UC3 Washington University in St. Louis: Campus, Students and Community Leading Together on Climate Action

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 Washington University in St. Louis.

Washington University in St. Louis is committed to being a national leader in sustainability. This core priority is threaded through all aspects of the university’s community, operations and  work as an exceptional teaching and research institution.

Washington University has invested heavily in reducing its carbon footprint and promoting sustainable practices on campus. Since 1990, energy use on the Danforth and Medical campuses has remained flat despite the square footage nearly doubling. By 2020, they aim to have lowered emission rates to pre-1990 levels.

Michael Moehn, chairman and president of Ameren Missouri (center) watches as St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson (left) and Washington University in St. Louis Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton signed a proclamation pledging to endorse regional greenhouse gas reduction targets. The signing came during a special forum hosted by the university, in which government, corporate, nonprofit and higher education leaders discussed best sustainability practices. (Photo: Joe Angeles/ Washington University)

With a continuous eye on renewable energy possibilities, the university is currently installing a new set of solar arrays on campus. Once complete, these panels will 2.2 megawatts of solar energy, making the university the top user of solar power in the St. Louis area.

As part of its commitment to alternative power source, Washington University in St. Louis recently embarked on a solar array installation project. When complete, the university will be one of the region’s largest owners and operators of solar panels. (Photo: Sid Hastings/ Washington University)

The university’s leadership recognizes that sustainability needs to be factored in at the ground level, not after the fact. On campus, there are currently a total of 21 LEED certified buildings. The ongoing East End Transformation will add additional LEED-certified buildings; faculty, staff, students and the campus community will enjoy increased green space that the project will provide.

Notably, these sustainability goals and measures were not achieved with enormous amounts of extra funding. Careful planning, as well as engagement from the campus community, made these changes possible.

Students at Washington University in St. Louis take part in the Renewable Energy Student Engagement Team (RESET). It’s a unique opportunity for WashU students to take an active part in the university’s solar panel installation project. (Photo: Sid Hastings/ Washington University)

WashU leads by example in its sustainability efforts and also sets its students up to successfully lead in the same way. The university strives to teach students through engaged and experiential coursework so that they apply and integrate their learning around sustainability.  Students have led mock climate negotiations with high school students, and have developed regional greenhouse gas inventories and proposals for on-campus solar projects. These activities enhance student learning, while engaging with community needs.

Twenty organizations, government officials, nonprofit and higher education leaders signed off on a pledge to endorse and support greenhouse gas reduction targets during the UC3 Forum hosted by Washington University in St. Louis. (Photo: Joe Angeles/ Washington University)

Washington University is proud to be part of the UC3 coalition. Read on to see how WashU is working with external partners, including corporate, non-profit and government leaders, to further its sustainability work.

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

Washington University in St. Louis knows that leading research institutions can help address and find solutions for the greatest challenges facing our planet, including climate change. Participation in UC3 is important, so that together with our peer institutions we can lead by example and share best practices to bring about lasting and positive environmental change.

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? 

We wanted to work together with leaders across industry, government and non-profit sectors to open up an honest and productive dialogue about what’s working in our region, and what can be improved upon when it comes to mitigating climate change. It was surprising that there’s much more in common among those sectors than one might initially surmise. Everyone in attendance was united behind the notion of a cleaner, more sustainable region, even if their preferred methods of achieving those goals were different.

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

A key outcome of the forum was getting as many participants as possible to agree to and sign a shared proclamation, in which they agreed to endorse regional greenhouse gas reduction targets of 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, and 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050. Twenty organizations were initial signers; additional commitments are expected.

Signatories also agreed to adopt and begin efforts to achieve specific greenhouse gas reduction targets for their own institutions, businesses, governments and organizations that will contribute to the regional goal within one year of signing the letter, if they do not already have an organizational goal.

Participants were engaged and interested in continuing to work together to share best practices and build capacity to tackle the reductions in GHGs needed to meet targets.

Who attended your forum (stakeholders)? What were some of the climate priorities identified? What do you envision for the future with this groups of stakeholders? 

Executive leaders from nearly 30 government, nonprofit, corporate and public sector organizations attended our Forum. They shared their current efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change, and through a series of facilitated discussions, identified ways to work together in the future to benefit the St. Louis region and accelerate climate action. Key discussion topics included building energy efficiency, the transportation sector and energy sources. More than 20 of these leaders signed a proclamation demonstrating their commitment to these issues. Our goal is that the conversations will continue and deepen, resulting in true collaboration and positive policy changes in our region.

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

We are fortunate that the St. Louis region has been working for several years to have open and collaborative conversations about sustainability in our region.  As we developed the forum, we were able to tap into those existing relationships to ensure that a diversity of voices, from small non-profits to large utility providers, were able to engage in the conversation.  Taking the time to develop relationships and listen to the goals and challenges of all involved is essential to developing a long-term collaboration.