Gathering the Green When Going Green

Financing has been identified as a key barrier to implementing sustainability projects on campus. The ACUPCC Financing Sustainability Committee has been meeting since January 2011 to address the lack of information about available financing resources and to discuss strategies to encourage the federal government, and other funding sources, to increase support to signatories for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.

During the ACUPCC Steering Committee Meeting at the June 2011 Washington, D.C., Annual Summit, two central, specific goals around financing were affirmed: 1) To help a specified percentage of the higher education community reduce on-campus energy consumption by 50% and achieve 100% renewable energy use within a decade; and 2) to move colleges and universities away from the notion that efficient and renewable energy projects have to pay for themselves—rather, we urge our fellow institutions to allocate funding for sustainability initiatives as part of their strategic planning process. A third goal is to develop resources on the ACUPCC website to enhance its effectiveness as a clearinghouse for information to identify and secure financing opportunities for sustainability initiatives.

In support of these goals, Second Nature and the ACUPCC are partnering with the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) to research and write a white paper that will underscore the importance of higher education as a unique sector within the fabric of the nation’s economy. Colleges and universities in the United States educate more than 20 million students each year and play a critical role in the development of an educated and socially responsible workforce. In addition, institutions of higher learning are an integral part of the economic and cultural viability and strength of the communities in which they reside. Second Nature, the ACUPCC and NACUBO believe that by educating governments and business partners about the potential for progress on our campuses, we can help focus limited resources on sustainability initiatives with the biggest impact for all of society.Volunteers from the ACUPCC Financing Committee and NACUBO’s Sustainability Advisory Panel will guide the project, and a professional editor/writer will seek input from the broader community. The white paper will examine federal energy programs (at the U.S. Department of Energy or other agencies) to determine which sectors are currently receiving assistance. This analysis will include grants as well as programs involving tax code incentives not available to the non-profit sector (but having the same overall fiscal net impact on the federal budget). We plan to determine if and how these programs are being utilized by the higher education sector, and whether they meet current and anticipated needs. The goal is to present a strong argument that colleges and universities are well positioned to be leaders in moving the nation towards improved energy efficiency and energy independence and to urge both public and private sector entities to commit more resources to finance on-campus projects.

One of the keys to identifying and developing financing opportunities is gaining governing board support (for more information, please refer to the article by David McInally, Executive Vice President and Treasurer of Allegheny College, also in this newsletter issue). College and university trustees need to be fully briefed and engaged in shepherding sustainability funding proposals through what can be a complex, even unfavorable, policy-making, regulations-drafting process at the federal and state levels. Partnering with for-profit entities on environmental initiatives and identifying foundation funding support similarly benefit from active trustee leadership. Accordingly, members of the Financing Committee plan to work with the Association of Governing Boards (AGB) on strategies to educate and engage governing boards around the issue of climate change.

As with reaching most lofty goals, real change comes slowly. Colleges and universities, which serve multiple constituencies, can be resistant to the kind of broad, comprehensive policy-making that underlies environmental success. But with the ACUPCC identifying workable campus projects, inspiring buy-in from governing boards, and addressing issues of budget support, signatory ACUPCC institutions can, in turn, serve as resource models for other colleges and universities.

We can only do so, however, with your help. We invite our ACUPCC member institutions to contribute ideas and perspectives on financing sustainability and energy conservation. Help us take our message to other colleges and universities, to the halls of Congress and state legislatures, to the foundation community, and to the opinion leaders within and outside higher education.

We look forward to finding answers to the complex questions related to environmental stewardship. Going green doesn’t have to be a painful journey, but it is one that requires organizational commitment and financial planning to ensure success. We therefore thank the members of the ACUPCC Financing Sustainability Committee for their valuable work in moving the Climate Commitment closer to achieving its stated goals.

Dr. Scott D. Miller is President and M.M. Cochran Professor of Leadership Studies at Bethany College in West Virginia. He has served as president of three private liberal arts colleges during the past 21 years.