Frequently Asked Questions

Becoming Part of the Climate Leadership Network

My institution is interested in signing one of the Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments, why should we sign?

The presidents and chancellors signing the Commitments are publicly demonstrating with their actions that addressing climate and sustainability issues are central to the education, research, and service mission of higher education to help create a thriving and civil society. The presidents are making these Commitments because of the scientific consensus, largely coming from higher education’s experts, that reversing and becoming more resilient to climate disruption is an urgent priority to accelerate human progress in the US and the world. The focus is on serving as role-models for the rest of society in demonstrating that shifting away from fossil fuels can provide economic and other social benefits, as well as the environmental benefits needed to support our large and growing global civilization.

The structure of the Commitments is specifically designed to avoid a one-size-fits-all approach, allowing each school to make their climate action plan with their own target date for climate neutrality or steps to increase resilience. This flexibility allows for solutions to be feasible, cost-effective, and right for their given circumstances. While non-prescriptive with regard to how schools go about achieving their goals, it has the advantage of enabling schools to work within a common framework to develop their unique plans, which will provide the benefits of benchmarking, developing common standards, sharing best practices, avoiding repeating mistakes, and creating resources that can be useful in a variety of situations.

We are already addressing climate change on our campus. What do we have to gain by signing one of the Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments?

The magnitude of the transformation to a low carbon and resilient economy is so great that purposeful, collective action by higher education is necessary for scaling this effort in addition to the excellent work that is already being done by individual campuses. This challenge is too large and complex for any one campus to solve on its own – the important individual efforts must be complemented and enhanced through collective action.

There is a tremendous power of collective action of this kind, and each school that commits builds positive momentum, having a greater impact than would be possible acting alone. The network is sending strong signals to other sectors of society, from business to government. It is driving technology and service providers to develop new offerings because they can more clearly see the size of the market. The fact that so many schools have joined together is driving new technologies and tools, enabling economies of scale, and allowing schools to address this challenge with less capital up front.

Can leaders other than the President or Chancellor sign the Commitment(s) on behalf of our institution?

No, please direct President, Chancellor, or senior most leader to sign the Commitments.

Second Nature is happy to work with each institution’s diverse set of stakeholders ranging from staff, alumni, students, faculty and more who may be involved in deciding to commit to climate leadership and then those involved in implementing the Commitments. Please contact [email protected] for any support.

Is there a cost to being part of the Climate Leadership Network?

Only signatories of the Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments are part of the Climate Leadership Network. The costs needed to meet the requirements of the Commitments, such as measuring emissions, creating and implementing a climate action plans, will vary between schools and over time. However, there is considerable evidence and many case-studies that demonstrate attractive returns on investment for emissions reduction activities.

The Climate Leadership Network provides a community-wide framework and strategic perspective, without which ad hoc efforts around climate in academics and operations can cost more and be less effective. As regulations are developed, energy costs grow more volatile, and prospective students increasingly demand education on climate issues and sustainability, the potential costs of delays and inaction are far higher than any opportunity costs associated with foresighted, proactive investments today. Efforts to reduce GHG emissions and increase resilience should be viewed as investments, not costs, as they improve quality of life and the educational experience, and avoid long-term costs.

Demonstrating the importance that the Commitments play as a catalytic force on campus, and reflecting the value of participating in a leading national network, signatories support the network through the payment of annual dues. The dues are structured so that smaller and less resourced institutions pay lower amounts. Signatories also have opportunities to be recognized as Honor Society dues contributors if they can offer more financial support. More information can be found on our dues payment page.

Is Second Nature or the Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments an Association or Membership Organization? 

The short answer is no. Traditional membership organizations and professional associations serve an important role in providing each member a discrete set of direct services. Members may enter into and out of a membership organization on an annual basis at their own discretion.

In contrast, Second Nature does not have any organizational or individual members. Instead, Second Nature supports signatories of the Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments, a collective action taken by the president or chancellor of colleges and universities to aggressively pursue carbon neutrality and climate resilience goals. These signatory institutions are part of an alignment network known as the Climate Leadership Network. Alignment networks like the one overseen by Second Nature, are not entered into for the short-term but contain rigor and long-term, sustained action steps.

Second Nature cannot alone provide all the resources necessary to solve the climate crisis and signatories cannot solve the climate crisis in isolation. All signatories generate valuable resources and innovations that can then quickly and efficiently be magnified across the Network. Second Nature’s primary role in the Network is to encourage this sustained action, provide scaled solutions and opportunities for the Network to generate increased value that they couldn’t do in isolation.

By acting together, the Climate Leadership Network has made significant progress and impact toward climate goals. See the initiatives page for recent examples of the Network’s scaled activities.

What do annual signatory dues support? 

Dues to Second Nature support activity that continues to drive the Network forward to meet the shared Commitments more efficiently and effectively. We create scaled opportunities for the Network like those mentioned directly above, but we also understand that campus-specific resources and services are valued by signatories – some examples include:

What happens if a signatory decides to withdraw from one of the Commitments voluntarily?  

The Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments are voluntarily signed by a President or Chancellor on behalf of an institution and carry over during leadership transitions. While we hope to avoid this, in order to withdraw from a commitment the reason why must be stated in a formal written communication directly from the President of Chancellor of the institution. Please address the email or letter to:

President Tim Carter

Second Nature

160 Alewife Brook Pkwy #1182

Cambridge, MA 02138

or to [email protected].

Once received, Second Nature will initiate a process of removing the signatory from the website and reporting platform (submitted data will be retained) and a confirmation will be sent to the President/Chancellor that the withdrawal is complete. 

What happens if my institution is not in basic fulfillment with the Commitments?  

Basic fulfillment of the Commitments involves publicly submitting reports and contributing dues on an annual basis. If an institution is not in fulfillment, it will be afforded a two year grace period, and support from staff, but will be marked Inactive after two consecutive years of non-fulfillment. They will be removed from the list of active signatories in the reporting platform. Ongoing, active participation is necessary for the network to fulfill its purpose as a learning community of schools leading on climate solutions.

Can K-12 schools sign the Climate Leadership Commitments?

No, these Commitments are designed for institutions of higher education. However, there are other networks addressing K-12 schools. For example, the Green Schools Alliance has launched a similar initiative. USGBC supports the Center for Green Schools.

Is it possible for a school of our size to make the Commitment?

Assessing climate risk and making a long-term plan for eliminating GHG emissions and increasing resilience will benefit schools of all sizes along with the communities in which they sit. Institutions that have signed commitments range from the smallest to the largest. Including schools with enrollment under a few hundred, to entire systems with several hundred thousand students.

Commitment Requirements & Support

To what exactly are presidents and chancellors committing?

President’s and chancellor’s signing any one of the Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments are making an institutional commitment to climate leadership. Each Commitment has specific requirements, but generally, each signatory is responsible for:

  1. Developing an institutional structure that will be responsible for implementing the commitment requirements
  2. Completing greenhouse gas inventories (Carbon, Climate)
  3. Developing joint campus-community taskforce (Climate, Resilience)
  4. Completing a resilience and vulnerability assessment (Climate, Resilience)
  5. Completing a Climate Action Plan that includes:
    • A target date for achieving carbon neutrality as soon as possible (Carbon, Climate)
    • A target date by which defined thresholds of resilience will be met (Climate, Resilience)
    • Interim target dates for meeting milestones that will lead to carbon neutrality and increasing resilience (Climate, Carbon, Resilience)
    • Mechanisms and indicators for tracking progress (Climate, Carbon, Resilience)
    • Actions to make carbon neutrality and resilience a part of the curriculum and other educational experiences for all student (Climate, Carbon, Resilience)
    • Actions to expand research in carbon neutrality and resilience (Climate, Carbon, Resilience)
  6. Submitting an Annual Progress Evaluation on a yearly basis to Second Nature’s public reporting platform (Climate, Carbon, Resilience)
  7. Supporting the Network through annual dues payments.

For specific requirements under each commitment refer to the Commitments Handbook.

Definitions of Commitment Terms

What is carbon neutrality?

For purposes of the Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments, carbon neutrality is defined as having no net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, to be achieved by either;

a) eliminating net GHG emissions, or

b) by minimizing GHG emissions as much as possible, and using carbon offsets or other measures to mitigate the remaining emissions.

For more information see Why Carbon Neutrality. GHG emissions should be tracked for Scope 1, Scope 2, and Scope 3 Commuting/Air Travel. 

What is resilience?

Resilience is the ability of a system or community to survive disruption and to anticipate, adapt, and flourish in the face of change.

Second Nature’s definition of resilience is built on a foundation of scholarly work and pragmatic considerations. It is increasingly essential that in addition to greenhouse gas reduction actions, signatories must also ensure that their decisions are smart in the face of expected and unexpected changes and extremes in environmental conditions. These decisions should not only reduce vulnerability but also increase opportunity and value.

The critical concept of resilience is that in an era of change, it is crucial to developing adaptive capacity for a positive future. The essential components of resilience planning include:

  • incorporating short-term disruptions and long-term trends
  • understanding and anticipating challenges and opportunities
  • not only trying to survive and bouncing back, but thriving in the face of change

For more information see Climate Resilience.


My institution has just signed a Commitment, what and when is our first report due?

As a first time signatory, you must complete your Implementation Profile – due two months from your commitment sign date. After that, the Annual Progress Evaluation is due each year. For more information refer to the Commitments Implementation Handbook.

How do I gain access to submit reports to the Reporting Platform?

Your Implementation Liaison and any indicated additional Implementation/Campus Community Contacts should have been given access by Second Nature staff to the reporting platform via an email with user login information. Please log in and update the “People” section of the reporting platform with the correct additional Implementation/Campus Community Contact(s) and click “Request User.” If you do not have access to the reporting platform or the Implementation Liaison has changed, contact the Second Nature Climate Programs Team or email [email protected] for assistance.

What is the reason for doing annual greenhouse gas emission inventories?

70% of signatories are already submitting their greenhouse gas inventories on a yearly basis. Annual GHG inventories help integrate carbon accounting into the annual decision-making processes of the institution. If they remain infrequent or irregular, they tend to become irrelevant or superfluous and not recognized as an essential indicator of the success of the institution. Additionally, becoming part of the standard operating procedure is an essential part of institutionalizing sustainability practice in an organization. It will help senior administrators understand the level of time and resources needed by their staff to robustly and quantitatively measure an aspect of sustainability.

Feedback from the Implementation Liaison Leadership Circle and analysis on the number of GHG reports submitted under the ACUPCC and concluded that 1) it’s by far the most completed report with more 2500 submitted by 94% of signatories and 2) 70% of signatories having submitted their GHG report on an annual basis.

Carbon Neutrality Accounting & GHG Inventories

What emissions sources are included, and how are they calculated?

At a minimum, participating campuses should include in their inventories: (1) direct emissions produced through campus activities (known as “Scope 1 emissions”); (2) indirect emissions from purchased energy (“Scope 2”); and (3) indirect emissions from (a) student, faculty, and staff commuting; and (b) institution-funded air travel (“Scope 3”). As the inventory methodology develops and to the extent practicable, participating institutions should also endeavor to evaluate embodied emissions in purchased goods and services, including food.

Does carbon sequestration on campus-owned land count toward achieving carbon neutrality?

Institutions are discouraged from counting sequestration by institution-owned land as an emissions reduction unless they meet “additionality” requirements – i.e., that the offset would not have occurred in the absence of the institution’s action. In the case of forest sequestration, it is entirely possible that the sequestration would have happened even if the institution didn’t exist. Likewise, emissions produced from natural features on campuses (e.g., methane emissions from wetlands) should also be excluded. For more information see Carbon Management & Greenhouse Gas Mitigation.

Please reference the for further information.

What types of carbon offsets count toward achieving carbon neutrality?

Generally speaking, there are two categories of offsets: those generated from projects that reduce or avoid GHG emissions at another site, and those from projects that remove or sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Under the Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments, offsets from both categories count toward achieving climate neutrality. For more information see Carbon Management & Greenhouse Gas Mitigation.

Is my institution required to purchase carbon offsets needed to meet carbon neutrality?

No, while we recognize carbon offsets as a viable strategy to meet carbon neutrality, signatories are not required to purchase carbon offsets to reach their goal. Schools are committing to making a plan to reduce, and eventually eliminate or ‘neutralize’, net GHG emissions. It may be very difficult to imagine how to do this without purchasing offsets. However, it is possible. Net-energy positive building facilities exist and are becoming increasingly common as the green building industry becomes more sophisticated. These developments can be factored into long-term plans, and moreover, many universities can drive the research and development of these types of technologies as part of their plan. For more information see Carbon Management & Greenhouse Gas Mitigation.

Previous ACUPCC Signatories now Carbon Commitment Signatories

Why are changes being made to the commitment?

There are no significant changes to the substance of the ACUPCC. The commitment to carbon neutrality remains an essential catalyst for leading campus climate action. In October 2015, the major changes were to introduce concepts of resilience as a new Commitment and to integrate carbon neutrality with climate resilience. These changes are necessary to ensure the Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments reflect the leading thinking and actionable concepts to drive what is possible for higher education.

The most distinct change is the renaming of the ACUPCC. The name changes were necessary to ensure the commitment expansion was done as efficiently as possible and so that the existing members of the network could quickly introduce resilience into their commitment to climate leadership. The ACUPCC has been renamed to the Carbon Commitment. The commitment to climate resilience is called the Resilience Commitment. The integrated commitment to carbon neutrality and climate resilience is the Climate Commitment.

Previously, the network was also called the ACUPCC. Now, the network is called the Climate Leadership Network and to be part of the Network, the president or chancellor of a higher education institution must sign one of the three Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments. This naming clarity provides a more definite distinction between Second Nature and its Climate Leadership Network, while also providing higher education institutions flexibility for their chosen climate action activities.

It also offers an opportunity for higher education to continue to lead on the defining issue of our time and to model and innovate the climate solutions necessary to preserve a climate conducive to support human civilization.

Does our campus have to sign the commitment again?

All existing ACUPCC signatories will transition to the Carbon Commitment and do not have to re-sign a commitment letter. A new signature is only required if your institution is interested in incorporating resilience – then you may sign the Climate Commitment (carbon & resilience).

For the full text of the Commitments, please visit the Commitments.

Should I update the Name and Logo on our website and materials?

Yes! Please use the logos for only your current commitment type:

We do not require amending any CAPs or previously printed and published materials with the new branding. All signatories must submit a reviewed CAP by 2019, which can then reflect the new names and branding.

My institution signed the ACUPCC before October 2015, how has our commitment changed?

Institutions that signed the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) before October 5, 2015, are now Carbon Commitment signatories. Very little has changed other than the name. The only significant change was to remove the Tangible Actions as a required element. Many of you have done a number of these actions, but you are no longer required to do them. Your institution may opt to incorporate resilience into your commitment and become a Climate Commitment signatory at any time. As for changes to the reporting requirements that will go into effect beginning January 15, 2016:

  1. Greenhouse Gas Inventory reports will now be due annually and will be incorporated into an annual evaluation of progress. This report will be finalized at least six months before the January 15, 2017 reporting due date. It’s anticipated that the annual evaluation of progress will integrate the GHG and current Progress Report. Small updates will be made to the GHG report, and we’ll be looking to significantly reduce the number of data fields that are currently asked in the Progress Report. More on the process to develop the annual evaluation of progress will be shared in early 2016.
  2. The Climate Action Plan (CAP) is required to be reviewed, revised if necessary, and resubmitted not less frequently than every five years. Most CAPs under the ACUPCC were submitted between 2009-2014, but we feel that schools need adequate time to anticipate this change, no-one will be required to revise their CAP until at least May 1, 2019. If institutions have been signatories for five years or more and wish to review their CAP sooner, this is encouraged.

What happened to the Tangible Actions?

The Tangible Actions under the ACUPCC have been archived in the Second Nature Reporting Platform. Tangible Actions are now a resource to provide examples of efforts that can be explored our instituted early on in your Commitments implementation process. They will be updated in the Climate Implementation Guide as more examples become available. Signatories will have an opportunity to report on these activities in their Annual Progress Evaluations.


Why carbon neutrality and resilience? Why now?

The unprecedented scale and speed of climate change are already having impacts across virtually all regions of the US and globe. Impacts include adverse human health effects, drought, changing pests and invasive species, threats to croplands and yields, ecological shifts, flooding, sea level rise and many other impacts. The scientific consensus is that society must reduce the global emission of greenhouse gases by at least 40-70% below 2010 levels by 2050, with CO2 emissions peaking soon, in order to avert the worst impacts of climate change, and at the same time, we must be able to become more resilient to changes that are already occurring now and that will increase in the future.

Carbon neutrality is an aggressive goal that spurs meaningful early reductions in greenhouse gases, and that continues to push climate mitigation solutions forward rapidly. And climate resilience encompasses adapting to specific, anticipated climate change while also building healthy communities that not only survive disruption but thrive in the face of change.

Are the Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments focused only on actions to change campus operations?

No, an essential aspect of the Commitments is that signatories commit to taking “actions to make carbon neutrality, resilience, and sustainability a part of the curriculum and other educational experience for all students” and “actions to expand research or other efforts necessary to achieve carbon neutrality and research”, and to working together with the community on planning and climate action.

Our leaders of the future – the scientists, economists, authors, politicians, journalists, etc. – will need to understand and contribute to solving the sustainability challenges we are facing. Society vests higher education with the primary responsibility of educating citizens, so that civil culture may thrive. There is a clear indication. However, that college and university graduates are not being prepared to deal with the complex, cross-disciplinary problems that global culture now faces. The Climate Leadership Network is a jumping off point to promote a learning environment that provides the awareness, knowledge, skills, and values to achieve a future where current and future generations make good health, economic security, social fairness, and stability while restoring and sustaining the Earth’s life support systems.

How the Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments and STARS complement each other?

The Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments are made by college and university presidents on behalf of their institutions. Each commitment has specific requirements, but each signatory is responsible for:

  1. Developing an institutional structure that will be responsible for implementing the commitment requirements
  2. Completing greenhouse gas inventories (Carbon, Climate)
  3. Developing joint campus-community taskforce (Climate, Resilience)
  4. Completing a resilience and vulnerability assessment (Climate, Resilience)
  5. Completing a Climate Action Plan that includes:
    • A target date for achieving carbon neutrality as soon as possible (Carbon, Climate)
    • A target date by which defined thresholds of resilience will be met (Climate, Resilience)
    • Interim target dates for meeting milestones that will lead to carbon neutrality and increasing resilience
    • Mechanisms and indicators for tracking progress
    • Actions to make carbon neutrality and resilience a part of the curriculum and other educational experiences for all student
    • Actions to expand research in carbon neutrality and resilience
  6. Submitting an Annual Progress Evaluation on a yearly basis to Second Nature’s public reporting platform

The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) developed STARS®, a transparent, self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure their comprehensive sustainability performance. STARS was formed with broad participation from the higher education community and include all areas of the campus including Education & Research, Operations, and Planning, Administration & Engagement. AASHE hosts data that is submitted by STARS Participants through individual STARS Reports which are available publicly. This allows all participants to share their sustainability practices and programs with the higher education community as well as benchmark their successes over time.

Activities that are required under the Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments are rewarded with points in several STARS credits. For example, creating a climate action plan, conducting an inventory of greenhouse gas emissions, developing a climate neutrality plan, incorporating sustainability in the curriculum, and greenhouse gas reduction measures (such as providing public transportation options and minimizing waste) are all actions that contribute to fulfilling the Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments and will also earn an institution points in STARS.

Does Second Nature and the Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments take a politically partisan stance?

No, the Climate Leadership Network is about implementing and innovating solutions to the climate challenge and more effectively educating students, so they are better equipped to be successful in the new, more complex, context of the 21st century. As a non-profit, 501c3 organization Second Nature remains politically nonpartisan. We do recognize that policy is an integral part of enabling desired change, and this is different than taking adopting partisan positions. Individual presidents are free to engage politically on behalf of their institutions as they see fit, and the network serves as a venue for learning and supporting a policy that will help the Climate Leadership Network, but the effort as a whole is not a partisan political initiative.

What is the History of the Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments?

After planning sessions among a group of college and university presidents and their representatives at the AASHE conference in October 2006 at Arizona State University, 12 presidents agreed to become founding signatories of the ACUPCC. In early December 2006, these presidents sent a letter to nearly their peers inviting them to join the initiative, with the public launch of the ACUPCC in June 2007. On July 1, 2009, the ACUPCC Steering Committee requested that the ACUPCC-specific support functions previously shared by three collaborating organizations (Second Nature, AASHE, and ecoAmerica) be moved under one roof at Second Nature to streamline decision-making and increase financial efficiency. Since then, Second Nature has provided the core program functions of the Commitment including recruitment, implementation, and reporting, as well as education and training activities.

Building on the history of the ACUPCC and completing a strategic planning process with extensive feedback and input from signatories and partners, Second Nature is maturing the ACUPCC and the Alliance for Resilient Campuses (ARC) by integrating and rebranding them as the Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments. The results of these three commitments provide a more definite distinction between Second Nature and its Climate Leadership Network, while also providing higher education institutions flexibility in the climate action activities that they choose to focus on. It also offers an opportunity for higher education to continue to lead on the defining issue of our time and to model and innovate the climate solutions necessary to preserve a climate conducive to support human civilization.