Higher Education Rises to the Climate Challenge

July 1, 2008

The American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment is a collaborative effort to achieve climate neutrality

Forward-thinking higher-education institutions from all 50 states are building on the momentum for leadership and action on climate change through a highly visible effort: the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC). By joining the ACUPCC, colleges and universities agree to create a plan to achieve climate neutrality as soon as practically possible, and to promote the research and education needed to dramatically reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and re-stabilize the climate. Presently, more than 500 institutions across the country, representing 25 percent of the total student population, have made this commitment. The ACUPCC is seeking 1,000 commitments by December 2009 from the 4,000-plus institutions of higher learning in the United States.

In addition to their pledges to eliminate their campuses' greenhouse-gas emissions over time, the signatories of the ACUPCC are each initiating two or more of the following concrete actions while developing broader plans:

  • Adopting green standards for buildings.
  • Requiring that products purchased on campus be ENERGY STAR® certified.
  • Offsetting emissions from air travel.
  • Encouraging the use of public transportation.
  • Purchasing energy from renewable sources.
  • Supporting climate and sustainability shareholder proposals through their endowment.
  • Minimizing waste generated on campus.

According to Ron Blagus, energy marketing director at Morristown, NJ-based Honeywell Intl. Inc., "Some of these institutions have a well-articulated methodology with regard to carbon-footprint reduction, which often includes the requirement that the vendors working on the college campus also adopt the same philosophy. They might gravitate toward efficiency work or renewable energy technology because there are strong economic drivers associated with them. At some point, they might work toward behavioral issues and a more legislative approach. The ACUPCC has a desire to sign up as many universities as possible because this is a constituency that, in years to come, is going to be very influential about conservation. It's going to be very influential about dealing with global warming and about offering solutions for renewable energy technologies. With more and more institutions coming on board, the ACUPCC's role as a change agent will continue to grow and evolve."

The collective voice of the ACUPCC has already been heard by government, industry, and the public at large. Because of its growing size and the profile of the ACUPCC signatory group, it has been able to formalize a partnership with the Clinton Climate Initiative, which will provide access to $5 billion in low-cost financing for energy-efficiency projects and for peer knowledge of performance contracting in the higher-education context.

Higher education has a unique role in America, according to the ACUPCC: "It has been granted tax-free status, the ability to receive public and private funds, and academic freedom—in exchange for educating students and producing the knowledge that will result in a thriving civil society. For these reasons, higher education has a moral and social responsibility to rise to this challenge."

For more information, visit www.presidentsclimatecommitment.org.

Linda K. Monroe ([email protected]) is editorial director at Buildings magazine.

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