Back

Commitments Implementation Guide

Introduction

The Commitments Implementation Guide outlines the basic requirements of the Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments. It links to the in-depth Sustainability Planning & Climate Action Guide, which features the same implementation topics in a different level of detail. The Sustainability Planning & Climate Action Guide provides context, a comprehensive approach towards climate action planning, as well as examples and case studies. We strongly encourage reviewing both guides. Our Frequently Asked Questions also has answers to specific questions you may have. 

ClimateTimeline

 

The Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments

Bold commitments by leaders in the higher education sector yield big changes at multiple levels – not only in the institution that those leaders manage, but in the sector at large, and even beyond. The Commitments require strong leadership, tangible outcomes, and the ability to track progress.

Key Step:

Sign the Commitment, or change from Carbon Commitment or Resilience Commitment to the integrated Climate Commitment

There are three possible Commitments a president or chancellor can sign:

  • the Climate Commitment: integrates a goal of carbon neutrality with climate resilience and provides a systems approach to mitigating and adapting to a changing climate. The planning and activities associated with the Climate Commitment are designed to be as efficient as possible at blending these two critical components of climate leadership.
  • the Carbon Commitment: focused on carbon neutrality
  • the Resilience Commitment: climate resilience and adaptation

A president or chancellor can always sign the Climate Commitment at a later date, even if they had initially signed the Carbon Commitment or the Resilience Commitment.

Organizing for Action

Creating Institutional Structures

After signing a Commitment, and before starting a climate action plan, the first required component is:

Key Step:

Create internal structures

This is a critical beginning so that the right people are around the table to align plans with the strategic goals of the institution and so progress can be made rapidly. The most successful signatory institutions are often those that begin with robust internal structures.

The institutional structure could take the form of a committee, task force, council or other body that is appointed specifically for the purpose of implementing the terms of the Commitments, or a pre-existing body (such as a sustainability council) that is given responsibility for sustainability implementation. The institutional structure should have a chair or other designated person who serves as the Implementation Liaison (IL), the primary contact person on Second Nature commitment matters.

Beyond this broad outline, the exact form and composition of the structure is left to the discretion of the signatory institutions.

See the following topics in the Sustainability Planning & Climate Action Guide for more information:

Within two months of signing this document, create internal institutional structures to guide the development and implementation of the Plan

Implementation Start Date

All reports are due annually and may be submitted between January 1 and May 1 of each year. With the exception of the Implementation Profile, which is due two months after signing.  

Implementation Profile

Before your first annual report, you have to establish your Implementation Profile. The Implementation Profile is due within two months of signing any of the Commitments. This report provides information on your institution’s internal institutional structure that will guide the development and implementation of your institutional Climate Action Plan.

Importantly, this profile also includes key contacts, the Implementation Liaison and President’s information, and other critical information about the institution. This information should be kept up to date throughout the signatory’s commitment process and can be updated at any time the structure or contacts change.  The Second Nature Reporting Platform has a public listing of each signatory’s Implementation Profile.

Joint Campus-Community Structures

A specific requirement of the Climate Commitment and the Resilience Commitment is:

Key Step:

Create joint campus-community structure

This often involves multiple organizations, and will require coordination and sometimes administrative leadership, and therefore a longer period of time is allowed for developing this structure.

Some examples of how an institution might create a joint campus-community structure are:

  • Faculty relationships or research projects
  • City resilience/sustainability/climate committees and higher education working groups
  • Existing coordination or joint projects

The intent of community coordination as part of the Commitments, is for there to be agreement on joint approaches, metrics for success, and to engage in joint capacity building. If it’s not feasible to begin by creating formal structures that cut across campus-community boundaries, then informal partnerships are still an important way to make progress towards the final structure.

A Campus-Community Task Structure report is in the Second Nature Reporting Platform for signatories to submit by their 2017 reporting deadline (or 1 year after signing), and asks basic information about the structure of the Task Force.

See the following topics in the Sustainability Planning & Climate Action Guide for more information:

Within one year of the implementation start date, actively support a joint campus-community task force (or equivalent) to ensure alignment of the Plan with community goals and to facilitate joint action.

Assessment & Prioritizing Action

Beginning with Opportunity

It’s important that the planning process begin by assessing where the institution wants to go overall. By identifying preferred future goals, it is possible to head towards them and build capacity and reduce emissions at the same time.

Assessing the future direction can be accomplished in multiple ways, but two possible tools include a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats), and a visioning exercise.

See the following topics in the Sustainability Planning & Climate Action Guide for more information:

Resilience Assessments

While the role of assessment is important in all three Commitments, in the Climate Commitment and the Resilience Commitment, signatories specifically agree to:

Key Step:

Complete a Resilience Assessment

The same tools as have already been described (SWOT and visioning) can be used to complete a resilience assessment as well. The goal of a resilience assessment is to understand what makes a campus and community resilient and what risks they currently face that would challenge that resilience. The Resilience assessment phase includes developing initial indicators that can be used to gauge resilience and track progress. These indicators will form the basis of what is reported annually and are important in setting milestones in the next phase of the commitment before developing the full climate action plan. The resilience assessment will also include an initial vulnerability analysis. A more comprehensive assessment of climate impacts and vulnerability analysis will occur as a subsequent step before developing a Climate Action Plan.

While no signatory will be required to submit a resilience assessment until the 2018 reporting deadline (or 2 years after signing the commitment), the data fields required will be available for review by May 2017. 

See the following topics in the Sustainability Planning & Climate Action Guide for more information:

Within two years of the implementation start date, lead and complete an initial campus-community resilience assessment including initial indicators and current vulnerability

Greenhouse Gas Inventory

Carbon accounting is the primary metric for understanding your institution’s emissions contribution to climate change. For signatories of the Carbon and Climate Commitments, the requirement is:

Key Step:

Complete a Greenhouse Gas Inventory

A basic, first-time inventory can take an individual up to four months to complete. Once a standard procedure is well-developed, including data collection methodology, management, and organizational structures, an inventory process can take as little as a few weeks.

Once a Greenhouse Gas Inventory is completed you must submit your relevant data to the Second Nature Reporting Platform annually, via the Greenhouse Gas Report which is in the Annual Progress EvaluationSee the following topics in the Sustainability Planning & Climate Action Guide for more information:

Within one year of the implementation start date ….. complete a greenhouse gas emissions inventory, also identifying near term opportunities for greenhouse gas reduction.

Tangible Actions & Early Successes

In addition to prioritizing action based on alignment with overall strategies and contributions to long-term preferred futures, there are some additional options to make initial progress and create some early success, such as purchasing some portion of your electricity consumption from renewable sources, or developing a green building policy.

See the following topics in the Sustainability Planning & Climate Action Guide for more information:

Integrated Planning

Climate Action Plan

The goal of the Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments is to address the challenge of climate change holistically by transforming the way higher-education operates and educates. One of the most powerful results of becoming a signatory of the Commitments is that they provide a clearly defined framework within which to undertake sustainability planning and action. All Commitment signatories are required to develop a Climate Action Plan and review, revise, and update if necessary every 5 years.

Below is the requirement for signatories of the Climate Commitment:

Within three years of the implementation start date complete the Plan, (also reflecting joint community-campus components), which will include:

  • A target date for achieving carbon neutrality as soon as possible
  • A target date by which defined thresholds of resilience will be met
  • Interim target dates for meeting milestones that will lead to carbon neutrality and increasing resilience
  • Mechanisms and indicators for tracking progress (including those that cut across campus-community boundaries)
  • Actions to make carbon neutrality and resilience a part of the curriculum and other educational experiences for all students
  • Actions to expand research in carbon neutrality and resilience

Review, revise if necessary, and resubmit the climate action plan not less frequently than every five years

Key Step:

Complete the Climate Action Plan 

New signatories to the Climate or Resilience Commitments have three years to develop their Climate Action Plan (extra time is allocated to create joint campus-community structures). Carbon Commitment signatories are required to submit their Climate Action Plan within two years after signing.

Signatories of the Resilience or Carbon Commitments will only have to include some of the items in the integrated list in their plan – those parts that are relevant to their specific commitment. 

Once a Climate Action Plan is completed, please submit a copy of the plan and complete the relevant data fields.  The Climate Action Plan fields and format may be streamlined and updated, with public review by May 2017. 

See the following topics in the Sustainability Planning & Climate Action Guide for more information:

Target Dates & Interim Milestones

Setting specific, measurable goals, allows progress toward an object to be tracked and transparently reported to members of your organization and other stakeholders. Long-term targets are bold and are designed to inspire progress over years. Interim milestones are shorter-term goals and can be tied to established planning cycles (campus master plans, budget cycles, development goals, etc.). These interim milestones help establish the rate at which progress is expected. They allow more nimble decision-making, accountability for shorter-term projects, facilitate communication of success, and build momentum.

A clear evaluation of your organization’s current situation is the starting point from which a planning team can build a successful action plan for responding to climate change. Powerful planning is based on two major things: where you want to go, and what you want your assets to be. For determining a carbon neutrality date, understanding the GHG inventory, assessing the current energy system, and evaluating potential mitigation projects are critical aspects of developing targets. In order to generate thresholds of resilience, it is ideal to go through a future scenarios process and more comprehensive vulnerability assessment. This will allow you to determine the goals for building resilience. In both cases, targets should be ‘comfortably aggressive’ – ones that push for rapid change, but that campus stakeholders can stand behind.

One of the more overwhelming elements for most climate action planning processes is deciding what to do first. One way to prioritize action is thinking about what would have the greatest and/or shortest return (on costs, emissions, increased capacity, among many other desirable outcomes) for the least amount of initial investment (in time, money, and effort for example).

See the following topics in the Sustainability Planning & Climate Action Guide for more information:

Reviewing the Plan

Not more than five years after completing the Climate Action Plan (and every five years thereafter), institutions are required to review and update the plan, if necessary. This is good practice, but it’s also a chance to engage new constituents (especially students who rotate every four or so years), consider if there are emerging priorities or opportunities, introduce new projects if applicable and also remind trustees, alumni, and other stakeholders of progress and continuing imperatives. 

If your institution was an ACUPCC signatory and had submitted a Climate Action Plan between 2009 and 2013, your revised Climate Action Plan will be due May 1, 2018.

A new Climate Action Plan Report will be created in the Second Nature Reporting Platform for review by May 2017 for current or new signatories to upload new or reviewed Climate Action Plans. It will likely be very similar to the existing Climate Action Plan report.

Measuring Progress

Annual Progress Evaluation

Signatory institutions have pledged that:

 

Key Step:

Annual Progress Evaluation

The annual progress evaluation required as part of the Commitments, is aimed at driving creative solutions, communicating progress against clear benchmarks, and driving iterative learning. The evaluation integrates varying requirements, from a greenhouse gas inventory (for Carbon and Climate Commitment signatories) to a resilience assessment and resilience indicators (for Climate Commitment and Resilience Commitment signatories). Over time the annual progress evaluation will iteratively build and show your campus’s scope of efforts and successes.

From 2012-2016 Carbon Commitment signatories (formerly called the ACUPCC), completed a Progress Report on the Climate Action Plan every other year. The Annual Progress Evaluation has replaced the former progress report,  significantly reducing and streamlining the data fields and now includes an annual GHG report. 

See the following topics in the Sustainability Planning & Climate Action Guide for more information:

Within one year of the implementation start date, and every year thereafter, complete an annual evaluation of progress

Make the action plan, annual evaluation of progress (including greenhouse gas inventory, resilience assessment etc), publicly available by submitting them to Second Nature’s Reporting Platform for posting and dissemination

 Reporting Schedule

In this section is a quick reference for what the reporting schedule might look like depending on what commitment the institution has signed. There is also a more detailed breakdown (in a series of tables) of what your reporting would include in each scenario.

 


ClimateTimeline

 

CarbonTimeline

 

 

ResilienceTimeline

Year 1

Climate Commitment signatories within one year of implementation start date, pledge to:

  • complete a greenhouse gas emissions inventory
  • actively support a joint campus-community task force (or equivalent) to ensure alignment of the Plan with community goals and to facilitate joint action

Carbon Commitment signatories within one year of implementation start date, pledge to:

  • complete a greenhouse gas emissions inventory  

Resilience Commitment signatories within one year of implementation start date, pledge to:

  • actively support a joint campus-community task force (or equivalent) to ensure alignment of the Plan with community goals and to facilitate joint action

Year 2

Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments signatories within two years of implementation start date, pledge to:

  • complete a greenhouse gas emissions inventory
  • and report on initial campus-community resilience assessment including indicators and vulnerability

Carbon Commitment signatories within two years of implementation start date, pledge to:

  • complete a greenhouse gas emissions inventory and
  • complete a Climate Action Plan (CAP)

Resilience Commitment signatories within two years of implementation start date, pledge to:

  • complete an an initial campus-community resilience assessment including indicators and vulnerability

Year 3

Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments signatories within three years of implementation start date, pledge to:

  • complete a Climate Action Plan (CAP)
  • complete a greenhouse gas emissions inventory

Carbon Commitment signatories within three years of implementation start date, pledge to:

  • complete a greenhouse gas emissions inventory

Resilience Commitment signatories within three years of implementation start date, pledge to:

  • complete a Climate Action Plan (CAP)

Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments Signatory Dues

Demonstrating the importance that the Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments play as a catalytic force on campus, and reflecting the value of participating in a leading national network, signatories pay annual dues. Second Nature accounts for the size of the institution and the institutional expenses in setting the annual rates. Second Nature leverages philanthropic, corporate, and government revenue to further assist signatory institutions in their climate action work and keep dues as low as possible.

Honor Society Dues 

Presidents/Chancellors at Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments signatories may wish to contribute additional resources above and beyond the required signatory dues. These signatories are recognized as paying leadership dues according to the levels identified below. Additional recognition is given to these schools throughout the year. 

  • Valedictorian:  4 x Basic Dues or more 
  • Summa Cum Laude:  3 x Basic Dues 
  • Maxima Cum Laude:  2 x Basic Dues 
  • Magna Cum Laude:  1.5 x Basic Dues
  • Cum Laude: Beyond Basic Dues

See a list of current Honor Society Dues Signatories

Signatory Dues 2016-2017

Signatories will be invoiced in May 2016 with a payment due date of Sept. 1, 2016, using the most recent Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) data. Higher Education Systems where all campuses/colleges are signatories can receive a 10% discount by paying all dues through the system head or main system office. For questions about dues, please contact Janna Cohen-Rosenthal, at 617-722-0036. Accommodations can be made for special circumstances and short-term revenue challenges. To pay dues, visit our Dues page.

Acknowledgements

Second Nature would like to graciously thank all of the contributors and reviewers of this documentation and for the support and contributions all of our peers and colleagues throughout the Second Nature network over the 10 years of learning and practice that went into the creation of this guide.

Current Guidance

Sustainability Planning & Climate Action Guide

Anne Waple, Ph.D, Vice-President and Chief Innovation Officer, Second Nature (past)

Brett Pasinella, MA, LEED Green Associate, Senior Manager of Innovative Services, Second Nature

Commitments Implementation Guide

Janna Cohen-Rosenthal, MBA, Climate Programs Director, Second Nature

Stephen Muzzy, MS, LEED Green Associate, Senior Manager Climate Programs,  Second Nature

Previous Guidance

Cool Campus! A How-To Guide for College and University Climate Action Planning

Copyright © 2009 Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education

Author: Walter Simpson, CEM, LEED AP

Editors: Niles Barnes, Julian Dautremont-Smith, Toni Nelson, Brittany Zwicker

Design: Jon Hehir

Implementation Guide Version 2.1, 2012

Sarah Brylinsky, Program Associate, Second Nature

Steve Muzzy, Senior Associate, Second Nature

Cherie Peacock, Sustainability Coordinator, University of Montana

Linda Petee, Sustainability & Risk Management Coordinator, Delta College

John Pumilio, Director of Sustainability, Colgate University

Jesse Pyles, Sustainability Coordinator, Unity College

Matt Williams, Program Manager, Office of Sustainability, Auburn University

Thomas Williams, Sustainability Coordinator, Scottsdale Community College

Implementation Guide version 1.1, 2009

Principal Author: Julian Dautremont-Smith, Associate Director, AASHE

Contributing Authors: Dr. Anthony D. Cortese, President, Second Nature; Georges Dyer, Senior Fellow, Second Nature; Judy Walton, Director of Strategic Initiatives, AASHE