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By Georges Dyer, Vice President, Second Nature
(This article appears in the June, 2012 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer and originally appeared in The New England Journal of Higher Education on May 21, 2012 )

The ACUPCC

Preparedness. Opportunity. Innovation. These words capture the essence of higher education’s critical role in creating a healthy, just and sustainable society. Leaders in higher education are standing up to the greatest challenge of our time by providing education for sustainability and preparing graduates to create a sustainable economy. They are providing the opportunity for more students to access higher education by reigning in costs through energy efficiency and smart building. And by demonstrating sustainability solutions on campus, through research, and in partnership with local communities, they are driving the innovation needed for a true and lasting economic recovery.

Five years ago, a small group of visionary college and university presidents gathered to initiate the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC). They were motivated by their conviction that higher education had the capacity and responsibility to make a significant commitment to climate and sustainability action for the sake of their students and society.

As the ACUPCC celebrates its fifth anniversary, 677 colleges and universities are currently active members of this dynamic network, representing more than one-third of U.S. college and university students. These institutions across the country have completed hundreds of projects to reduce energy use, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and save money in the process—demonstrating powerful and necessary leadership-by-example for the rest of society.

At the same time, higher education is in crisis. Challenges of accountability, affordability, workforce preparation and relevance are sweeping the sector. The volatile global economy remains unpredictable, with ramifications for every campus. And despite our best efforts, the climate issue becomes more daunting daily.

This month, presidents, provosts and business officers will gather at American University in Washington D.C. for the 5th Anniversary ACUPCC Climate Leadership Summit. The summit will directly respond to these challenges with a theme of Economic Renewal: Jump-Starting a Sustainable Economy Through the ACUPCC.

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The American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) is celebrating five years of higher education’s leadership on the critical issues of our time, with new data from signatories’ public reports showing unprecedented success and innovation in renewable energy, curriculum, energy efficiency, green building, and financial savings. 202 institutions have submitted Progress Reports on their implementation of the commitment in the first five years, showing the following results, which are indicative of progress throughout the network.  While reports are still coming in and numbers are subject to change, preliminary analysis of the latest data shows:

  • Collectively, the ACUPCC represents the 3rd largest purchaser of Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) in the United States, with 156 Signatories purchasing a total of 1,279,765,254 kWh RECs.
  • 175 signatories report current curriculum offerings include 9,548 courses focused on sustainability
  • 67% of signatories affirmed that their Climate Action Plan has saved their institution money.  Generating total savings of $100 million dollars.
  • The 406 institutions that have submitted more than one GHG inventory have reduced cumulative annual CO2e emissions by approximately 384,000 metric tons — an average of 970 tons per year per institution
  • Reporting signatories show a total renewable energy output of 170,000,000 kwh — the equivalent of powering 14,617 American households electricity for one year.

Through the ACUPCC, higher education has become the only sector in the U.S. with a critical mass committed to the scientifically necessary goal of climate neutrality.  During the first 5 years of the initiative, over 700 colleges and universities in the US signed the ACUPCC, representing all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and every type of public and private institution (2-year, 4-year, research university).  6 million students attend ACUPCC institutions – approximately one-third of all college and university students in the United States. International initiatives modeled after the ACUPCC have launched in Scotland and Peru, and similar initiatives are being explored in Taiwan, Australia, and Hungary.

It is a rare example of a voluntary initiative that includes accountability through the ongoing public reporting process, to which all ACUPCC signatories agree.  All public reports are available on the ACUPCC Reporting System at rs.acupcc.org.

Measuring Success

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By Peter Bardaglio, Senior Fellow, Second Nature

Welcome to the October/November 2011 issue of the TCCPI Newsletter, an electronic update from the Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative (TCCPI).

Students Help Launch “Get Your GreenBack” Campaign

Six hundred student volunteers from Cornell University visited over 8,000 households in Tompkins County on October 29 to hand deliver free bags containing a compact florescent light-bulb and information on ways to save money on energy. The event marked the 20th anniversary of “Into the Streets,” Cornell’s annual day of community service – sponsored by the Cornell Public Service Center. The energy savings bags are part of an upcoming county-wide campaign, “Get Your GreenBack Tompkins,” which will launch in January, 2012.

Cornell Students go "Into the Streets" to raise awareness about energy efficiency.

Educational materials in the bag included low and no-cost energy-efficiency measures residents can take to save money, an application for a home energy assessment (worth over $400); alternative transportation options, how to buy more local food, and reduce the cost of waste disposal. The materials also provided information on the “Get Your GreenBack Tompkins”campaign, including an entry ticket for a raffle for a chance to win over $2,000 in prizes from local energy efficiency retail product providers.

The “Get Your GreenBack Tompkins” campaign is sponsored by a coalition of over 60 local organizations (visit getyourgreenbacktompkins.org for a full list) and aims to inspire every household and business in the county to take at least one new energy and money-saving step in their transportation, energy, waste, and food choices in the next year, which can save money and create jobs for Tompkins residents, and bring the county closer to its goal of reducing carbon emissions 80% by 2050. (more…)

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By Peter Bardaglio, Senior Fellow, Second Nature
(This article appears in the October, 2011 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)
TCCPI, a project of Second Nature, is generously supported by the Park Foundation

The ACUPCCEmbedded in the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) is the notion of leadership by example. By committing their institutions to the goal of carbon neutrality, the presidents who are signatories to the ACUPCC underscore the critical role of higher education in meeting the challenge of climate change and building a more sustainable future.

Universities and colleges in the United States have historically been crucibles of social change and laboratories for new ideas and creative solutions to some of society’s toughest problems. In this sense, the ACUPCC is part of a long tradition in our country. What is new, however, is the scale of the problem and the threat it poses to human civilization. Simply providing a model of sustainability will not suffice this time around. Campuses can only truly become sustainable if the communities around them are sustainable. In this sense, implicit in the ACUPCC is the commitment to not only dramatically reduce the carbon footprint of the university or college, but also collaborate with the larger community in doing so.

Tompkins County Climate Protection InitiativeThe Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative (TCCPI) seeks to demonstrate what this kind of collaboration looks like and the impact it can have on a region’s economic and environmental health. With a population of about 100,000, Tompkins County includes three ACUPCC signatories: Cornell University, Ithaca College, and Tompkins Cortland Community College. These three institutions also happen to be among the top employers in the county. At the same time, the city of Ithaca, the town of Ithaca, and the county government have made formal commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, with the latter calling for a decrease in emissions of 80 percent by 2050 and establishing an interim goal of 20 percent by 2020.

TCCPI seeks to leverage these climate action commitments to mobilize a countywide energy efficiency effort and accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy. The coalition, launched in June 2008, currently consists of local leaders from more than forty organizations, institutions, and businesses in the county organized into five sectors: business/financial, education, local government, nonprofit, and youth. Each of these sectors has selected a representative to the steering committee, which tracks the progress of the coalition’s projects and sets the agenda for the monthly meetings of the whole group.

Among the projects currently underway is an effort to explore the feasibility of a combined heating and power plant shared by Cayuga Medical Center and its next door neighbor, the Museum of the Earth. Working with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County, TCCPI has also helped to support the establishment of the Tompkins County Energy Corps, which is made up of students from Cornell and Ithaca College who carry out informational energy audits for homeowners, share information with them about state and federal incentives, and encourage concrete steps to improve the energy performance of their residences. Other projects involve the implementation of a $375,000 EPA Climate Showcase Community grant secured by the Tompkins County Planning Office and EcoVillage at Ithaca, both TCCPI members, and the rollout this fall of a countywide campaign to raise awareness about the importance of energy savings.

Perhaps the most ambitious effort undertaken by TCCPI is its current attempt to shape the economic development agenda not just of Tompkins County but the seven other counties in the region that make up what is known as “the Southern Tier.” In particular, TCCPI has called for the implementation throughout the region of large-scale commercial energy efficiency and renewable energy projects totaling $100 million.

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The Ithaca Journal in New York ran an article last week titled “Local colleges take measures to reduce carbon footprints” written by Dan Roth, Marian Brown and In Shik Lee.  The piece provides an overview of how three institutions are working together to reduce their climate impact and fulfill the ACUPCC through their engagement with the Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative (TCCPI).  They write:

 

The “Big Three” — the Tompkins County higher educational institutions — have each adopted the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from campus operations. Cornell University and Ithaca College have each pledged to meet a goal of 100 percent emissions reductions by 2050 and are currently implementing their Climate Action Plans. Tompkins Cortland Community College has submitted the first draft of its Climate Action Plan.

 

Cornell University reports that, over this past winter, new programmable digital heating and cooling controls were installed in the Cornell Campus Store. They are projected to cut energy costs by as much as $75,000 each year, about 49 percent of the store’s energy bill. The upgrade is just one of dozens stemming from Cornell’s increased investment in an Energy Conservation Initiative that aims to reduce energy use by 20 percent by 2015…

 

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Roth is sustainability coordinator at Cornell; Brown is special assistant to the provost for sustainability at Ithaca College; Lee is SUNY GREENS NY program coordinator at TC3. All three institutions are members of Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative. For more information about TCCPI, including a full list of its members, go to www.tccpi.org.


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By Peter Bardaglio, Senior Fellow, Second Nature

Welcome to the May 2011 issue of the TCCPI Newsletter, a monthly update from the Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative (TCCPI).

TCCPI Backs Plan for Sustainability Center on the Commons

Ithaca Commons

Ithaca Commons on a sunny spring day!

Members of the Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative at a recent meeting strongly endorsed the concept of a sustainability center located on The Commons in downtown Ithaca and identified the establishment of such a center as one of its top priorities for 2011.

The proposed sustainability center will foster broader community awareness and involvement in sustainability efforts in Tompkins County. Local residents, visitors, and students from nearby educational institutions can learn and interact with a wide range of sustainability projects and programs underway in Tompkins County and the Finger Lakes region.

Displays, videos and interactive exhibits will allow visitors to the center to become informed about, and engaged in, those efforts. The facility will be staffed by a program coordinator, work-study students, and volunteers, and could provide office and meeting space for sustainability projects and internships.

The Sustainability Center Steering Committee is made up of the following individuals, all of whom are TCCPI members:

  • Ed Marx, Commissioner of Planning, Tompkins County
  • Gay Nicholson, President, Sustainable Tompkins
  • Marian Brown, Special Assistant to the Provost, Ithaca College
  • Gary Stewart, Director of Community Relations, Cornell University
  • Gary Ferguson, Executive Director, Downtown Ithaca Alliance

According to the proposal, there are three major target audiences for the center: students wishing to become engaged in sustainability projects, internships, and work-study jobs; residents who want to learn more about sustainability efforts in the community and find out how they can become involved; and visitors who want to learn about sustainability in Tompkins County and the Finger Lakes region and opportunities to witness first hand some of these activities.

TCCPI’s endorsement comes ahead of a June 1 meeting of the County Legislatures’s Planning, Development, and Environmental Quality Committee.

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We are pleased to announce that the Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative (TCCPI) received the second annual “Partners in Sustainability Award” from the Cornell University President’s Sustainable Campus Committee on Friday.

TCCPI is a multisector collaboration seeking to leverage the climate action commitments made by Cornell University, Ithaca College, Tompkins Cortland Community College, Tompkins County, and the City of Ithaca to mobilize a countywide energy efficiency effort and accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy. Launched in June 2008 and generously supported by the Park Foundation, TCCPI is a project of Second Nature, coordinated by Second Nature Senior Fellow Peter Bardaglio.  Learn more about TCCPI at www.tccpi.org.

TCCPI is designed to foster the kind of cross-sector collaboration needed to create a sustainable society.  The Partners in Sustainability Award is a tremendous validation that the approach and the work of all of TCCPI’s members is having a positive impact.

For more on this exciting award, see Cornell’s Media Advisory below, and this article in the Ithaca Journal.

Cornell to present second sustainability award to Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative

ITHACA, N.Y. – In honor of Sustainability Month, the Cornell University President’s Sustainable Campus Committee will present the second annual Partners in Sustainability Award to the Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative.

The award recognizes TCCPI for its ongoing partnership in regional carbon reduction strategies. The award ceremony at the Chamber of Commerce will include remarks from Kyu Whang, vice president of Facilities Services and co-chair of the President’s Sustainable Campus Committee; and Peter Bardaglio, TCCPI coordinator.

Cornell is proud to recognize TCCPI as an effective partner in the regional effort to conserve energy and reduce carbon emissions, and specifically for the coalition’s achievements in the following areas:

  • Creation of a peer-to-peer mentoring network for leaders from government, education, not-for-profit, faith and business organizations.
  • High quality articles and opinion pieces on energy and climate issues in the local media.
  • Development of a regional strategy for achieving significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Development of financing mechanisms for homeowners and businesses to achieve greenhouse gas reduction targets

“By recognizing groups that partner with higher education institutions to advance sustainability, we build on the successes of research and teaching, and acknowledge that we must also bring together practitioners and leaders throughout the world in support new policies and practices.” – Daniel Roth, Cornell University Sustainability Manager.

Cornell’s Partners in Sustainability Award is given each year to one or more recipients who have made significant contributions to the sustainable development of New York State and the Cornell campus through collaboration with Cornell University. Award winners will be evaluated in four categories: research, regional stewardship, education and public engagement. The 2010 recipient was NYSERDA for its leadership in statewide energy conservation and renewable energy initiatives. http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/April10/NyserdaAward.html

For additional information, visit: www.sustainablecampus.cornell.edu.

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By Peter Bardaglio, Senior Fellow, Second Nature

Welcome to the April 2011 issue of the TCCPI Newsletter, a monthly update from the Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative (TCCPI).

TCCPI is a multisector collaboration seeking to leverage the climate action commitments made by Cornell University, Ithaca College, Tompkins Cortland Community College, Tompkins County, and the City of Ithaca to mobilize a countywide energy efficiency effort and accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy. Launched in June 2008 and generously supported by the Park Foundation, TCCPI is a project of Second Nature, the lead supporting organization of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC).

We are committed to helping Tompkins County achieve a dynamic economy, healthy environment, and resilient community through a focus on energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Tompkins County and EVI Awarded Major EPA Climate Grant

EcoVillage at Ithaca on a sunny day!

Tompkins County, in a unique partnership with EcoVillage at Ithaca’s Center for Sustainability Education, has been awarded a $375,450 Climate Showcase Communities grantfrom the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to fund innovative approaches to creating dense neighborhoods that enhance residents quality of life while using fewer resources.

The project will focus on three different experiments in sustainable development, including construction of a third neighborhood at EcoVillage at Ithaca (EVI), an internationally recognized cohousing community in Ithaca, and study of 26 acres of county-owned land as a potential location for a village-scale residential community that draws on the lessons of EVI.

The third project involves the Aurora Dwelling Circle, an urban infill development at the corner of North Aurora and Marshall streets in Ithaca. Builder Susan Cosentini and architect/planner Rob Morache run New Earth Living, the organization that will oversee the construction of the Aurora Dwelling Circle.

“I’m thrilled,” said EVI-CSE Executive Director Liz Walker. “This will give us the ability to translate proven concepts of sustainable community development to a mainstream audience. We hope to reach developers, architects, planners and builders.”

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By Jennifer Andrews, Director of Program Planning and Integration, Clean Air-Cool Planet
(This article appears in the February, 2011 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)

The ACUPCCOne of the questions that CA-CP still gets quite often as we support schools in their GHG inventories and climate action plans is, “What about our forests?  Can’t we count them as offsets, since they are sequestering carbon?”  You can read the initial response to that question in this article, previously printed in the Implementer.  We have since worked with Chatham University (Pittsburgh, PA) and the US Forest Service to explore in more detail the role campus forest or other green space might play in the journey toward carbon neutrality.

The results of that collaboration can be downloaded from CA-CP’s webinar archives.  They include a sample Campus Tree Policy, as well as a great deal of useful information on how to use the Forest Service’s online “I-Tree” tool to accurately assess the ecosystem benefits provided by the forest, including carbon sequestration and fossil fuel avoidance through the shading of buildings.  So far, though, our work with these partners has only scratched the service of the broader question of how campus lands might actually offset the institutional carbon footprint.  Indeed, there has been relatively little work in this arena overall.

One reason, of course, is that most ACUPCC signatories have been—appropriately—focused first on mechanisms for reducing or avoiding their actual campus emissions, and simply haven’t yet gotten to the question of how they will offset the emissions they can’t reduce, except in the broadest of terms.  (For example, many schools have gotten so far as to express a preference in their climate action plans for helping create new, local offset projects rather than purchasing offsets off the open voluntary market—a preference which would of course make projects involving campus land a subject of interest.)

The second reason is that the land-based projects or practices so far identified as having the highest potential to serve as viable carbon offsets come with a couple of thorny sticking points.  A number of agencies, firms and schools are working to overcome these barriers, which we’ll explore in a bit more depth in a moment, but there is still some significant innovation and refinement needed to ensure that these potential carbon offset mechanisms can be credible, effective and viable for ACUPCC signatories.

The first three mechanisms by which campus lands might be employed as carbon offsets are reforestation, afforestation (in other words, planting new forests on land that was not previously forested), and enhanced forest management (revamping existing practices of care and harvesting to keep trees growing for as long—and only for as long—as they increase their carbon uptake by a certain rate annually.)  All three are offset techniques for which there are methodologies in the existing offset protocols and programs (for example, CAR and VCS, both featured in other articles in this edition of the Implementer, have standards for afforestation and/or reforestation projects).  These methodologies are meant to address issues of measurement and credibility, since without such standards the way in which forest carbon sequestration is measured and credited could be too subjective.

Two additional issues particularly relevant to these kinds of forest-based offsets are synchronicity and permanence. Both of these are characteristics cited in the ACUPCC Offset Protocol as important elements of acceptable offsets.   Synchronicity—the idea that the carbon reductions (or avoidance) that occur as the result of an offset need to occur in roughly the same time frame as the emissions they are offsetting, in order to be valid—is naturally a question if one is creating new forests now to offset current emissions, since the trees in that forest will take years, even decades, to reach their full sequestration potential.  And permanence is always a hard qualification to establish for forest projects, susceptible as they are to pest infestation, fire or other natural disasters that could very rapidly and unexpectedly re-release the carbon sequestered there (though there are measures specified by VCS, for example, to account for this risk.).

These roadblocks are not stopping schools from looking at the potential of these types of forestry projects (on their land or even on the land of potential partners in the community), but it has meant that there are few if any such projects that have been implemented to date.  Cornell and  Duke universities are a couple examples of schools that have stated their intentions to explore the potential for such projects, or have actively begun researching them, but to date few if any schools have actually implemented such a project on their own lands, and only a handful have invested in such projects in other locations (Temple is one, Connecticut College is another).

A third potential offset mechanism that is getting a hard look by a number of ACUPCC schools (and others)[1] is biochar.  Biochar is similar to charcoal, except that instead of being used as a fuel, it is applied as a soil amendment and used to effectively sequester carbon in the soil.  It is produced by subjecting biomass to pyrolysis, or combustion at high temperatures in the absence of oxygen.  The process of pyrolysis can actually be optimized to generate biochar or to generate biogas.  The implication is that schools producing biomass (wood chips, but also corn stover, switchgrass, even yard waste) might employ pyrolysis to create biochar from that biomass—which can then be used both to improve agricultural soils (as an alternative to chemical fertilizer) and to sequester carbon—thus creating a carbon offset.  (It’s also theoretically possible to use biochar in energy systems that currently rely on coal combustion, or, to substitute the biogas created through pyrolysis for natural gas, or even a liquid transportation fuel in some applications.)

Much research is currently underway comparing the life-cycle use of energy to create biochar with the amount of energy use (and GHG emissions) that biochar can avoid or reduce.  The results of those analyses differ depending on the type of feedstock used, but in general the results look quite promising.[2] Beyond the technical questions of biochar’s energy and carbon balance, the economic viability of producing and using it (as either a fossil fuel substitute or a soil amendment to sequester carbon) is still being worked out.  While many experiments at a small scale are underway, there is as yet no commercial-scale biochar production, largely because the economics are not yet highly favorable.  Nevertheless, this is one potential offset technology that you should expect to be hearing much more about in the coming months and years.

Jennifer Andrews is Director of Program Planning and Integration at Clean Air-Cool Planet (CA-CP), whose Consumers Guide to Carbon Offsets was a ground-breaking publication in 2006 and continues to be an important resource on the promise and pitfalls of carbon offsets, and the basics of offset quality.  Jenn was a member of the working group that produced the ACUPCC Offset Protocol in 2008.


[1] The University of Illinois, University of Georgia, Cornell University, and the University of Colorado are a few among a growing number of schools researching the production and use of biochar.

[2] See, for example, the study published by Reberts et al in Environmental Science and Technology last year: http://www.citeulike.org/user/kmscow/article/7165547, or the presentation of their research: http://www.cns.umass.edu/biochar09/presentations/Roberts.ppt

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By Michael Jay Walsh, Ph.D. Candidate and Member of Cornell University’s COP-16 Delegation
(This article appears in the January, 2011 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)

The ACUPCC

The Sixteenth Conference of the Parties (COP-16) could have been a eulogy for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The failure to obtain a long-term legally binding agreement at COP-15 in Copenhagen substantially lowered expectations that a deal to manage global greenhouse gas emissions could be worked out by the UNFCCC. However the 2010 Conference closed on a high note with consensus being achieved on several important agreements, in forestry, financing and technology transfer.

ACUPCC UNCF COP-16

UNCF and Second Nature hosted a side event at COP-16 on the ACUPCC as a framework for advancing sustainability

At the onset of the conference, tensions were elevated as numerous countries expressed misgivings about the backroom process that lead to COP-15’s political, yet non-official, Copenhagen Accord. Trying to alleviate these concerns, the President of COP-16, Mexican Minster of Foreign Affairs Patricia Espinosa, continuously pledged transparency as agreements were drafted.

Such efforts to placate the convention attendees were drowned out on the conference’s opening day when Japan vociferously stated that it would not agree to an extension of the Kyoto Protocol, with Canada and Australia following suit. Whether or not to extend the first agreement to reduce emissions past the 2012 sunset has been a looming issue since the failure in Copenhagen to obtain a long-term, legally binding replacement for it.

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