coal and refined oil products. In the perspective of reducing carbon output into the environment, introducing renewable energy input in the production line has gained its importance more than ever before. According to EIA statistics, 1364 million metric tons of carbon dioxide was produced by coal power plants in 2015, accounting for 71 percent of carbon emission by the national electric power sector. Given the huge quantity of carbon emission by coal burning, it is intuitive to imagine how renewable energy can reduce carbon emission at an extraordinary scale.

From Global to Local

However, in the process of replacing traditional energy with renewable energy, several properties of renewable energy need to be addressed: energy density, energy storage and transportation, as well as the match-up of energy suppliers and end-users.

While it is hard to generalize the characteristics of all renewable energy, different type of renewable energy has different advantages and limits. Among all renewable energy, hydroelectric power is one of the most stable energy types with a relatively high energy density. Wind power is strong but relatively unstable due to variation of wind speed and direction. Solar power has a smaller density but overall a stable output. Based on limits and advantages of different types of renewable energy, it is essential to characterize the type of energy demand of a specific type of production and find the most appropriate renewable energy to serve a local industry. The process of determining the energy source(s) for a factory should thus be added into the “rethinking” procedure of circular economy agenda.

In rethinking and redesigning of the industry, it is also momentous to understand the characteristics in the production and transportation of renewable energy. Fossil fuel, which stores energy in a condensed form, often needs a series of energy “dilution” steps before it can be used in daily life, in the form of electricity. Renewable energy, on the other hand, is in a relatively loose form with energy density of equal or less than 1 kW/m2 in its original state. Although the energy density cannot be compared with fossil fuels, the level of energy may be used directly by households without extra steps of “dilution”. Avoiding the “dilution” process can significantly increase the efficiency of energy use. What’s more, because of global scattering of fossil fuel reserves, the energy often experiences a “long haul” before reaching users. A huge energy loss is induced in the transportation process. In the case of renewable energy, “long haul” is definitely not an ideal choice. Based on the fact that long distance transportation is both technically difficult and costly, the use of renewable energy should be concentrated on the local economy.

Circular Economy is not just about reducing the environmental externalities of an industry. In fact, reducing energy loss is also vital in the idea of “closing the loop”. By relying more on renewable energy, an appropriate match between renewable energy and end-user demand can significantly improve the efficiency of energy use. In a well-designed circular economy structure, raw materials and energy resources are all from local suppliers. Appropriate match-ups between energy suppliers and end-users should be designed beforehand. For existing manufacturers, retrofitting the energy and raw material supply based on current circumstances is also promising and cost-effective. Overall, a more efficient management system is required to approach the goal of localizing circular economy, either designing or retrofitting.