Tyler Arboretum and Penn State Brandywine partner to teach sustainability

MEDIA, Pa. — In October, Penn State Brandywine’s Sustainovation Club and Sustainovation Team partnered with Tyler Arboretum to give the arboretum’s annual Pumpkin Days festival an educational twist.

The 26 Brandywine volunteers ran a “sustainability research station” during the two-day event, interacting with more than 800 Tyler Arboretum visitors.

The station used a common item — plastic straws — as a springboard for conversations about simple, sustainability-minded habits that families can implement.

“Since plastic straws are not biodegradable, their carbon footprint doesn’t really go away,” said James Tyson, a Brandywine information sciences and technology major and president of the student-run Sustainovation Club. “Americans use literally billions of plastic straws every year. We wanted to get people thinking about other options.”

In addition to presenting information about recycling and other sustainable practices, the research station introduced visitors to straws made of alternative materials, such as glass, titanium and paper. Each visitor received a paper straw to use at home.

Young visitors were also encouraged to get creative with the materials, constructing airplanes out of paper straws and competing against other visitors to create the farthest flying aircraft.

“Our club’s mission is to educate — to give people an idea of what sustainability is and how they can practice it in their community,” Tyson said. “It was neat to see people excited about the program we offered at Tyler.”

Members of the campus’ Sustainovation Team, which is comprised of students, faculty and staff, joined members of the Sustainovation Club at the Tyler Arboretum event. Laura Guertin, professor of earth science and co-chair of the Sustainovation Team, encouraged students from her Earth 100 course to also participate in the outreach event.

“Penn State’s Sustainovation Team builds upon established connections in our local community to develop sustainability-themed engaged scholarship activities,” she said. “These benefit our students scholastically and our community overall.”

Guertin also acknowledged the campus’ PepsiCo Challenge Mini-Grants for making the outreach possible. The grants promote community engagement efforts through Penn State’s Sustainable Communities Collaborative.

“Thanks to the PepsiCo grants, we had the funding to help Tyler Arboretum expand its educational mission in a way that was not possible before,” she said.

Four weeks after the outreach event, the sustainability research station has already yielded positive impacts locally. Tyler Arboretum, upon hearing the case for paper straws, switched from using plastic to paper in its own facility.

Tyler Arboretum has also invited the Brandywine volunteers to host another research station at the Pumpkin Days festival in 2018.

For the Sustainovation Club and Sustainovation Team, returning to Tyler will be a chance to continue their educational mission and serve their Delaware County neighbors.