Task force created to significantly reduce Penn State's carbon emissions

Faculty, staff and students to evaluate Penn State’s operational strategies for cutting greenhouse gas outputs and prepare recommendations
Nittany 1 solar array

The Nittany 1 solar array, one of three solar farms that make up the 70-megawatt solar array in Franklin County that will provide Penn State with 25% of its purchased electricity, across all campuses, over 25 years.

Credit: Lightsource bp

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Over the last 15 years, Penn State has cut its carbon emissions by more than 35%, putting the University ahead of schedule to meet its goal of reducing greenhouse gas outputs to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. Now, President Eric Barron has created the Carbon Emissions Reduction Task Force to reconsider Penn State’s greenhouse gas emissions goal with a view toward setting a more aggressive target as well as a revised timeframe.  

“Climate change is one of the most significant challenges of our time, affecting every aspect of our lives — from the weather to our food systems, economy and health,” said Barron. “Penn State is a leader in creating comprehensive solutions to mitigate the dangers of climate change. Not only do we have some of the best and brightest scientists working on these problems, but we are also committed to implementing climate-smart practices right here on our own campuses.”

Comprising faculty members, staff members, and graduate and undergraduate students, the Carbon Emissions Reduction Task Force will identify and evaluate short- and long-term operational strategies for lowering carbon emissions on all of Penn State’s campuses. The group began meeting this summer and aims to share its recommendations by the end of this year.

“While Penn State has made good progress toward lowering its greenhouse gas emissions, scientific consensus suggests that we need to move faster,” said task force co-chair Robert Cooper, senior director of energy and engineering in Penn State’s Office of Physical Plant. “This task force will provide new focus on determining what our reduction goals should be and how and when we aspire to meet them.”

According to Cooper, energy use is the largest driver of Penn State’s greenhouse gas emissions, costing the University more than $30 million annually to provide heat, air conditioning, electricity and hot water to its buildings and fuel for its vehicle fleet. The University has already reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 35% since 2005 through strategies designed to use energy more efficiently, including installing equipment for combined heat and power, which produces heat and energy from a single power source; investing in building energy conservation projects; investing in renewable energy; and switching to more fuel-efficient vehicles, among other things.

The University has been a leader in dramatically reducing its greenhouse gas footprint. Recently, Penn State partnered with Lightsource BP on the largest solar project in Pennsylvania to advance energy security and sustainability goals as part of the University’s Strategic Plan, which cites stewardship of the planet’s resources as a key priority. The solar farms in Franklin County are designed to produce more than 100 million kilowatt-hours of electricity in year one, supplying 25% of the University’s statewide electricity needs and lowering Penn State’s greenhouse gas emissions by 57,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (mtCO2e) per year, or the equivalent of removing 12,100 fuel-burning cars from the road. It will provide Penn State with estimated cost savings of $272,000 in its first year and more than $14 million over the 25-year contract term.

Looking ahead, the task force will evaluate and recommend ways to improve upon strategies that are already in place, as well as identify new strategies. A few areas of exploration include examining solutions to emissions related to electrical generation and purchase, thermal energy needs, travel and transportation, farm and related operations, and potential effects of institutional policy changes.

Cooper noted that part of the task force’s charge is also to assess options not only through the lens of being good environmental stewards but also as good financial stewards to help enable long-term, cost-efficient strategies. “Our recommendations will strive to be specific, actionable, practical and economically viable,” he said.  

More than 95% of Pennsylvania’s residents live within 30 miles of a Penn State campus. “We are geographically positioned to be a role model for sustainability across the commonwealth,” said task force co-chair Timothy White, research professor of earth and engineering sciences and sustainability officer for the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. “We can make a direct impact through our operations, as well as be a leader in developing a sustainable future for the residents of Pennsylvania.”  

In addition to being a leader within the commonwealth, Penn State aims to be a leader in preparing students for a job market that increasingly values skills related to sustainability. “Our students will have to deal with the environmental consequences of the actions that my generation and previous generations have taken,” said White. “By including students as members of the task force, we can gain insight into ideas they think will have an impact, help them to acquire marketable skills and empower them to make a difference in the world.”

The committee welcomes anyone in the University community to reach out with questions and ideas at [email protected].  

Additional task force members include:


  • Robert Cooper, senior director of energy and engineering, Office of Physical Plant

  • Timothy White, research professor of earth and engineering sciences


  • Charles Anderson, associate professor of biology

  • Shirley Clark, professor of environmental engineering, Penn State Harrisburg

  • James Dillard, distinguished professor of communication arts and sciencess

  • Margot Kaye, associate professor of forest ecology

  • Armen Kemanian, associate professor of production systems and modeling

  • John Liechty, professor in the Smeal College of Business

  • Tom Richard, director of the Institutes of Energy and the Environment

  • Mark Sentesy, assistant professor of philosophy

  • Paul Shrivastava, chief sustainability officer

  • Erica Smithwick, associate director, Institutes of Energy and the Environment, and director, Center for Landscape Dynamics

  • Sanjay Srinivasan, head of the Department of Energy and Mineral Engineering


  • Erik Foley, director of the Center for the Business of Sustainability, Smeal College of Business

  • Daniel Newhart, assistant vice provost for planning, Office of Planning, Assessment, and Institutional Research

Graduate students  

  • Corey Hoydic, Graduate and Professional Student Association assembly delegate from the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, majoring in petroleum and natural gas engineering

  • Natasha Sood, MD candidate, College of Medicine

  • Haley Stauffer, majoring in biorenewable systems

Undergraduate students

  • Corinne Coffey, marketing and communications committee chair of World Campus, majoring in criminal justice

  • Sidney Przybylski, Council of Commonwealth Student Governments Sustainability Committee member, Student Government Association Greater Allegheny president, majoring in engineering  

  • Louise Shaffer, majoring in chemical engineering  

  • Hudson Wagner, majoring in energy engineering