UC3 Ohio State University: Cultivating Resilience Research and Engaging Communities

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The University Climate Change Coalition (UC3) is an ensemble of research universities that are venturing outside their campuses to connect with local businesses, governments, and communities to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon future. This blog post is part of a series highlighting the climate action work of UC3. Up next is Ohio State University.

Pomerene, Mirror Lake dedication 2018, Ohio State University

The Ohio State University is one of the largest higher education institutions in North America.  To meet its carbon neutrality goal, it has taken actions large and small for a decade, and is planning a bold new course forward that encompasses the university’s educational mission.

Since executing a significant wind energy power purchase agreement in 2012, Ohio State has remained a Top 10 academic institution green energy power user within U.S. EPA’s Green Power Partnership program.  In addition, Ohio State established one of the few on-campus compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling stations in the nation in 2017, to power a transitioning vehicle fleet from gasoline and diesel fuel to lower emission, and lower cost, CNG.

Transportation Infrastructure Panel at the UC3 Forum

Beyond these, and many other previous energy conservation and efficiency measures, however, the university is now focused on its recently established Comprehensive Energy Management Project (CEMP).  This public-private partnership is bringing new industry expertise and financial resources to the university to meet its energy demand in different ways.  Ohio State Energy Partners (OSEP), a new entity involving the global energy company ENGIE and financial partner Axium Infrastructure, will assist the university with achieving its carbon neutrality goal.

ENGIE Energy Conservation Booth

The long-term CEMP agreement will modernize the university’s 485-building Columbus campus, from metering every building to upgrading infrastructure for an increasingly efficient use of energy across the campus.  This includes a contractual obligation for OSEP to increase building energy use efficiency by 25% within ten years.

The CEMP is bringing together the university’s energy research experts with private sector partners to develop a new Energy Innovation Center that will launch research and technology developments into commercialization for wider social benefit.

To help advance these efforts and further integrate sustainability and resilience scholarship and activities across the university, Ohio State has recently established the Sustainability Institute. The institute will not only cultivate sustainability and resilience research, teaching and learning but also will build collaborations with public and private sector partners to develop and apply sustainable solutions.

DHL Supply Chain and Ohio State plant trees toward carbon reduction goals

Read the interview below to hear how Ohio State’s participation in the UC3 cohort is allowing the university to further engage diverse players in climate action efforts and convene sectors at interactive forums to help prepare surrounding communities for climate change.

Why do you think the University Climate Change Coalition is significant? *

UC3 is significant at the continental and national scale because it attests that our research community is committed to helping overcome the challenges in addressing climate change and protecting the communities most vulnerable to that change.  The Coalition actively demonstrates that North America’s academic community will lead through innovation, teaching, and outreach.  UC3 is also a strong motivator to expand consistent engagement with a university’s external stakeholders to develop and initiate locally relevant climate change actions.

What were some of your goals going into the cross-sector forum? Was there anything about the planning or execution of the forum that surprised you?

In May 2018, Ohio State hosted a public forum called “Building Resilient Communities in a Changing Climate” with MORPC (Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission), ENGIE North America and Axium Infrastructure. It was planned and organized by Ohio State’s Sustainability Institute and the Ohio State Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center. We designed our cross-sector forum to demonstrate the range of impacts our local region needs to consider as it plans for anticipated climate change outcomes.  Public health, private and public infrastructure, and energy generation and use were all critical components of the forum’s dialog.  Perhaps most surprising was the extent to which these different sectors had not previously engaged with one another in their individual efforts to consider larger solutions.

What were the important outcomes of the forum to you? What was your biggest takeaway? Any interesting comments from participants that were unexpected?

The most important outcome of the forum was the initiation of a cross-sector dialog about climate change and its anticipated local impacts.  Climate change is not a highly visible topic at the local or regional level, so this forum helped elevate broader understanding of what the region should expect. It also launched the conversation about how our communities can begin to work better together to mitigate and adapt to those changes.  In addition, the forum established Ohio State University as a logical convener for continued dialog and program development across disciplines to advance local climate change actions.  In fact, Ohio State conducted a larger, more in depth conference in January that included a wider grouping of attendees.

Who attended your forum (stakeholders)? What were some of the climate priorities identified?

We invited representatives from academia, health care, community planning, legal, non-profit advocacy, political and other sectors around central Ohio to the forum.  Registered attendees numbered 110; of those, 80 people attended the event.  As a result of the forum, we recognized that a key need among stakeholders is broader understanding and communication of localized climate impacts.  With increased understanding of those impacts, the forum stakeholders believed more specific modeling could occur to formulate cost-effective actions and partnerships across sectors.

What do you envision for the future with this groups of stakeholders?

As noted above, Ohio State hosted a larger, statewide event in January for continued and wider stakeholder engagement in addressing climate change.  That event helped meet the original forum’s recognized need for increased understanding and communication about anticipated localized climate change impacts, and it brought in additional stakeholders, particularly the agricultural community, which has a heavier presence outside of the local region focus of the original forum.  Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, addressed the social justice impacts of climate change.  In addition, Ibrahim Abdul-Matin, an environmental policy expert and community organizer, spoke to the need for higher education institutions, Ohio State in particular, to help lead local communities towards a resilient and sustainable future.

Any advice you would give other schools interested in convening external climate actors?

Given our experience, Ohio State would make two recommendations:

  1. Convene a wide diversity of stakeholders rather than limiting the dialog to a specific sector. Our event demonstrated that, while different disciplines are thinking through climate change impacts and their response, there is less cross-discipline communication happening – which lowers the bar for what potential solutions could be addressed and for additional benefits that could be leveraged.
  2. The host university should plan time at the beginning of the event’s agenda to provide everyone a baseline understanding of what current research and predictive models demonstrate are the region’s expected/experienced climate change impacts. Attending stakeholders generally came to the forum with a basic understanding of those impacts and what it meant for their discipline.  However, by providing a detailed, current state of affairs, we demonstrated to attendees the research capabilities of the university in a way that spurred their thinking beyond what climate change meant for their discipline into what the impacts will be for their communities, neighborhoods, and regional systems.  Some of our forum’s most highly rated feedback centered on the university’s presentation of central Ohio’s realized and expected climate change outcomes.