Environmental Innovations Initiative
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We are undeniably at a pivotal moment in history. As we emerge from the social and economic devastation of the pandemic, there is a triple imperative to fix the systems that are causing the climate and biodiversity crises as well as institutionalized inequalities. The Environmental Innovations Initiative will bring together researchers, scholars, and students to develop new ideas and innovative solutions for our global environment. It is designed to maximize Penn’s distinctive interdisciplinary strengths, building collaborations across disciplines and creating a catalyst to spur new areas of inquiry across such areas as climate change, sustainability, and environmental equity, among others.
Our Vison for the Environmental Innovations Initiative is to meaningfully impact the critical environmental challenges of our time, particularly climate change, biodiversity loss, and human vulnerability. To accomplish this, the Initiative will bring together scholars, leaders, practitioners, students, community members, and partners around themes of climate action, stewardship of nature, and societal resilience – including equity and inclusion.
The Mission of the Environmental Innovations Initiative is to catalyze solutions to significant real-world environmental challenges. This will be done through fostering collaboration across disciplines, leading inclusive and dynamic programming on- and off-campus, forming strategic alliances with external partners, and elevating the visibility of Penn’s assets.
The Initiative is charged to:
Facilitate innovative research that maximizes Penn’s distinctive interdisciplinary strengths, within and between schools, centers, graduate groups, and departments
Recruit outstanding faculty members whose new perspectives advance the university’s work across such areas as climate change, sustainability, and environmental justice
Develop formal and informal educational programs, as well as public events and communications, that further the impact of Penn research and bring new solutions to our campus and a wider global community
The Initiative will seek to make a tangible impact on solutions for our global climate emergency by advancing research and education and bringing those new ideas to a wider global audience. In so doing, it will also help bring together the work of Penn scholars and researchers across multiple disciplines, programs, and areas of the university, while furthering the university’s strong commitment to innovation and to making an impact on significant real-world challenges.
The faculty co-directors of the Initiative are Kathleen D. Morrison, Sally and Alvin V. Shoemaker Professor and Chair of Anthropology, and Joseph S. Francisco, President’s Distinguished Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences. Melissa Brown Goodall joined the team in March 2021 as the Initiative’s inaugural Senior Director.
Not a center or an institute, the Initiative is instead a meeting place for new research communities and efforts that cross campus and extend out to the community and the world. It is an interdisciplinary hub that will help catalyze collaboration, support new research, and maximize and make visible Penn’s distinctive interdisciplinary strengths. It will work within and between all existing schools, centers, institutes, programs, graduate groups, and departments.
The first goal of the Climate and Sustainability Action Plan 3.0, which reaffirms the university’s commitment to address environmental challenges, is to “expand the scope of sustainability research.” The Initiative will play a central role in achieving this goal, by advancing research on campus, supporting and recruiting faculty members, and bringing Penn research to a wider public audience. The EII will work closely with the Office of Sustainability, and the Director of Sustainability will be a member of the Initiative’s faculty council.
Walking the talk is a critical part of developing solutions to the most pressing environmental challenges of our time. While the Initiative is advancing innovation and collaboration in the Penn research community, the Office of Sustainability offers actionable ways for all students, faculty, and staff to make a difference on campus, in Philadelphia, and in the world. Based on their complementary priorities, the Initiative and Penn Sustainability will collaborate strategically on events, programming, and applied research.
Support – financial, intellectual, and logistical – for innovative and interdisciplinary faculty research will be a priority of the Initiative. The Initiative will strive to showcase thought-leadership and innovation, advance applied research, and facilitate the creation of new research communities – transdisciplinary groups working on defined topics or problems. It will also develop conferences, public forums, and other events and help to recruit new faculty members who advance environmental research across the university. Finally, in its role as a coordinating entity, the Initiative will strive to support a unified University of Pennsylvania presence in local, national, and global fora.
At the outset, students will be engaged in the Initiative's major public events and in its support for the interdisciplinary research of Penn professors. As research communities are formed, students will play a central role. As the priorities and programming of the Initiative are further refined, the leadership of the Initiative will actively consult with undergraduate and graduate student groups to define additional opportunities.
A central priority of the Initiative’s charge from the university is to organize public events and conferences that bring together the work being done across numerous parts of the university and present it to a wider audience. The Initiative will also coordinate a unified and cohesive UPenn presence at significant national and global gatherings. These activities are essential to the Initiative’s goal of making a tangible impact on policy and research related to the global climate emergency, the looming biodiversity crisis, and the urgent need to bolster natural and societal resilience.
Please sign up for our email list at firstname.lastname@example.org. As we get started, we plan a phase of active information gathering and consultation with students, faculty, and staff from across the campus. We hope you will participate in the EII dialogues and will continue to work with us.