The Solutions Center identifies carbon and energy reducing activities to support campus climate action goals. The objective of the Solutions Center is to help campuses review more quickly the solutions available and to help build a presentation for decision makers to be able to assess and prioritize decisions faster in order to accelerate climate action. To learn more about using this content, visit our Solutions Center Content License and Attribution Guidelines.
Business Practices, Public Private Partnerships (P3s), Sustainability Funding Strategies
Large Net Savings
A Big Lift
These highly requested resources were generated by Second Nature to assist with writing the documents required to achieve your decarbonization and resiliency goals. We are continuously working to generate more resources in response to your requests and feedback.
RFP Templates for Sustainability Projects
The following templates can be used to write Requests for Proposals (RFPs) for sustainability projects. An RFP is a document that solicits applications from vendors interested in providing their services towards a particular project. Feel free to use these templates in any way that suits your needs. You can borrow language, use them to guide your RFP sections and organization, or fill in your information and use them verbatim. Each template will open in Google Docs. Make a copy and edit the duplicate. If you have any questions, feedback, or suggestions, please reach out to Nadia L’Bahy at [email protected].
We selected climate action plans that exemplify planning for a variety of different institution types, goals, and methodologies. Each example includes the CAP’s strengths, special considerations for writing a plan for that category, and notes on their success with implementation.
Duke University: CAP with a near-term carbon neutrality date
Addressed the previous CAP. Because this CAP is a revision, it built upon Duke’s original 2009 CAP. For each objective, they summarized progress-to-date, addressed which goals were met, and where progress fell short. For goals that were not on track for completion, they explained barriers to success and how they planned to overcome them moving forward.
Stakeholder Engagement. The CAP development plan included a 45-day period for community comments. The CAP was distributed to 50,000 internal and external stakeholders who were invited to give feedback. These comments were subsequently reviewed, summarized, and incorporated into the CAP.
Organization and Structure. This CAP divides each category into subcategories and objectives. It provides an overview of research, progress, and challenges for each category, and then divides objectives into granular tasks marked as either complete or in progress.
Special Considerations for writing a CAP with a near-term carbon neutrality date
Honestly assess progress. Close decarbonization dates usually build on previous work. The CAP should address the original plan, summarize any progress made to date, and identify successful and unsuccessful items. The new plan should incorporate any aspects of the original plan that are not on track to succeed, as well as any new developments or constraints.
Notes on Implementation of CAP
Duke is on track to achieve a 75% reduction in GHG emissions by 2024. They plan to purchase carbon offsets to bring the remainder down to 0.
Since 2007, Duke has reduced its emissions by 43%. They accomplished this by eliminating the use of coal, increasing building and utility plant efficiency, and increasing the use of telecommunications and remote work.
They used consultants to gain professional guidance. Using external consultants helped them feel confident in their ability to achieve their carbon neutrality goals.
Duke regularly evaluated progress made towards the goals outlined in their CAP. They focused on how changing political and economic factors could influence their progress and found new opportunities for decarbonization in doing so.
Uses quantitative metrics to show the potential impact of each proposed action. This CAP provides anticipated emission reduction for each mitigation strategy. It quantifies this in both metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent and the percent of progress towards net zero. As a result, the plan realistically lays out the steps necessary to achieve its goals, defining a clear path for implementation.
The plan explains its sphere of influence. It describes how the university fits into the state of Pennsylvania, the city of Pittsburgh, and its university network. It then considers its ability to influence change in these concentric spheres.
This CAP is value-driven. It provides a breakdown of their strategy into three major themes: Enhance Academic Mission, Advance Equitable Action, and Ensure Economic Resilience. Each decarbonization strategy is connected to those three themes.
Engages a diverse group of stakeholders in the planning process. The planning committee for the PittCAP included representatives from the facilities, athletics, purchasing, and real estate departments. Including diverse voices in the planning process ensures campus-wide participation, engagement, and success.
The PittCAP makes use of compelling graphics. For example, the pie chart on page 14 shows a breakdown of 2019 GHG emissions by scope and category. This makes clear which categories are the largest sources of emissions and thus the most impactful for achieving net zero.
Special Considerations for writing a CAP for a Large School
Consider how your institution’s projected growth will impact the ability to reach decarbonization goals. The PittCAP addresses the reduction in emissions per FTE on page 16.
Make your large workforce a positive driver for change with specific delegation. Larger schools have larger staff capacity to delegate decarbonization strategies to. This CAP does a good job of identifying the actions in each strategy and listing who will lead them, as well as the key stakeholders of such changes.
Consider supporting sustainable research with green labs or smart labs. Because large schools are often research institutions, laboratory buildings comprise a large opportunity for energy reduction use on campus. The University of Pittsburgh found that while labs made up 30% of floor area, they used 60% of campus energy.
Notes on Implementation of CAP
The PittCAP builds upon the Pitt Sustainability Plan. In the 2019 Fiscal Year, they achieved a 21.2% GHG emission reduction. Read about their progress in the 2018-22 Sustainability Progress Report.
Outsources to experts and engages diverse stakeholders. Theland acknowledgement in this CAP was particularly strong because its authors enlisted the help of the Portland State University Indigenous Nations Studies Program. The planning process included a long and comprehensive agenda for stakeholder engagement across the college. When the COVID pandemic began, the school pivoted to remote stakeholder meetings with agility.
Aligns the plan with other plans and agendas, both locally and globally. The authors cite global agreements and guidelines in their decision making process. They want to train the green workforce by “affirming PCC’s global commitment to Article 12 in the Paris Agreement to enhance climate change education, training, public awareness, public participation and public access to information” (pg 2). They also integrate Climate Action Planning with other plans being developed at the institution.
Special Considerations for Writing a CAP with Consultants
Put out a request for proposals (RFP) to generate a pool of the most qualified consultants. Refer to the Second Nature guidelines on writing an RFP for climate action planning consultants.
Be clear about the goals or themes you want to prioritize. Describe your desire for climate justice and resilience to be woven into your CAP and select a vendor who has the knowledge and qualifications necessary to prioritize them.
Writing a CAP Centered Around Climate Justice
Consider the history of the land that your institution occupies, and how your current practices are rooted in colonialism. PCC’s CAP acknowledges how their climate solutions to-date use stolen land. “By bringing attention to this history, PCC brings accountability to its climate justice work. It is an active commitment that includes supporting Indigenous sovereignty; promoting honest dialogue around race, racism and colonization; and action to end systemic oppression by interrupting white supremacy culture in the many ways it manifests, degrades and dehumanizes.” (pg1)
Make the language you use to communicate DEIAJ accessible to readers of all backgrounds. PCC includes a glossary defining key terms that their audience needs to know in order to understand the CAP.
Avoid siloing social justice away from climate action planning. PCC considers how climate action can support existing social justice initiatives on campus, such as Pathways to Opportunity and Yes to Equitable Student Success.
Link climate science to impacts on marginalized communities. PCC regularly references how their goals line up with the Paris Agreement’s goal to not exceed 1.5 degrees of warming. Each time they mention the temperature increase, they also reference the impact it will have on island communities. This gives the number weight and context, reminding readers of the human lives and livelihoods that are at risk.
Make use of existing resources to help you best incorporate social and racial justice into your CAP. PCC used the Critical Race Theory (CRT) Decision Making Toolkit to help structure their meetings in an equitable way.
Take concrete steps to integrate climate justice in your planning process. PCC hosted equity trainings for their CAP taskforce participants, had an equity evaluator present at most planning meetings, used the CRT Decision Making Toolkit consensus guidelines, and consulted with the Office of Equity and Inclusion throughout the process.
Assess what your students need, and consider how those needs might intersect with climate justice and equity. “According to Temple University’s HOPE Center, more than 63% of community college students reported some basic needs insecurity in the last year,” so PCC wanted their CAP to address students’ food insecurity as part of their approach to climate resilience (pg 11). They include food sovereignty and food justice as one of their Goal 4 strategies.
Notes on Implementation of CAP
The PCC planning process included sustainability initiatives in the budget, so they were ready to apply for funding. When the college completed their strategic plan and released high-priority funding opportunities, the sustainability committee was prepared to apply. They secured funding for several initiatives, including incorporating equity in college planning, funding the adoption of strategic scheduling, replacing gasoline-powered hand-held grounds equipment with electric equipment, and investing in new electric vehicles and infrastructure projects.
They have completed and begun construction on several high-performance buildings. They recently completed construction on LEED Silver and LEED Gold building projects.
They source and generate a significant amount of renewable energy. They generate 700,000 kWh onsite annually. They also began a subscription to 10,000 MWh of renewable energy as well as a 20 year subscription to an REC program.
California State University, Los Angeles: CAP Centered Around Resilience
Carbon Neutrality Date: Operational (Scope 1&2) by 2040, full by 2045
What this CAP did well
Plan is made accessible by defining common jargon. They provide an easy to understand definition for MTCO2e.27 on page 10.
They are transparent with their emission calculations. There is a comprehensive breakdown of the calculations used to achieve their final emission numbers on page 10.
Each task is assigned to a specific department on campus. The responsible groups include Facilities Services, Planning, Design & Construction, Purchasing and Contracts Services, Housing and Residential Life, Human Resources, and the Office of the Vice Provost for Planning & Budget. By assigning a task to each group, they lend their plan more readily to action and implementation. They also rally and include broad stakeholders across campus, improving their chances of success.
Use success stories and progress as models for future improvements. They retrofitted Salazar Hall, resulting in an annual reduction of GHG emissions by over 950 MTCO2e. They want this to serve as a case study to justify the potential for retrofits to continue reducing emissions across campus. Rather than listing their accomplishments and moving on, they use their successes as starting points for similar projects.
Strong plan for addressing scope 3 emissions. Scope 3 emissions are rarely prioritized because they are in many ways outside of universities’ control. But because they make up a significant portion of CSU LA’s emissions, attempting to lower commuting emissions is critical. They generated a list of innovative solutions to reduce commutes to campus, including course schedule adjustments, improved bike infrastructure, and prime parking offerings to people who carpool.
Writing a CAP Centered Around Resilience
Consider how existing initiatives or university values can be tied to resilience. CSU integrated resilience into their campus master plan to inform future land use and development.They also structured their resiliency strategy around their four strategic planning priorities because they lined up with the four key dimensions used by the City Resilience Index. For each priority, they examined their relevant strengths and weaknesses in order to inform their strategy moving forward.
Consider providing resources to students experiencing climate anxiety. CSU expanded their mental health services to address high stress levels due to climate change among students.
Identify your top climate risks in order to inform your resilience strategy. Every strong and informed resilience plan begins with a resilience assessment. CSU found that their top challenges would be extreme heat, heavier storms and flooding, drought, and wildfires. They assigned an icon to each risk and then used those icons to indicate which strategies would address which challenges.
Leverage and/or create community partnerships. Strengthen your campus and surrounding community by building relationships with local organizations. CSU has an entire section in their resilience plan dedicated to community partnerships. They describe each organization they want to work with and outline the nature of the support they can exchange with each.
Delegate your resilience strategies. Assigning each task to a responsible party will increase the likelihood of their implementation.
Notes on Implementation of CAP
Cal State LA had already reduced their GHG emissions to below 1990 levels at time of writing this CAP. During this time, they increased in size from 2.4 to 3.1 million gross square feet. They effectively reduced their energy use index by 17%.
Provides a timeline for each goal. They organize their recommendations by immediate opportunities, recommendations for 3-6 years out, and recommendations for 7-16 years out. The result is a clear outline of what they should start doing immediately. It also makes it easier to track implementation.
Creates opportunities and curriculum developments for students. Lafayette developed leadership opportunities, volunteer positions, course collaborations, and environmental research efforts to better prepare students for leadership in a climate-centered future. For example, the students in their Economics 408 and Engineering Studies 451 courses contributed research and recommendations to the climate action plan through their capstone projects.
Special Considerations for writing a CAP for a Small Private School
Recognize the potential impact on your prestige and reputation. Small liberal arts colleges can attract more students with an ambitious and forward thinking-approach to climate action planning. Lafayette cites AASHE’s finding that students seek schools that demonstrate sustainability leadership. College of the Atlantic saw a 25% increase in traffic to their recruitment website upon announcing carbon neutrality. Similarly, ambitious climate action attracts and retains highly skilled faculty and staff.
Leverage your assets. Lafayette leveraged their robust engineering division by including engineering students in their planning process.
Get competitive and collaborative. Lafayette regularly references the recent sustainability achievements of their peers, other private schools similar in size. Lafayette cites their ability to reach carbon neutrality as motivation to set an earlier carbon neutrality date. They also borrow ideas and strategies from their peers, such as green revolving funds. Additionally, they hope to partner with Lehigh Valley Association of Independent Colleges to purchase off-site renewable energy, allowing the College to capitalize on incentive programs that would otherwise soon expire.
Notes on Implementation of CAP
Since releasing their first climate action plan in 2011, Lafayette has reduced emissions by 20% while simultaneously expanding enrollment, programming, and building spaces.
With the help of Coho Climate Advisors, they successfully implemented one of their CAP’s near-term goals of sourcing renewable energy through a PPA.
Glendale Community College: CAP for a Community College
Readable and accessible to a wide audience. This CAP contains a guide on‘how to use’ the document. Readers who just want a quick overview of the plan are directed to the executive summary, whereas those who want to dive into the details of the mitigation strategy can jump to Section 6. This allows readers to more efficiently find the information they need from the document. They also share the CAP early on to obtain broad stakeholder feedback and achieve transparency.
Regional perspective. Glendaleassesses their placement within the Maricopa college system and works within their District Sustainability Committee. They recognize that some larger and more expensive goals would be better achieved by working with the entire college system, such as issuing an RFP on behalf of all MCCCD colleges. They are involved with the schools, businesses, nonprofits, and hospitals in their community.
Solicit stakeholder feedback and work to address them. GCC sent out a survey to solicit feedback on their CAP. Most students felt strongly opposed to parking fees, one of the central strategies for reducing commuter-based emissions. GCC thus developed a plan for public education around why it is critical to reduce commuter emissions. They also created online discussion boards to facilitate open communication about the proposed plan.
Detailed and achievable goals. Each goal includes a list of granular objectives, a detailed timeline, and a forecast of its resulting emission reductions. They also ensure that they have the organizational capacity to achieve their goals by creating a chart for how different departments and teams will work together.
Special Considerations for writing a CAP for a Community College
Develop a plan to reduce commuting-related emissions. Because community colleges are typically commuter schools, having a plan in place to address commuter emissions is vital for achieving net zero emissions. GCC wrote a detailed plan for encouraging behavior change among commuter students which includes both “carrots” (incentives) and “sticks” (added costs). One of their strengths is that they try to understand why commuters make the decisions that they do, and to offer alternatives that address their needs. For example, they know that students are likely to commute between multiple campuses, and plan to change course offerings to consolidate schedules to one campus per day.
Notes on Implementation of CAP
The CAP acknowledges that the implementation of parking fees would be unpopular and would require budget approval. They were able to successfully implement it, and this money can be used to support the purchase of commuting offsets.
GCC has achieved a 65.27% reduction in all GHG emissions and an 83.49% reduction in Scope 3 emissions since 2000.
Tangible, measurable targets and strategies that directly result in large emission reductions. Many schools conflate sustainability planning with climate action planning. While sustainability is important, failing to make this distinction can result in a climate action plan full of goals and strategies that will not yield impactful emission reductions. This CAP is strong because it prioritizes goals for high-impact projects that would make the college carbon neutral. They also include a brief plan for tracking implementation, improving the likelihood of achieving their goals.
Straightforward and to-the-point. At only 16 pages, this CAP is efficient and concise. This makes it easier to read and understand in its entirety.
Integration with City of Oberlin and local energy utility co-op. The college plans to supply the city of Oberlin with excess energy generated by their landfill-powered cogeneration plant, thus supporting their surrounding community’s effort to move away from coal use.
Proactive creative financing. The college identified potential funding sources early on and determined which ones they were most likely to receive. This demonstrates that they have given thought to how they will pay for implementation of their plan, improving their probability of success.
Special Considerations for writing a CAP In-House
Engage a wide variety of stakeholders. In-house climate action planning should be a community effort written by and for the people it will impact. Many of those community members can stay involved through the plan’s implementation as well. Oberlin created a committee of the General Faculty to act as advisors to the administration, a liaison between faculty and administration, and a policy development group. They made sure to include all major stakeholders in this group, including students, high level administrators, faculty, and Directors of Facilities Operations.
Outline the steps required for success. Oberlin identifies 7 steps for developing a successful climate action plan at the beginning of their CAP: assemble a committee, develop a GHG inventory, prioritize mitigation opportunities, set GHG reduction targets, develop educational and community outreach programs, identify and implement financing strategies, and track progress. They structure the remainder of their plan around these 7 steps.
Oberlin has made significant progress towards their goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2025. They have implemented a geothermal heating system and achieved a 48.87% reduction in emissions.
General Reminders When Writing a CAP
Consider how Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) will be addressed in your climate action plan. Climate justice should be integral to climate action planning. Your plan and chosen decarbonization solutions should prioritize equity.
Consider how climate change will impact your campus region, and include steps to prepare for it. A strong Climate Action Plan will include resilience considerations.
Assign tasks. A CAP that breaks down large goals into granular tasks, with a person or organization assigned to each task, more readily lend themselves to immediate action.
Consider your format, grammar, and style. These factors will all contribute to the overall readability of your climate action plan. Typos and grammatical errors can reduce the clarity of your CAP. Consider a format that will allow users to read on multiple devices, zoom in on graphics, search for words and phrases, and copy and paste text for maximum interactivity and readability.
Keep your CAP to an appropriate length for your audience. If you want your CAP to be read by a wide audience, limit the length to 50 pages and move your more technical details to an appendix. If your CAP is meant to serve internal stakeholders, a longer and more technical document is appropriate.