by Steve Muzzy, Senior Manager, Membership Programs, Second Nature

Last month I attended the 14th Annual California Higher Education Sustainability Conference (CHESC), hosted by San Francisco State University. This is an impressive gathering and great show of California’s strength and leadership in campus sustainability. I attended three terrific sessions focusing on the following topics; net zero energy planning, fossil fuel divestment, and my personal favorite, student engagement and carbon neutrality.

The student engagement focus on carbon neutrality is particularly exciting because it aligns with institutional strategic priorities and collaborates across administrative, faculty, and staff departments, all while being student centered. So who is doing it? The University of California Office of the President (UCOP) has set an aggressive target of achieving carbon neutrality by 2025 (Scopes 1 & 2) and has formed a Global Climate Leadership Council, comprised of University of California administrators, faculty, staff, students and outside experts to provide recommendations for eliminating operational GHG emissions by 2025.

 

The Global Climate Leadership Council has identified the following focus areas to help achieve their goal:

  • Energy services
  • Applicable research
  • Campus and medical center climate action plans
  • Sustainability policy
  • Faculty engagement
  • Student engagement
  • Health sciences and services
  • Financial strategies
  • Communications and political advocacy

To support student engagement the UCOP has launched the Carbon Neutrality Initiative Student Fellowship Program. This program is open to both undergraduate and graduate students and provides funding for student led projects aligned with their campus’ carbon neutrality target needs. Each UC campus receives $7,500, with the funding being sent to each campus chancellor to administer. The campus president works with their sustainability staff to solicit fellowship applications and project ideas and then the sustainability staff works as a mentor to the chosen Carbon Neutrality Student Fellows. This program not only formalizes student engagement on carbon neutrality but also acts as a sustainability mentoring and leadership program. I’m very excited to see this program grow and evolve. To learn more about the Carbon Neutrality Initiative Student Fellowship Program and to see the the list of projects, visit the UC Sustainability page.

Beyond the many informational panel presentations, CHESC also has an elaborate awards program that recognizes many institutional sustainability best practices and gives Sustainability Champion awards to three individual representatives: one from the California State University system, one from the University of California system, and one from a private campus. From the CHESC website: “The Sustainability Champion Award is the highest level and only individual level award given at the CA Higher Education Sustainability Conference within our Best Practice Awards Program. The Sustainability Champion award is given to an individual person who has been a role model to their peers around the state; has promoted sustainability throughout their campus; achieved results; and who truly embodies the term “leader”.

One of this year’s Sustainability Champion awards was given to Fletcher Alexander, Sustainability Coordinator, California State University, Chico. I’ve been in CA on a working vacation and have had the pleasure of working from CSU, Chico’s Institute for Sustainable Development office and seeing Fletcher in action. In less than 2 weeks, I’ve seen him meet with a number of individual students and faculty members, as well as participate in his standing campus sustainability committee meetings. He’s also in the process of building a relationship with the City of Chico, and identifying potential sustainability projects to partner on, all while answering my questions and tending to my work needs. It’s been a pleasure to see his work. Congratulations Fletcher on this much deserved recognition.

Photo caption: 2015 Sustainability Champion, Fletcher Alexander and Steve Muzzy at CSU, Chico

Corrections (08/19/15 9:25 am): At the time of publication, this piece incorrectly listed the 2015 California Higher Education Sustainability Conference (CHESC) as the 12th annual occurrence of the event. It also said that each campus of the U.C. system was led by a president, instead of a chancellor. Lastly, it implied that CHESC’s Sustainability Champion award is given to only one individual at a single campus.