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By Stephen Muzzy, Senior Associate, Second Nature
(This article appears in the June, 2012 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)

The ACUPCC

The ACUPCC’s 5th year celebration also marks an important stage in the ongoing, unprecedented efforts of the network to publicly report on activities to eliminate operational greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and to provide the education, research, and community engagement to enable the rest of society to do the same. Because of these tremendous efforts the ACUPCC Reporting System now includes 1585 GHG reports, 465 Climate Action Plans, and 240 Progress Reports on the Climate Action Plan! Public reporting by ACUPCC signatories demonstrates transparency and integrity for each institution’s commitment and contributes to the collective learning of the network and general public. The ACUPCC Reporting System also allows signatories to track, assess, and communicate progress to their campus community and beyond, demonstrating to prospective students, foundations, and potential private sector partners that their institution is serious and transparent about its commitment to climate change and sustainability. The individual efforts taken together are demonstrating impressive results and the growing impact of the network to prepare graduates and provide the necessary solutions for a sustainable future.

Making an Impact

The ACUPCC’s earliest signatories have had more than four years to assess, plan and begin implementing their Climate Action Plans allowing them to:

  • Build institutional capacity to foster career preparedness for their students through curriculum development
  • Secure funding for and from climate and sustainability efforts and;
  • Demonstrate leadership in institutional research and innovation

Preparedness

Understanding sustainability is requisite for career preparedness in the 21st century. ACUPCC institutions are employing a range of innovative approaches to ensure that climate and sustainability issues are incorporated into the educational experience of all students.  The 240 institutions that submitted a Progress Report on their Climate Action Plan to date have reported the following data:

Curriculum

  • 76,935 graduates covered by sustainability learning outcomes.
  • 175 signatories combine to offer 9,548 courses focused on sustainability
  • 112 require all students to have sustainability as a learning objective
  • 66 have offered professional development to all faculty in sustainability education.
  • 49 have included sustainability learning outcomes in institutional General Education Requirements.
  • 37 have included sustainability in fulfilling regional or state accreditation requirements.
  • 18 have included sustainability learning outcomes, tracks, or certificates in every academic major.

Research

  • 11,223 faculty members are engaged in sustainability research
  • 119 signatories have faculty engaged in sustainability research
  • 114 have a program to encourage student climate and/or sustainability research
  • 85 have a program to encourage faculty climate and or sustainability research
  • 67 have a policy that recognizes interdisciplinary research in faculty promotion and tenure.

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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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President Barack Obama and Energy Secretary Steven Chu tour the Engineering Labs at Penn State University in State College, February 3, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Last week, in a speech delivered at Penn State University, President Obama announced the Better Buildings Initiative, which aims to improve energy efficiency and reduce energy costs. This factsheet provides more details on the announcement. The Co-Chairs of the ACUPCC Steering Committee have issued the following statement in support of this initiative:

On February 3, 2011, President Obama announced the Better Buildings Initiative, which aims to achieve a 20 percent improvement in energy efficiency by 2020, reduce companies’ and business owners’ energy bills by about $40 billion per year, and save energy by reforming outdated incentives and challenging the private sector to act.

The initiative will also include the Better Buildings Challenge, which the White House describes in the following way:

The President is challenging CEOs and university presidents to make their organizations leaders in saving energy, which will save them money and improve productivity. Partners will commit to a series of actions to make their facilities more efficient. They will in turn become eligible for benefits including public recognition, technical assistance, and best-practices sharing through a network of peers.

As Steering Committee Co-Chairs of the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, we welcome the Better Buildings Initiative and the Better Buildings Challenge.

The Better Buildings Initiative will help the country reduce emissions, save money and create jobs.  The 676 colleges and universities that are committed to pursuing climate neutrality through the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment are actively evaluating and undertaking projects to retrofit and build new buildings that are smarter, more effective and less wasteful.  This initiative will help bring more of these projects to reality more quickly.  In doing so, it will improve our higher education sector and the health and productivity of our students, while providing them with hands-on experience that will make them more competitive in the 21st century.

We expect the Better Buildings Initiative will align well with the activities of the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment network to date, and will help leverage the leadership-by-example that the higher education sector has demonstrated since its launch in 2007.   Indeed, the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment is the first sector with a critical mass of university and college scientists, educators, administrators and students committed to pursuing net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, and has developed publicly available concrete action plans to do so.  These plans include steps to ensure students have the knowledge and skills to help the rest of society do the same.

We recognize achieving climate neutrality will involve reducing energy demand dramatically through smart design, conservation and energy efficiency in new and existing buildings.  Pursuing these strategies saves energy and money and is among the most strategic steps for reducing greenhouse gas emissions as much as possible, as quickly as possible.

We applaud the President’s efforts to promote energy efficiency, cost-savings, economic revitalization, national security and American competitiveness through the Better Buildings Initiative.

– Co-Chairs of the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment

  • Judith A. Ramaley, President, Winona State University
  • Mary S. Spangler, Chancellor, Houston Community College
  • Beverly Daniel Tatum, President, Spelman College
  • Mitchell S. Thomashow, President, Unity College
  • Timothy P. White, Chancellor, University of California, Riverside

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Winona LaDuke spoke this afternoon at the 2nd UNCF Green Building Learning Institute about how tribal colleges and communities are working to create a equitable and just economy.  In order to build their resilience and self-reliance they are training technicians and renewable energy installers, putting up wind turbines and solar panels, and building healthy, efficient buildings.

At the same time they are fighting to protect themselves from a future destabilized by a continuation of the dirty energy economy by working to stop new coal plants that degrade the land and aquifers where the mining occurs, contribute to climate disruption, and create localized pollution problems like mercury in lakes and fish.

While she didn’t use the term, she touched on many of the core concepts of ecological economics – internalizing the true costs of our activities, recognizing the interrelationship, interdependence, and inseparability of human and natural systems, etc.

Winona may be best known as Vice Presidential candidate on the Ralph Nader ticket in the 1996 and 2000 elections, but she is along time rural development economist and advocate. Currently she serves as executive director of Honor the Earth, based in Minnesota that works to break the geographic and political isolation of Native communities and to increase financial resources for organizing and change.

Honor the Earth recently released a great report on Sustainable Tribal Economies (pdf) that is definitely worth checking out to learn more about the great work that is being done and could be done to create thriving tribal communities.

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“Let us put our minds together and see what life we will make for our children”

– Sitting Bull

The second of three Green Building Learning Institutes is being held in Minneapolis, MN with strong representation from tribal colleges in the region.

The highlight of the opening reception last night was an incredible dance performance from Larry Yazzie of Native Pride Dancers and his eleven-year-old son and three-year-old daughter.  Learning about their work of preserving these cultural traditions and passing them on to the next generation was a powerful reminder of the importance preserving a suitable habitat for humans on this planet and a global society that fosters, not destroys, a diversity of human cultures.

We also heard from Dr. Karl Reid who head Academic Programs and Strategic Initiatives for UNCF and Minneapolis City Councillor, Robert Lilligren, who talked about a host of exciting sustainability initiatives, including installing the largest green roof in the state and being recognized as the country’s number one biking city last year.

So far the event promises to be an excellent venue for networking and accelerating the great work that is being done in tribal communities and communities of color – and particularly the institutions of higher education that serve those communities – to create a healthy, just, and sustainable society.

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by Georges Dyer, Second Nature

Georges Dyer

The April issue of the College Planning & Management is once again focused on sustainability this year and provides a wealth of information and examples on green building and sustainable campus planning.

Topics covered include education for sustainability at UC San Diego (“Learning Green” by Rex Graham); repurposed materials for buildings at Johnson State College (“A New Use for Old Wood Bleachers” by Tonya West); and green IT at campuses across the country (“IT Is Easy Being Green” by Rhonda Morin).

Tony Cortese and I also had the opportunity to submit an article titled “The Commitment to Change” on the importance of leadership from senior administrators (in addition to all of the tremendous and necessary leadership from students, faculty, and staff) in really embedding a sustainability perspective into the culture of the institution.

In it we discuss how the 675 (now 684) signatory presidents of the Presidents’ Climate Commitment are demonstrating the leadership-by-example needed on the institutional level, but also for the higher education sector as whole, to create a low-carbon, sustainable future.  We stress the importance of continued active involvement and leadership by presidents and other senior administrators after the piece of paper is signed.  Last year, members of the ACUPCC Steering Committee developed a document called Leading Profound Change to lays out strategies and examples for doing just that.  Finally, we touch on how the ACUPCC, while nominally focused on the challenge of climate disruption, inevitably brings institutions to confront the broader and inter-related sustainability challenges – and how higher education’s leadership is vital to creating a healthy, just, and sustainable society.

It is great to see the focus on sustainability continue to grow in these types of professional periodicals.  Of course, we’re still working towards the day when we won’t need ‘green issues’ because planning, management, and professional development will have a sustainability perspective as a matter of course, but these are important and forward-looking steps towards that day.  To stay up to date on the latest news and resources on campus green building, visit the new Campus Green Builder web-portal developed by Second Nature: www.campusgreenbuilder.org.

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Gaby Rigaud recounts her experience as she wraps up a year of interning with Second Nature’s Advancing Green Building in Higher Education program. We’ll miss you, Gaby!

by Gaby Rigaud, Advancing Green Building Intern, Second Nature

Gaby Rigaud, Second Nature InternWe all have moments in our lives when we’re forced to adjust and make difficult decisions that we hope will change our lives for the best. One such moment for me came at the end of 2008. At that point, I had spent nearly four years working as a civil engineer at a Fortune 500 consulting firm in Boston, and I found myself at an impasse. Lacking both variety and a sense of purpose in my daily activities, feeling unsupported, I began to be unfulfilled in my professional life. My initial remedy was to go to graduate school to broaden my knowledge; I quickly found, though, that this would not be sufficient. I reevaluated the situation, asking myself the usual questions: “Where do I see myself in 5-10 years?” and “What am I passionate about?” This exercise resulted in a decision that most people who know and are close to me saw as irrational. My future was presented to me in a new light, and putting up new condo buildings and underground parking garages for the next 40 years was not part of it.

Thanks to my involvement with the Engineers Without Borders (EWB) chapter at Tufts, I came to realize that my pleasure lies in problem solving and in using what I know to help others. I was reminded of the reason why I became a civil engineer in the first place. Yes, bridges and buildings are impressive landmarks, but my strongest interest was in the legacy that engineers leave and the impact they have in our world. Striving to make people’s lives better and providing them with the means to help themselves in a sustainable and efficient way is one unbeatable legacy (at least in my opinion).

With that in mind, I counted my pennies and resigned from my position. In my newfound free time, I decided to accelerate my work toward the Tufts engineering Masters program I had started in a part-time capacity back in 2007. I took the opportunity to enroll full-time in graduate courses. I also wanted to break away from the typical “engineering stuff,” stay active, and explore how I could apply my skills to the world of sustainability. I looked into LEED Accreditation, and studying for the exam led me to realize that I can accomplish more by training with a focus on sustainability and societal impact.

My journey led me to Second Nature on February 19, 2009.

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