Environmental Innovations Initiative

The 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.

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 Joseph S. Francisco, President’s Distinguished Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences, and Kathleen D. Morrison, Sally and Alvin V. Shoemaker Professor and Chair of Anthropology. In the spring semester, they will lead an international search for the Initiative’s inaugural Executive Director.

The Initiative is an interdisciplinary hub that will help catalyze new ideas, support new research, and maximize Penn’s distinctive interdisciplinary strengths. It will work within and between all existing schools, centers, institutes, programs, graduate groups, and departments. 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.

Intended as a way to bring together existing programs and help create new strength, the Initiative will include a faculty advisory council with representatives from other campus units such as the Vagelos Institute for Energy Science and Technology, the Penn Program in Environmental Humanities, the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy, the Wharton Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership, and others. One of its key goals is to foster connections and communication across these groups and to identify unmet areas of research and teaching need.

The first goal of the new 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 campus sustainability coordinator will be a member of the Initiative’s faculty council.

Support – financial, intellectual, and logistical – for innovative and interdisciplinary faculty research will be a primary mission of the Initiative. The Initiative will facilitate the creation of several new research communities, faculty and student-led groups working on defined topics or problems. The Initiative will also develop conferences, public forums, and other events and help to recruit new faculty members who advance environmental research across the university.

Research communities are required to involve students in a central way. Students will also be engaged in the Initiative’s major public events and in its support for the interdisciplinary research of Penn professors.  Although the structure of this effort is still being established, we envision a role for students and for student groups in our programming and outreach as well in research roles.

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. These public events are essential to the Initiative’s mission of making a tangible impact on policy and research related to the global climate emergency. 

Please sign up for our email list at eii-list@eii.upenn.eduAs 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.