New England Climate Leadership Alignment Initiative (NECLAI)


How can climate action help your institution achieve its strategic goals? What is the value of implementing the Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments on your campus?

Second Nature is working to address these questions through the New England Climate Leadership Alignment Initiative (NECLAI).  Building upon the Big Ten and Friends Sustainability Group’s work, NECLAI aims to help sustainability officers identify where and how their Commitments contribute to strategic priorities at their college or university.

In 2016 a cohort of signatories worked with Second Nature over several months to 1) collect and analyze their institution’s strategic planning documents and map executive leadership priorities; 2) identify whether and how the Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments contribute to these priorities; and 3) use these alignments to frame climate action initiatives on campus. Through these processes, NECLAI cohort members learned a new language for expressing the value of the Commitments on their campuses, which they used to:

  • Reinitiate conversations with executive leadership about the role of their Carbon or Climate Commitment in supporting strategic priorities;
  • Identify new allies and strategic partnerships to strengthen Commitment infrastructure, organizations, committees, or programming;
  • Better integrate their Commitments into campus-wide strategic planning;
  • Reframe existing or new sustainability planning documents around institution-level strategic priorities;
  • Deepen stakeholder understanding of the role of the Commitments in supporting their work.


NECLAI builds off of research and program development conducted by the Big Ten and Friends Sustainability Group and their consultant, Emilie Rex. In 2014, the fourteen schools in the Big Ten network were facing a reality familiar to many institutions in the U.S.:

  • Cuts in state spending per student ranged from 32.4% to 17.2% from fiscal years 2008-13. [1]
  • The previous year, 69% of graduating seniors at public and private nonprofit colleges had student loans, owing an average of $28,400 in federal and private loans combined. [2]
  • In 2011 Pew Research survey, 57% of Americans claimed higher education “fails to provide students with good value for the money their families spend.” [3]

Aware that their executive leaders were attempting to address these priorities through institutional planning efforts, the Big Ten and Friends Sustainability Group developed the Big Ten Prospectus to understand how sustainability support this work and ultimately reinforce the relevance of sustainability initiatives to their institutions’ mission. This collective, self-organized effort pooled funds from all fourteen institutions and the University of Texas to: 1) map collective priorities through an analysis of each cohort member’s strategic planning documents, 2) identify whether and how sustainability contributes to these priorities, and 3) pilot metrics to measure these contributions. The Prospectus revealed a set of processes and new language for expressing the value of sustainability to executive leadership.

In 2016 Second Nature built on these processes to create the New England Climate Leadership Alignment Initiative. This was part of Second Nature’s regional focus. The cohort consists of twelve signatories of the Carbon and Climate Commitments, representing both public and private institutions from four New England states. The schools gathered in Boston for a one-day workshop to learn and practice the priority mapping and strategic alignment processes. Following the workshop, each participant applied the processes on their campus as a means for a different end. The cohort’s findings help identify common priority areas that the Commitments can contribute to, as well as ways that this process can be applied to increase the value of and support for climate action. While this was a regional initiative, the lessons learned and resources developed are relevant to all colleges and universities in the Climate Leadership Network.


Second Nature partnered with Sustainability Consultant Emilie Rex to develop and launch this initiative in 2016.


The New England Climate Leadership Alignment Initiative aims to help sustainability officers at signatory institutions:

  • Identify mission-level strategic priorities and objectives at their college or university.
  • Increase the value of climate action by aligning Commitment activities with strategic priorities.
  • Increase collaboration and engagement with executive leadership at their college or university.


Based on the experiences and findings of the participating institutions, Second Nature has developed resources for the Climate Leadership Network outlining:

  • The priority mapping process, including examples from the NECLAI cohort.
  • The Commitment alignment process, including examples of how the Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments can contribute to executive priorities.
  • Common priority areas that the different Commitments contribute to.




[1] Oliff, P., Palacios, V., Johnson, I., & Leachman, M. 13). Recent Deep State Higher Education Cuts May Harm Students and the Economy for Years to Come. Washington, DC: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

[2] Reed, M. & Cochrane, D. (2014). Student Debt and the Class of 2013. Washington, DC: The Institute for College & Success: The Project on Student Debt.

[3] Taylor, P., Parker, K., Fry, R., Cohn, D., Wang, W., Velasco, G., & Dockterman, D. (2011). Is College Worth It? College Presidents, Public Access, Value, Quality, and the Mission of Higher Education. Washington, DC: Pew Social and Demographic Trends.