Sustainable Solutions: Students Localize the SDGs in Philadelphia



Organizations/areas of the university involved

Undergraduates from four schools, several Penn research centers, city of Philadelphia, private sector, and community based organizations.

United States

Sustainable Solutions is a University of Pennsylvania student initiative to educate Philadelphia students (from high school to university) about the UN’s Agenda 2030 and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and invite them to tackle one or more of the SDGs through project-based solutions. Under the theme of Localizing the SDGs, it has crafted an orientation program and ideas competition that invites student teams to pitch a Philadelphia based SDG project with funding for the winners for further development. For this year’s effort, Sustainable Solutions has placed special emphasis on SDGs of particular relevance to the City of Brotherly Love: SDG 3 (health), SDG4 (Education), SDG 6 (Water), SDG7 (Energy) and SDG 11 (Cities).
Several activities underlie this Sustainable Solutions initiative. They are: development of an attractive and informative website; recruitment of Sustainable Solutions members; development of a comprehensive guide to the SDGs with special attention to SDGs 3,4,6,7, and 11; enlisting support from relevant parties including several Penn Centers and Philadelphia organizations; launching and execution of the ideas competition including an orientation session and other guidance. To date, under the leadership of Richard Ling ’20, Millennium Fellow (, Sustainable Solutions has published a comprehensive information guide, raised $13000 in financial and in-kind support, and received several promising project submissions tackling homelessness, food insecurity, and circular economy models. It has a well-organized governance structure including a 20-member team and has developed partnerships with the following organizations: Essity North America, The Green Program, Wharton IGEL, The Kleinman Center for Energy Policy, Penn Institute for Urban Research, The Penn Water Center, Green Building United, GreenFutures, and Keep Philadelphia Beautiful. Sustainable Solutions is also the recipient of the inaugural Shah Prize by the Netter Center.

Sustainable Solutions has institutionalized its activities as a 501c3 and is currently planning next year’s agenda, one that will focus on implementing the inaugural competition winner’s project and building upon K-16 partnerships within West Philadelphia. It has garnered publicity across the campus and within the UN world It
anticipates further growth of understanding and implementation of the SDGs in Philadelphia, the nation’s sixth largest city.

Results and impact measured or expected

This project has and will continue to educate students and the wider community about the SDGs and offer examples on how to localize the implementation of those most relevant to the city. It will stimulate specific projects through its ideas competition whose winners will receive financing to move from ideas to real projects. This project is replicable in universities around the world. The critical success factors include 1. student leadership: this is a “ground-up” project created and managed by students; 2. partners’ support: students have attracted support from several academic centers (energy, urban research, environment, water) and their faculty directors who enthusiastically are participating in the project offering in-kind support (e.g. PR, jury members, space) and financial support; other partners provide legitimacy and advice (e.g. the city of Philadelphia, private sector and CBOs). 3. recognition: due to the leadership of the University administration, the environment in which these students are working is highly supportive of innovation that this project represents; the environment is validating and encouraging


Connection with the SDG framework

 This year Sustainable Solutions is focusing on SDGs 3, 4, 6, 7, and 11

Barriers and follow up

None, other than the need to continue to publicize the effort

Updated April 2019 by Eugenie L. Birch