By Steve Muzzy, Senior Associate, Second Nature

(This article appears in the November, 2010 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)

The 4th Annual American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) Climate Leadership Summit met October 12-13 in Denver, CO. The nearly 200 participants got right to work sharing challenges and best practices and outlining the future direction of the commitment. Highlights from the Summit follow.

James Woolsey, former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency under President Bill Clinton, provided the opening keynote address. Mr. Woolsey’s presentation focused on the impending threats to national security that are being posed by an increasingly unstable climate. His perspective creatively threaded the current and future social and environmental implications of our reigning energy policy as well as provided some promising existing mechanisms to scale renewable energy production. Note: Mr. Woolsey’s presentation and all Summit presentations will be available on the ACUPCC website soon.

Following Mr. Woolsey, Second Nature presented the First Annual Climate Leadership Awards. The Climate Leadership Awards recognize the best examples of ACUPCC signatories that are shifting behavior on campus and within communities to make a low-carbon economy possible. In total 12 awards were issued – nine for Institutional Excellence in Climate Leadership and three for Outstanding Individual Climate Leadership.

Receiving awards for Institutional Excellence:

Receiving awards for Outstanding Individual Climate Leadership:

2010 Climate Leadership Award Recipient with Second Nature President, Dr. Anthony Cortese

Climate Leadership Awards recipients were selected by Second Nature Board Members not affiliated with ACUPCC Signatory institutions and were presented with an ecological-friendly award made from reclaimed fence posts.

Day two began with a national policy update by Dr. James Elder, Founder of the Campaign for Environmental Literacy. Dr. Elder reported that the University Sustainability Program (USP) has been funded as an invitational priority of theFIPSE Comprehensive Program. Money has been allocated for three “Mobilizing STEM for a Sustainable Future” projects, and both NSF and NASA have received $10 million to develop climate education programs. Contact Dr. Elder if you would like to learn how to best support climate change and sustainability policy.

The morning’s plenary session focused on addressing key implementation challenges and sharing best practices for climate action planning and was facilitated by Dr. David E. Shi, President Emeritus, Furman University. Dr. Shi opened the session by presenting the results of the recent study titled, “Climate Action Planning: A Review of Best Practices, Key Elements, and Common Climate Strategies by Eastern Research Group, Inc. (ERG) with support by the USEPA Clean Power Partnership. The report, published in last month’s ACUPCC Implementer newsletter, identifies helpful approaches for signatories in developing their CAPs.

With this in mind the participants jumped into working groups focused on the following topics:

  • Financing sustainability projects on campus
  • Academic components of the ACUPCC
  • Fostering a culture of sustainability on campus
  • Reaching beyond campus to work with local communities, the private sector, and policy-makers to achieve your sustainability goals

Participants were asked to share best practices within these topics as well as outline what resources they needed from the ACUPCC support staff to better aid them in their ongoing implementation.

Following the plenary, participants broke into designated concurrent work sessions. In concurrent work Session I, presidents and chancellors discussed the future direction for the ACUPCC network, as well as their role in implementing climate action plans – special focus was given to key areas of implementation. Some of the ideas and recommendations generated include:

  • Financing:

o   Engage with state representatives to advocate congress to allocate funding for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects

o   Provide guidance for developing Revolving Loan Fund(s)

o   Create working group to discuss strategies to access capital – include development staff

  • Institutionalization:

o   Provide guidance and examples on making the case to trustees – be sure board makes sustainability an integral part of their understanding of institution’s mission

o   Include commitment to sustainability as a criteria in new president searches

o   Use institutional values and mission statement to advance sustainability

o   President must demonstrate his/her own commitment by making ACUPCC a strategic priority and part of strategic plan; recognizing the efforts of others; placing it into the budget; understanding various perspectives and helping others understand the strategic opportunities; utilizing networks; leveraging multiple institutions; and, turning potential competition into collaboration

  • Academics:

o   Engage accreditation agencies to provide climate and sustainability literacy standards

o   Develop faculty incentives & development examples

o   Collect examples on integrating academics & operations

o   Leverage incoming student interest in sustainability – approach SAT about providing option to check sustainability as so interest so schools can target these students

Concurrent Work Session II was designated for ACUPCC Implementation Liaisons. The group broke into table discussions that addressed key barriers and enablers to achieving the academic goals of the Commitment and financing implementation measures.  The event concluded with a full group discussion that identified common issues facing all of the institutions, along with recommendations for resources and support that ILs would like to have from their presidents, their institutions, and Second Nature support staff in order to address these issues.  The discussion notes will be condensed into a report that will be sent to participants, posted on the website, and used by Second Nature to plan future resources and events for signatories.

A brief overview of the topics and discussion follows:

  • Academics:

o   Key Challenges:  Student learning outcomes and assessment; how to connect academics with Climate Action Planning; academic freedom of faculty; sustainability metrics; incentives for faculty; where in the curriculum should sustainability be addressed?; and, large school system issues.

o   Desired Resources:  Contacts, including state and regional associations and communities and practice; leveraging existing resources; administrative structures to support sustainability models; accreditation agencies involvement and support; faculty training and engagement, including tenure and reward; and, relate sustainability to student retention.

  • Financing:

o   Key Challenges:  Misconceptions about cost and communication with the administration; retaining energy savings; lack of data and information about where to look for resources; access to capital, and the need to apply a sustainability lens for financing decisions; the lack of a sustainability officer and general human resources challenges; and, accepting money from corporations with negative environmental practices

o   Resources:  Grant tracking resources and pressure on funding organizations to support sustainability; an education model for accounting staff; revolving loan funds and partnerships to implement them; presidential commitment to funding; training and regional engagement; guidance on what funding works where; a sabbatical year for staff; federal funding; and, engagement of the development office.

The summit closed with a very interesting roundtable discussion with ACUPCC corporate sponsors and their perspective on the sustainability skills and education graduates entering the 21st Century business environment need in order for businesses to remain competitive. The panel was moderated by Arizona State University President Michael Crow and included: Lorna C. Donatone, Chief Operating Officer and President of Education Market, Sodexo Inc.;Jonathan Lanciani, Chief Operating Officer, Organica Water; and Paul Orzeske, Global President, Honeywell Building Solutions.

Final Notes:

The summit incorporated a number of meetings with key partners and apreconference workshop on Climate Action Planning facilitated by IL Support Committee members Bowen Close, Pomona College and Matt Williams, Auburn University.  Partner meetings included the Solution Provider Dialogues; 15-minute pre-scheduled one-on-one dialogues between ACUPCC Corporate Partners and selected signatories.

Platinum Sponsor NRG Energy donated 500MT of Voluntary Carbon Standard approved VCU’s created from the capture and utilization of methane at the North Antelope Rochelle coal mining operation in Wyoming to offset the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the Summit.   We would also like to thank The John Merck FundThe Kresge Foundation, and The Wege Foundation for their generous support to the ACUPCC network that helps to make the Climate Leadership Summit possible.