A Few Minutes with Vice President Biden and Company

            On February 27, 2009, Eric Orts, Guardsmark Professor and Faculty Director of IGEL, had the privilege to make a presentation for several minutes to Vice President Joseph Biden and a small group a government heavyweights who were touring Penn’s Facilities and Real Estate headquarters prior to convening the first meeting of the White House Task Force for Middle Class Families.  This meeting focused on the importance of creating “green jobs” and was held later in the day in Penn’s Irvine Auditorium.

            The small group touring Penn’s facilities with the Vice President included six members of the cabinet – Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, and Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack.  In addition, Senators Robert Casey and Arlen Spector, Representative Chaka Fattah, Governor Ed Rendell, and Mayor Michael Nutter filled out the distinguished cast.

            Presentations were made to the group in Penn’s Facilities and Real Estate“command center” where centralized monitoring of heating and cooling operations is done for the entire campus.  Orts followed two other presentations.  Ken Ogawa, Penn’s Executive Director of Operations, reviewed the basic mechanics of the command room and its campus-wide efficiency achievements.  Professor Ali Malkawi reviewed the overall energy efficiency achievements at Penn as a whole which have been made possible through the Penn-Tsinghua T.C. Chan Center for Building Simulation and Energy Studies (of which Malkawi is a director).  Professor Orts then led a short discussion of how to “scale up” Penn’s example, drawing on a paper delivered by Penn President Amy Gutmann to the United Nations Secretary-General’s Global Colloquium of University Presidents.  See “Scaling Up the Environmental Commitment and Contribution of Universities,” http://www.upenn.edu/president/gutmann/speeches/nov28-07.html.  In the brief time available, Orts mentioned three general areas and examples of activities at Penn that provide possible opportunities for “scaling up.”

            1.  Energy efficiency.   How can Penn’s example of energy efficiency improvements be “scaled up” to include not only other large institutions (such as many large businesses which have already been leaders in energy efficiency improvements with straightforward cost-cutting as a main objective) but also millions of households and small businesses?  Investments in “green jobs” for retrofitting for better insulation and efficiency are a major component of the newly enacted stimulus package.  (Details about allocations were later given at the task force meeting.)  Orts provided one example taken from a recent presentation in his  Environmental Management course by a team of MBA and law students (Mat Abramsky, Catherine Courcy, David Luk, and Emily Schiller) which focused on the relatively new and affordable technology of “energy monitors” now available to reduce the energy consumption of millions of households.  These energy monitors combat what are called “vampires,” namely, appliances and other plug-ins (such as cell phone chargers) that suck energy even when they are not being used.  Orts suggested that this technology presented a new opportunity for an occupation of “vampire slayers” to eliminate this kind of waste, combining with other “green collar” construction jobs to improve the energy efficiency of millions of  U.S. households.  Governor Rendell suggested to the Vice President that Pennsylvania’s utility regulation provided the necessary incentives for these and other kinds of home energy efficiency improvements which could be “scaled up” nationally.

            2.  Harnessing the market by providing reliable environmental information.  Referring to an upcoming conference-workshop sponsored by IGEL on life cycle analysis, Orts suggested that consumers and businesses alike would benefit from an improved use of competent and reliable environmental information.  One potential outcome of this conference-workshop might be a call for improved eco-labels and increased policing of environmental claims.  The general idea is that the reliable provision of environmental information will “scale up” demand for environmentally friendly products and services by leveraging market forces.  With respect to “green jobs,” one can easily imagine an expanding occupation of “environmental claim verifiers” (including within traditional accounting and consulting firms, as well as government).

            3.  New advances in alternative energy technologies.   A third and final theme concerns the need to generate breakthroughs in alternative energy technologies.  Many scientists now believe that some large-scale environmental problems, such as climate change, cannot be solved without major new technological advances.  They recommend research and development efforts on the scale of the Manhattan Project or Apollo missions to the moon.  R&D of this kind, Orts argued, is the bread and butter of major universities such as Penn. He gave examples in this area of projects undertaken by Penn’s Energy Research Group (including engineers and scientists as faculty), including (a) new high-efficiency solar materials, (b) solar-to-fuel technologies, and (c) improvements in fuel cell technology.  (For details, see http://www.energy.upenn.edu/.)  Broad commitments to the research and development of new energy technologies would drive a significant increase in the employment necessary to support this work.

            In all of these areas, Penn and IGEL are committed to helping to lead the way in “scaling up” innovative solutions to some of the most pressing environmental problems.  Perhaps a silver lining in the clouds of the current economic crisis is an opportunity to mount the serious efforts required to tackle some of these big problems with government leadership and investment.


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Imagine what will happen when consumers can deduct from their taxable income the money they spend on goods and services with which they can maintain a way of living in harmony with Nature.

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Save the Date: IGEL's 4th Annual Conference-Workshop on Valuing Water: Business Challenges & Opportunities for Innovation

Fourth Annual Conference-Workshop

Save the Date

March 22, 2011
World Water Day
8th Floor Colloquium
Jon M. Huntsman Hall
The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania
3730 Walnut Street, Philadelphia

Topic: Valuing Water: Business Challenges & Opportunities for Innovation