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Rain-Forest Ecologist Studies Ecological Future of Penn State
22 September 1998

A Penn State biologist who played a leading role in creating an ecology research institute in the Amazon is the head of a group of faculty and students that is releasing a report today on environmental sustainability at Penn State's University Park campus. Christopher Uhl, professor of biology, directs the group, which calls itself the "Sustainable PSU Initiative."

The group will present a copy of the 110-page report to Provost John Brighton, who will accept it on behalf of Penn State during a brief ceremony on the steps of the Old Main administration building on the University Park campus at 12:15 p.m. on Wednesday, September 23.

"A central question motivating our report is: How can Penn State educate citizens to live thoughtfully on our planet?," Uhl says. "We live in a world of limited resources and how we treat the Earth and each other reverberates throughout the planet, whether we are in Central Pennsylvania or in the Amazon rainforest," he adds.

"Twenty-seven undergraduates from five different colleges at Penn State, two graduate students, two research assistants, and numerous staff and faculty members participated in various aspects of the project," Uhl says.

The report, titled "The Penn State Indicators Report: Students and Faculty Examine the University," examines "sustainability" at Penn State, which it defines as "meeting present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs." It focuses on thirty-four different indicators that consider such things as water and energy use, waste production, recycling, food-purchasing policies, pesticide use, green space converted to parking space, research ethics, and openness in decision making. "For each indicator, we present data that attempt to gauge if Penn State is moving toward or away from sustainability," Uhl says. "They are analogous to the vital signs a doctor uses to assess the overall well-being of a patient."

Overall, the report concludes that seven of the thirty-four indicators, such as recycling, pesticide use, and water consumption, are clearly moving toward sustainability. "For another seven indicators, the situation is strongly nonsustainable with no sign of a turnaround," Uhl says. "An additional fourteen indicators also reveal clearly nonsustainable practices but show some hints of remedial action, and for the remaining six indicators more data and discussion are needed before a judgement can be reached," he adds.

"Penn State is probably quite typical of other large universities," Uhl comments. "The report describes many examples of measures that Penn State has taken to become more sustainable. While reassuring, these steps still fall short of the bold and far-reaching initiatives that will be required to address sustainability issues at Penn State." The report details thirty specific steps that Penn State might consider in its quest for truly sustainable practices.

Among the report's reviewers at Penn State is Ronald Filippelli, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts, who comments "This report is a demonstration of the kind of exciting and relevant learning that can take place when students and faculty work collaboratively. The sustainability project demanded methodological rigor and an interdisciplinary, integrated systems approach to the problem . . . Penn State should be proud of the result."

Uhl adds, "The intent of this report is not simply to supply answers but to raise questions that center on the wisdom of continual growth, research ethics, the openness of decision making, the uncritical acceptance of technology, and the moral responsibilities of the university--questions that all vital institutions should discuss."

Copies of the report are available for purchase nationally through the U. S. Campus Ecology Program of the National Wildlife Federation, a network of several thousand colleges and universities. The federation is making the report available as part of its Campus Ecology Toolkit to be used as a model for other large universities nationwide. Locally, copies will be available for purchase in State College bookstores and at Penn State's Center for Sustainability.


Christopher Uhl, Penn State, 814-863-3893,

Julian Keniry, National Wildlife Federation Campus Ecology Program, 703-790-4322,,

Barbara Anderson-Siebert, Penn State Center for Sustainability, 814-865-2223

Barbara K. Kennedy (Penn State PIO), 814-863-4682,