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Vow to Reverse Global Warming

Urge your president to sign the Presidents Climate Commitment and join the more than 400 higher education leaders who’ve already embraced a key environmental movement.

By Apryl Motley

Kathleen Schatzberg, president of Cape Cod Community College, West Barnstable, Massachusetts, is doing her part to help make the numbers. As one of the charter signatories and a member of the ACUPCC’s steering committee, Schatzberg recruits other institutions to the effort. She also understands why some of her colleagues (possibly including your president) have concerns about signing up for such an aggressive initiative. Participation requires them to monitor and regularly report on activities designed to reduce—and eventually eliminate—the carbon imprint of their institutions. (See sidebar, “Guide to Goals,” for details of the commitment.) “What makes people most uncomfortable is that they can’t cost out the whole thing at once,” says Schatzberg. “My contention is that there will be some things that will cost up front, and there will be others that save us money.”

David Shi, president of Furman University, Greenville, South Carolina, acknowledges that his institution’s participation “requires leaps of faith and the implementation of new systems, policies, and procedures that may not be readily measurable.” According to Shi, also a member of the steering committee, institutions of higher education are better positioned to take these steps than many other organizations. “For all of their supposed inertia,” he says, “college campuses are actually nimble enough to move more quickly into this arena than, for example, most government agencies.”   

The call to action around global warming and other climate control issues has certainly been answered on campuses all over the nation (see the latest report on their activities at www.aashe.org/highlights/digest.06.php). Yet, some leaders still hesitate when it comes to getting involved with organized efforts like this one. Ed Poppell, vice president for administrative affairs at the University of Florida, Gainesville, points to two main reasons that institutions haven’t gotten on board. “There’s a perceived cost differential that everyone shies away from,” says Poppell, “and there’s still a lack of understanding about what sustainability means.”

Although definite concerns center on shouldering additional costs and making even greater changes in campus culture, Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota has answered the commitment’s call. “For the majority of the sustainability efforts that we’ve implemented to date,” says Fred Rogers, Carleton’s vice president and treasurer, “there were clear economic incentives associated with them. Moving forward, the payback may not be as quick, or there may be none at all.”

Despite the challenge before them, leaders at these institutions are ready to engage their campuses in zeroing out greenhouse gas emissions. (For information on how to join them, see the sidebar “Sign Here.”) “Signing the commitment was a natural extension…of the commitments we’d already made,” says Shi. “There was no hesitation about our participation, and we’re very excited about the next steps.” Cape Cod’s Schatzberg concurs: “Getting involved with the ACUPCC was a continuation of the work we’re already doing. We’ve come this far; why not go all the way?”

The Presidents Climate Commitment (PCC) gained traction last year with a summit meeting in Washington, D.C., and the official launch in September of participating institutions’ efforts. Implementing the terms of the commitment will mean, among other things, securing additional funding, investigating environmental factors and opportunities, and managing the campus community’s response to change. A look at what’s happening so far at several institutions may motivate you to start a dialogue on your campus to gauge interest in such initiatives.

Funding the Fight

Institutions are thinking big in seeking resources to support the work ahead. “We’ve tried to be comprehensive in our approach to funding initiatives,” says Shi. “The first and most important step was to identify sustainability as a primary strategic goal and then gain its endorsement by the faculty and trustees. This fundamental support has enabled us to locate sources of funding within the university as well as from foundations, government agencies, and individual donors.”
Furman University and others are using some creative approaches.

Foundations and collaborations. Recently, Furman received a $1.5 million grant from a Colorado-based foundation to fund the sustainability components of a new science complex. The grantor had no prior association with the university, but he had heard about Furman’s efforts to promote sustainability.

Guide to Goals

The implementation guide for the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment outlines the key elements of the commitment and highlights the conditions that must be met to remain in “good standing” within the ACUPCC.

Here is a timeline that provides an overview of the primary goals that participating institutions have agreed to complete based upon established implementation start dates of January 15, May 15, or September 15.

Consider these benchmarks when you participate in discussions with your president and other institution leaders about current and future efforts to reduce global warming on your campus.

Within Two Months:

  • Establish a committee, or institutional structure, to guide the development and implementation of the institution’s plan that includes faculty, staff, and students.
  • Select two or more tangible actions, such as encouraging use of and providing access to public transportation at your institution or purchasing at least 15 percent of your institution’s electricity consumption from renewable sources, to be completed while developing a long-term climate action plan.

Within One Year (and annually thereafter):

  • Complete an inventory and publicly report on greenhouse gas emissions using established protocols.

Within Two Years:

  • Develop a climate action plan that includes a target date and interim milestones for achieving climate neutrality. “Climate neutrality” is defined as having no net greenhouse gas emissions.

Within Three Years:

  • Report greenhouse gas emissions and progress in implementing climate action plan.

Within Four Years:

  • Continue to report emissions data annually and submit narrative progress reports every other year.

For more information and to download the complete guide, visit http://www.presidentsclimatecommitment.org/pdf/ACUPCC_IG_Final.pdf.

A unique funding source was secured through the institution’s collaboration with Southern Living magazine to construct a “showcase home” that will be totally green in terms of its design and systems. “The home will be completed in the spring of 2008 and will be open to the public for a year for tours,” says Shi. “It will be among the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certified homes (LEED is currently developing guidelines for residential buildings); and we’re expecting 30,000 to 50,000 visitors during the yearlong public phase.” Once the public showcase concludes, the building will be retrofitted to become Furman’s Center for Sustainability, which will house offices, seminar rooms, exhibit space, and offices for student interns who work with local environmental organizations.

Energy-saving performance contracts. Rather than provide funds, ESPCs reduce energy expense. Generally, contracts are made between building owners and the local energy service company. An example of this cost-cutting technique is Cape Cod Community College’s entrance into an ESPC (prior to the climate commitment initiative) with the installation of its fuel cell. The cell fed electricity into the campus grid and provided seasonal heating for the library. Since fuel cells produce electricity through a chemical reaction, carbon emissions are minimal. “We ran the fuel cell for five years as part of an ESPC,” says Schatzberg, “so there was no up-front cost to the college.” 

While the cell was in operation, the college realized savings in energy costs of approximately $190,000 per year. The unit also served as an educational tool for the college’s environmental technology program, providing students with hands-on experience working with advanced technologies. “Eventually, the cell died; it was the last model standing,” says Schatzberg. “But I am glad that, as an institution, we’re able to provide opportunities for trying out new technologies in real-world situations.”

Grants and goal-oriented campaigns. Cape Cod has brought in significant grant money from the National Science Foundation and the Massachusetts Renewal Energy Trust, among other funders.

Carleton College is pursuing grants, and the institution recently established what it hopes will be a perpetual source of funding for sustainability projects: its Revolving Sustainability Fund. The Carleton Student Association invested $17,500, which the college administration will match. These contributions will be used as seed money to fund sustainability initiatives that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Starting in September 2007, cost savings from these projects began to accrue to the fund, allowing it to grow and fund more projects in the future.

A number of institutions have taken this approach to funding environmentally friendly projects, including Macalester College, St. Paul, Minnesota; Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts; and Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts. (See sidebar “Covering Continual Costs” for more information about perpetual funds and how they might serve as a model for your institution.)

Curbing Carbon

While securing financing for their institutions’ ambitious carbon-cutting initiatives, campus leaders must concentrate on determining where to begin—or continue—in efforts that make the greatest impact. “We’re going to follow the recommendations for conducting our audit as outlined in the PCC implementation guide,” says Schatzberg, “and begin the process of estimating our carbon footprint. Then we’re going to create our own strategic plan. We’re talking about integral implementation.” Schatzberg, who was on the team that reviewed the implementation guide (www.presidentsclimate commitment.org/pdf/ACUPCC_IG _Final.pdf), would like his planning group to begin its efforts with a common understanding about specific obligations, technical issues, and key policies.

Sign Here

Signatories of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment invite you to join them in their fight against global warming. In an open letter on the ACUPCC Web site, more than 400 higher education leaders who formally support the commitment explain their belief that: “Campuses that address the climate challenge by eliminating global warming emissions and by integrating sustainability into their curriculum will better serve their students and meet their social mandate to help create a thriving, ethical, and civil society.”

If your institution’s leaders are ready to support these goals and join in the collective effort to achieve them, go to www.presidentsclimatecommitment.org/pdf/commitment.pdf to download the commitment document and instructions for its signature and processing.

Schatzberg also contends that educating students will have the biggest impact on reducing her institution’s footprint. “Students understand more than anyone that their future is at risk,” she says. “They have already developed many environmental science projects.” But, will they be willing to put down their car keys? “My biggest concern is the level of carbon emissions that is produced by people coming and going on campus,” Schatzberg says. “We don’t have a robust public transportation system here, so most people drive to campus one by one in cars. This will be our toughest challenge.”

Shi acknowledges that student automobile use will be a major issue for his institution. “Our participation in the PCC will entail even greater conservation efforts on campus,” says Shi. “We’re a suburban university, so 95 percent of students have cars because there is no public transportation available—not even a community bus system. We’ll have to develop creative ways to reduce student automobile use—and get students to think beyond their immediate knee-jerk reactions to the idea of not driving on campus.” To facilitate such thinking, Furman has formed a task force of students, faculty, and staff to undertake its carbon footprint analysis.

While Shi anticipates that some basic habits and expectations of staff, students, and faculty may have to change, he has also “tried to create a campus culture of innovation and boldness that focuses on finding creative opportunities to surmount conventional barriers and assumptions.” For example, the university is constructing a new science building that incorporates a chilled beam system to replace the traditional HVAC system. To move the project forward, Shi had to send a team to Great Britain to evaluate a chilled beam system there, since such units are not widely used in the United States. Shi describes the chilled beam unit as “compact, simple, functional, and attractive.”

Even better, its natural use of physics will save Furman money in three ways: It’s cheaper than conventional systems to install, it takes up less space, and it uses much less energy. Yet, Shi also recognizes the risk involved with such a venture. “We didn’t have a readily available model or data to demonstrate that this approach would actually work for us—in the humid South,” says Shi. But, he was willing to make the investment in both human and financial resources to bring the project to fruition.

Covering Continual Costs

For more information on how several institutions plan to establish and maintain funds to support their sustainability efforts, visit the following Web sites:

www.greencampus.harvard.edu/gclf to learn about Harvard University’s Green Campus Loan Fund

www.tufts.edu/tie/tci/Loanfund.htmto see how Tufts University manages its Revolving Loan Fund

www.macalester.edu/CERFto read about Macalester University’s Clean Energy Revolving Fund

www.aashe.org/resources/pdf/CERF.pdffor a downloadable how-to manual. Two students who led the effort to establish the revolving fund at Macalester College have authored “Creating a Campus Sustainability Revolving Fund: A Guide for Students.”

Like Cape Cod and Furman, Carleton College has begun to evaluate where to start first in fulfilling the PCC. “We have agreement on the college’s role as a corporation to educate students about these issues,” says Rogers. “But do we agree on exactly what to do? No.” The college had already completed an estimate of its carbon footprint in 2005 as part of a student project, but the administration has obtained a consultant to provide an update. And from there, the plan is to proceed with the commitment, but with caution.

According to Steven Spehn, Carleton’s director, facilities and capital planning, approximately 90 percent of the college’s greenhouse emissions come from electrical and heating sources on campus. “The technologies that we’re talking about adopting [to reduce our emissions] are changing very rapidly,” says Rogers. “You could spend a lot of money on something that seems worthwhile today that might not be in two years.”  It will take a coordinated effort on the part of students, faculty, and staff—including the business office—to determine the sequence of priorities, how to test them, and when to take risks. “We have to identify which ideas are the right ones to pursue at this time,” says Spehn. “It’s about developing an action plan that makes sense for our institution. At the same time, we don’t want to talk forever and not get anything done.”

Adjusting Attitudes

Although their sustainability commitment is quite evident, these institutions face many obstacles on the road to being green. One of the biggest ones may be in convincing people on their campuses to go out of their way—the way they eat, drink, travel, and even think. According to Shi, continuing to leverage the focused communication strategies already in place at Furman will be critical to building support for the university’s participation in the PCC. “Every campus has a different level of commitment and energy,” he says. “In our case, we were somewhat different in that, when we initially looked at our human resources for sustainability, we found that staff and faculty were more engaged than the majority of students.”

As such, Shi relied on enthusiastic faculty members to initiate serious conversations about environmental issues at Furman. Ten years later, “we have a much more symmetrical level of interest across the faculty, staff, and students,” says Shi. “We are quite attentive to communication aspects of each initiative.” For example, Shi’s senior staff meetings always include some item on the agenda relating to green practices. “We don’t go a week without discussing a new initiative or reviewing results of a previous project,” says Shi.

Full-scale communications efforts are under way at Cape Cod Community College as well. “This fall we formed a sustainability committee, which includes faculty, staff, and students as well as local alumni and business leaders,” says Schatzberg. Overall progress has been aided significantly because the college’s board of trustees has been supportive of environmental initiatives. “The board of trustees passed a motion to sign the PCC,” says Schatzberg. “They were thrilled that we were jumping into the forefront of this issue.”

Figuring Your Footprint

According to the World Resources Institute, Washington, D.C., a carbon footprint is a representation of the effect your organization has on the climate in terms of the total amount of greenhouse gases you produce (measured in units of carbon dioxide). Many of the behaviors, actions, and activities on campus generate carbon emissions, which contribute to accelerating global warming and climate change. A number of free, online resources are available to institutions for estimating their campuses’ greenhouse gas imprint. These tools are intended as a first step toward gathering information and implementing a climate action or climate neutrality plan. Here are a few sites that might help you start or continue the conversation on your campus about global warming.

Designed to help campus staff, faculty, students, and administrators document and understand the campus greenhouse gas footprint, the latest version of the Campus Carbon Calculator is now available for download at www.cleanair-coolplanet.org. This tool contains a series of spreadsheets and a user’s guide, which provide the technical information, the data input structure, and the calculations necessary to complete a campus emissions inventory. 

Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, a regional environmental organization in Poughkeepsie, New York, recently released an environmental assessment tool, the Clearwater Carbon Calculator, a pre-programmed spreadsheet available online from www.clearwater.org. Using the calculator, consumers can collect simple data about their consumption of gasoline, electricity, paper, air travel, and other products, and then determine the amount of carbon being released to the environment as CO2 and other pollutants.

The Climate Trust’s Business and Organization Carbon Calculator allows you to calculate the amount of carbon dioxide annually emitted as a result of your organization’s activities. The calculator can account for electricity and natural gas usage, vehicle use, flying, and shipping. Download the calculator at www. carboncounter.org. The Portland, Oregon-based organization offers a similar tool to assist organizations in offsetting greenhouse gases created by specific events.

In addition, a series of events have been held on campus—including professional development days and a sustainability fair—to promote sustainability in general, as well as Cape Cod’s participation in the PCC, in particular. Schatzberg wants to get faculty thinking about how they can address these issues within the context of what they teach. “People get energized when they see how issues are specifically related to them.”

This is all well and good, but the bottom line, says Schatzberg, is that “people are going to have to change their attitudes.” She cites the example of the administration’s recent decision to discontinue mowing large parts of the campus, which saved money and staff time. “People are getting used to it now,” says Schatzberg. However, initially the feedback was not as positive. Some complained that the campus looked unkempt, while others were concerned about their allergies. One of Schtazberg’s next hurdles will be figuring out a way to get rid of all the water bottles used by faculty and administrators. “How are we going to get people to put their water bottles down?” she wonders. “You’re asking people to do something that’s a little less convenient, and that’s hard.”

Carleton College has made a particular effort to reduce the use of bottled water on campus. “At a reunion, we tried to give people permanent water bottles instead of providing them with multiple bottles throughout the weekend,” says Rogers. He acknowledges that response to the change was mixed. However, Rogers is bent on continually “seeing where we can change expectations and behavior.”

Rogers and Spehn anticipate that the college’s involvement in the PCC will mean making sacrifices in finances and convenience. “We try to keep conversations going about these issues,” says Spehn, “so that we can continue raising awareness and people will understand that we’re not trying to penalize them.”

A case in point was the college’s decision a year ago to make the transition from using recycled paper 20 percent of the time to using it 90 percent of the time. Staff expressed concern that the recycled paper didn’t store or copy well and was not good for making two-sided copies. Rogers didn’t take their concerns lightly. “We tested different papers and demonstrated the quality to staff and faculty,” says Rogers. “And now we’ve got most of the campus using recycled paper.”

While the University of Florida has also taken a cultural-change approach to environmental efforts, Poppell realizes that within his institution people’s acceptance of these initiatives will run the spectrum from total resistance to complete acceptance—and everything in between. “Some are resistant to change, and others totally embrace it,” says Poppell. “It helps our efforts on campus if people are already trying to change their personal behaviors at home as well…[that] translates into a real sense of community around this issue.”

Continuing the Commitment

Demonstrating results and benefits will be integral to getting buy-in for emissions-reduction efforts on PCC-supportive campuses and for the initiative as a whole. “Every campus has a different dynamic at work at any given moment,” says Shi. “Institutions that haven’t signed are not indifferent or stagnant; it’s usually a matter of the level of campus awareness and understanding. The compelling stories of how quite different institutions are fulfilling the commitment will be one of the most powerful recruiting tools available to us.”

Bill Clinton Backs Greening Efforts
The Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI) has negotiated with financial institutions, energy services companies, and manufacturers of energy-efficient appliances to provide $5 billion to support the efforts of the signatories of the Presidents Climate Commitment. Former President Clinton announced the partnership at the U.S. Green Building Council’s Greenbuild International Conference and Expo in November. The initiative provides access to funding mechanisms, technical assistance, and discounts on state-of-the-art products from companies that have signed a memorandum of understanding with CCI. For details, go to www.presidentsclimatecommitment.org/ACUPCC-CCIpartnershipfinalrelease.pdf.

As the charter signatories officially kicked off their institutions’ pursuit of climate neutrality in September, many in the higher education community were watching carefully to see what risks were involved and whether the momentum would keep growing. “I understand,” says Shi, “that some of my colleagues are preoccupied with fiscal challenges, governance issues, and other matters. To support the PCC, leaders and their campus communities need compelling models and convenient templates. Once the first wave of signatories are able to provide such tools, we’ll see another surge of signers.”

While Shi fully supports the continued growth of the PCC, he is also concerned that “environmentalism, like similar movements for social change, can sometimes generate holier-than-thou attitudes and dogmatic temperaments.” It can be offputting to others when people become so passionate about a cause. “We must do what we can to channel such passion into constructive action,” says Shi, “such that it doesn’t deflate the higher education community’s efforts to see this [initiative] take hold.” And if not at institutions of higher learning, where will climate control issues be addressed? “Our institutions are the source of public leadership for the future and of most of the research related to climate change,” says Shi.

Shi’s fellow signatories share his view that their institutions have an essential role to play in bringing climate issues to the forefront and keeping them there. “For all higher education, we have an obligation to educate our students about the most pressing issues facing society, and this is one of them,” says Schatzberg. Essentially, the Presidents Climate Commitment is an extension of what higher education institutions do every day: Educate students about important issues now, in hopes of influencing the future. “The biggest impact that the college has on the world is our alumni,” says Rogers. “To this extent, our current and former students influence issues here on campus and in the larger world of their communities.”

APRYL MOTLEY, Columbia, Maryland, covers higher education business issues for Business Officer.