College life in Philly

How green are Philly’s colleges? Biowalls, bike sharing, and cutting the energy bill


With 120,000 college students living in Philadelphia, college neighborhoods are essentially their own little cities. Between the electric bill to keep the lights (and Netflix) on, the truck loads of food to keep the cafeteria stocked, and the gasoline to get commuters to campus, these densely populated college communities have a significant carbon footprint.

The American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment was launched in 2006 to address global warming, and 684 university and colleges — five from Philadelphia — have signed. As part of this pledge, schools must submit “climate action plans” within two years.

Here’s a brief overview of those five Philadelphia schools’ sustainability history, as well as what has changed since making the pledge.

Drexel University


The Drexel Green Initiative was created in 2008 and pushes students, faculty and staff to consider efficiency, recycling, reduction, re-use and education. In 2011, Drexel signed the ACUPCC, pledging to eliminate its carbon footprint.

What’s changed? The school installed environmental monitoring systems for all new construction and major renovation projects; added automated water bottle refueling stations throughout campus; and buys energy certificates (wind and solar) equal to 100 percent of the university’s operations electrical usage.


  • Drexel has reduced its operations carbon footprint by 81 percent.
  • Newly constructed buildings at the University City school received two 3 Green Globe ratings and a LEED, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, Gold rating.
  • The campus was the first in the country to implement an energy monitoring system that provides real-time measurements of university power usage and allows the university to sell energy back to the larger public grid.

University of Pennsylvania


Penn signed the ACUPCC in 2007 — making it the first Ivy League signatory — and formed the Green Campus Partnership, the umbrella organization that addresses environmental sustainability planning and policy development.

One of the larger initiatives comes in the form of Penn’s Century Bond program, which issued more than $2 million worth of bonds. The money is being used for deep-dive renovation projects of outdated heating and lighting systems with the intent of using the money from energy savings to pay the bonds’ interest.


  • The addition of individual energy usage meters to more than one hundred buildings will soon allow the university to bill buildings according to usage, which will incentivize building managers to operate more efficiently.
  • The first building renovated by the Century Bond program funded is performing 50 percent more efficiently than previously.
  • Penn is targeted to drop its energy use by 8 or 9 percent, even while adding new buildings, in the next five years.
  • The campus currently has six LEED Gold buildings
  • The university’s 2014 Power Down Challenge resulted in a combined savings of over 35,000 kWh across campus –enough to power 3.3 homes’ electricity for one year.

Temple University


Temple signed the ACUPCC in 2008, pledging to become carbon neutral by 2050, and formed its office of sustainability.

Between 2006 and 2014, the North Philadelphia school reduced its gross greenhouse gas emissions by six percent, while increasing its gross square footage by 27 percent and increasing its student body by 24 percent, according to its recent ACUPCC report.


  • All new buildings are being built to meet LEED standards.
  • The university recently launched Philadelphia’s first student-run food cooperative, the Rad Dish Café, using all locally sourced food and environmentally friendly business practices.



At the turn of the millennium, Villanova formed an environmental team made up of faculty, staff and students from across the campus that was tasked with improving the quality of the school’s sustainability efforts. In 2007, ‘Nova signed the ACUPCC and a new committee was formed to front the challenge of becoming a carbon neutral campus by 2050.

According to the university’s sustainability office, the university reduced its carbon emissions by 8 percent since 2007, largely due to switching from coal to natural gas as its main source of energy for producing steam and purchasing electricity. During this time period, the campus added two new LEED Gold certified buildings.


  • The school launched its free bike share program this past fall, featuring 30 recycled bikes for students to rent out for a semester or year.

Philadelphia University


Philadelphia University signed the ACUPCC in 2011 and committed to construct all new buildings to LEED standards, encourage students and faculty to use public transportation, purchase electricity consumption from renewable resources, and adopt an energy efficient appliance purchasing policy.

The school is on track to become carbon neutral by 2035.


  • Philly U operates entirely on green contractual energy, and is contracted to do so until June, 2018.
  • The Dell Stormwater Management Project was launched to counter the negative effects of rainwater run-off along Lincoln Drive into the Wissahickon Creek.

Want some more? Explore other College life in Philly stories.

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