Person Holding a Plant

SustainaLions, new Employee Resource Group announced

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Fall 2023 launch of University-wide Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), sparked a surge of enthusiasm in the sustainability community at Penn State. SustainaLions, a new ERG focused on sustainability in the workplace and beyond, was unveiled on April 23 during Earth Month at a staff social hour event in the HUB-Robeson Cultural Center on the University Park campus.  

ERGs, which are voluntary, employee-led groups formed around common identities, backgrounds or interests, are open to all Penn State staff and faculty and help promote community and belonging. 

The mission of SustainaLions is to educate, engage and connect Penn State employees through a collaborative alliance focused on sustainability; and to encourage an ethic and practice of sustainability for a greener future. This new ERG will bring together a diverse community of Penn State faculty and staff to help advance the University’s sustainability goals, while simultaneously supporting and empowering personal and professional growth.  

Efforts to infuse sustainability across the University is an ongoing initiative and engaging staff and faculty is a significant piece of the puzzle.

“They make daily decisions that affect the sustainability of Penn State,” said Lara Fowler, director of Penn State Sustainability and executive sponsor for SustainaLions. “Do we work with a local vendor who offers a more sustainable product? How can we ensure food leftovers after a meal is repurposed or recovered for someone who may need food? All these decisions add up to a culture approach to sustainability.” 

Jack Rumery, who has been an education specialist at Penn State Sustainability since 2023, is a co-lead of the SustainaLions ERG. He said he has spent much of his first year thinking about ways to connect staff across campuses.

“One of my goals this year was to think of ways to bring together various University employees across all campuses who are interested in sustainability,” he said. “With a university of this size, it’s a natural challenge to keep groups connected and engaged.”  

Currently, there are peer-engagement groups such as Green Teams and other formal structures such as Sustainability Councils, which help strategically advance the University's sustainability mission by executing and improving sustainability in all efforts, including research, teaching and operations.  

“People throughout the University are personally engaged in several inspiring and exciting sustainability endeavors. From optimizing recycling and waste streams in their offices, to creating and sharing sustainability event calendars, and hosting social events; many are eager to know more about how sustainability can be integrated into their day-to-day lives at Penn State,” said Rumery. “Where my mind goes when I hear these things is, ‘How can we bring these people together?’ I think an ERG offers that platform.” 

Diana Malcom, senior administrative support for the Child Maltreatment Network, is also a co-lead of the new ERG. Diana started her career at Penn State as an administrative assistant for Penn State Sustainability, then known as the Sustainability Institute. Even in her new role, her dedication for the Penn State sustainability community is strong.  

“I am a strong believer that we do our best work when we're intentional. SustainaLions will provide University faculty and staff who want to incorporate climate stewardship and sustainability commitment into the work we're doing at Penn State a way to learn from and connect to one another around campus,” Malcom said. “There will definitely be positive impacts created as University employees gather around sustainability and inspire and encourage one another, as well as the larger community, to be more intentional in our choices.” 

The group is currently growing its membership and will start activities and events beginning in the upcoming fall semester. Faculty and staff interested in joining or learning how they can be part of developing and shaping this new ERG can email [email protected]

Nalini Krishnankutty, diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging program manager for Penn State Human Resources, is helping launch and manage the University-wide ERGs. 

“SustainaLions and other ERGs can benefit our Penn State community and climate in multiple ways and also contribute to achieving all six of President Neeli Bendapudi’s goals — from enhancing student success to serving our land-grant mission, achieving research excellence and more,” Krishnankutty said. 

She is seeing sustained interest from faculty and staff in Penn State’s inaugural ERGs, Rainbow Roar and, Vet-aLIONce, which have seen steady growth in membership. Rainbow Roar will continue their virtual and in-person meetings during the summer and continue to find ways to connect and create a more welcoming environment on campus and in the community. Vet-aLIONce will be holding an open house and resource fair at the Student Veteran Center at  University Park campus from noon to 2 p.m. on May 15.   

Any Penn State faculty or staff interested in Rainbow Roar or Vet-aLIONce should email the groups respectively. New university-wide ERGs will be launched based on interest from different communities. Any employee interested in starting a new ERG can send an email to [email protected] for further information. In addition, virtual information sessions on ERGs will be offered again in the Fall, via the Learning Resource Network