What’s in a Name?


One of the hardest things to do before you have a baby is figuring out the name. I’ve had to do it three times and each time it wasn’t easy. Do we go old-school, new-school, trendy, traditional? Maybe just start numbering? Regardless of the process leading up to it, at a certain point you have to write a name down. Our son is named Townes after the great (but troubled) Texas singer/songwriter. They share a birthday and everything. But literally every time someone asks Townes his name, they have to ask him to repeat it. Every. Single. Time.

Why? Because it’s unfamiliar, not what they are expecting, and one they’ve probably never heard before. And this is the problem with naming kids. You have a pick something that you like, but really has nothing to do with them as a person. Even the more thoughtful, well-meaning parents who pick those admirable ones that represent “honorable”, “humble”, or “caring”, probably turn out some duds that can’t quite pull off  their namesake. Eventually everyone grows into, and associates the name with their own identity, regardless of the original meaning.

Why is this relevant to Second Nature? Well, for the past nine years, Second Nature has been a supporting organization for the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC). Most folks in higher education sustainability have heard about the ACUPCC, even if they can’t remember the name. We get it. It’s a tough acronym. Accurate, but tough to remember and say. In fact, many people know the name by how hard it is to remember. So if you are one of those who has botched the name in presenting this to your president, or you are a president who botched the name when announcing this to your students, your pain is over.

Today, as you may have heard, we have launched a new set of commitments. The ACUPCC will continue to exist in its current form, but it will now be called the Carbon Commitment. We introduced elements of resilience into our work through the Alliance for Resilience Campuses (ARC). But ARC was not anchored by a presidential commitment, and today we changed that. We introduced the Resilience Commitment, similar in format to the Carbon Commitment, but focused on climate resilience. Together, the Carbon Commitment and the Resilience Commitment form the integrated Climate Commitment. If you can imagine this in an equation (sorry, i’m an ecologist) it would be Carbon + Resilience = Climate. These three Commitments comprise our set of Climate Leadership Commitments. Once you sign any of these three Commitments you are part of the Climate Leadership Network.

No hard acronyms and straightforward naming that doesn’t try to do too much other than describe what the Commitment is. These new naming conventions are designed to simplify your descriptions and make it easier to explain what the Commitments represent. It’s important to know that all of the Commitments are made by a higher education college or university president or chancellor. That is a common feature. Additionally, despite the focus of this blog on naming, the substance of the Commitments is what we really care about. All three Commitments are designed to do more than just get a campus’ carbon emissions to zero, or increase a campus’ resilience in partnership with its community. They are about positioning higher education to make more profound and dynamic changes in society. That’s why all of them share the requirement to make these themes part of the educational experience for all students, and to expand research opportunities in new and creative ways. Regardless of the Commitment, the entire academic enterprise itself can be transformed and oriented towards broader social impact.

We haven’t taken these naming or content changes lightly, or without careful consideration of the ramifications for our schools. This is the result of nearly a year of strategic thinking, input from all of you as our stakeholders, and guidance from the presidential Steering Committee. We know the changes are necessary to ensure the Climate Leadership Commitments reflect leading thinking and actionable concepts, and drive what is possible for higher education. We believe the names represent something bigger that will only be fully realized through our collective work. They point to the opportunity for higher education to continue to lead on the defining issue of our time and, through leadership, to create climate solutions necessary for humanity to thrive.