New Report Shows Bold College & University Action on Climate Disruption Provides Model for Governments

While the US government and the global community have been slow to address severe climate disruption, colleges and universities are stepping in to boldly slash their carbon emissions, research and develop new technologies, and prepare students to create a safer, clean energy economy.

According to a new annual report released today by the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), the participating schools are working to cut a combined estimated 33+ million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year.  The ACUPCC, launched in early 2007, is currently comprised of 677 schools in all 50 states and the District of Columbia – representing nearly six million students and about one third of the US higher education student population.

David Shi, President of Furman University and Co-Chair of the ACUPCC, noted, “Sustainability is one of the few enterprises that fosters collaboration among institutions.  That so many schools have embraced the climate commitment is unprecedented.  Such bold action on such a broad scale provides a model for the rest of society to emulate.”

Recently, more than 300,000 individuals called their Senators as part of a coordinated effort promoted by dozens of advocacy groups urging the US government to pass comprehensive climate legislation.  But the higher education sector is not waiting for uncertain government action.

ACUPCC schools, growing in numbers each month, have conducted greenhouse gas inventories and developed comprehensive climate action plans for their own institutions.  Their bold commitments are voluntary and transparent, with public reporting submitted to the ACUPCC online Reporting System.  The higher education sector is the first in society to substantially pursue climate neutrality.

Colleges & Universities Slashing Carbon Emissions

According to the new ACUPCC report, 66% of the participating ACUPCC schools have determined that they will reach climate neutrality in their campus operations by or well before 2050.  Relative to its 2005 baseline, the University of Florida is working to reduce emissions 3% by 2012, 17% by 2020, 42% by 2030, and 83% by 2050. The University plans to achieve climate neutrality in 2025 using carbon offsets, while continuing to reduce its internal emissions each year thereafter.  The University of Wyoming is reducing emissions 15% by 2015, 25% by 2020, and 100% by 2050. Its plan incorporates behavior change, facility upgrades, and long-term infrastructure and alternative energy projects in line with Wyoming’s position as an energy-producing state.

In 2007, College of the Atlantic in Maine became the first higher education institution in the US to achieve carbon neutrality. All of the school’s electricity comes from renewable sources.  By purchasing locally and reducing travel, the college has cut its actual emissions by about 40% over the last three years and has purchased offsets to reach “NetZero” with a plan to continue reducing its direct emissions and thereby the amount of offsets purchased over the long term.

Students Learning How to Address Climate Disruption

Central to the ACUPCC are efforts to ensure that all graduates are equipped to help society address climate and sustainability in their personal and professional lives.  Wilson Community College in North Carolina offers a certificate program in home weatherization and features the use of a carbon footprint calculator in a required course.  Georgia Institute of Technology‘s Center for Biologically Inspired Designs is conducting a research project, informed by research on honeybee colonies, on more efficient Internet hosting.  Santa Fe Community College offers a solar energy certificate program through which students acquire the skills they need to find jobs in the solar and green building sectors. The Gund Institute of Ecological Economics at the University of Vermont is examining the relationships among ecological, political, and economic systems and whether the Genuine Progress Indicator is a better metric than Gross Domestic Product.

Working Beyond the Campus Gates

At Ball State University in Indiana, students and faculty recently researched and developed a new model for sustainable neighborhood renewal in Indianapolis. This Smart Growth Renewal District has been selected as one of five pilot projects in the nation to be supported by the Office of Sustainable Communities, a new collaboration among the EPA and the federal Departments of Transportation and Housing & Urban Development.

Villanova University students are designing and constructing schools, water supply systems, and small-scale electrification projects using renewable resources, together with partners in Kenya, Thailand, Nicaragua, and Honduras.   A group of Green Mountain College faculty and students are looking for potential sites for solar, hydroelectric, wind, and geothermal energy in Poultney, Vermont, with the intent of creating a community energy plan for the town.

Cognizant of the significant impacts associated with the manufacture, use, and disposal of products, the University of Arkansas has partnered with Arizona State University to launch the Sustainability Consortium, which will determine a way to clearly and consistently measure product sustainability.  The program, in collaboration with various NGOs and government partners, is funded by major manufacturers and retailers.  Said University of Arkansas Chancellor and ACUPCC signatory G. David Gearhart, “We are excited to be involved in this ground breaking work that will change the way business is done around the world.”

Many more examples of new innovative climate- and sustainability-related activities by colleges and universities are featured in the new ACUPCC Annual Report available online.

About the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment

The American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, a high-visibility effort to address global warming, garners institutional commitments to neutralize greenhouse gas emissions and accelerate the research and educational efforts of higher education to equip society to re-stabilize the earth’s climate. The ACUPCC is led by a Steering Committee comprised of more than 20 university and college presidents and is hosted and staffed by Second Nature, a Boston-based national nonprofit organization, with additional support provided by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.  ecoAmerica, a third founding supporting organization, contributed to the production of the 2009 ACUPCC annual report.