Where We Went in 2008, and What 2009 May Bring

{Julian's rundown of the best and worst of 2008 was so good we had to repost it here. Add your own nominations in the comments section below.}

Campus Highlights and Lessons for the
New Year

Julian With presidents leading the way, campuses
shifting to solar energy, record level participation in national education
campaigns and students turning out en masse to vote, 2008 was a banner year for
campus sustainability.

To sustain this momentum in the coming
years and achieve real reductions in pollution on campus, however, we will need
more support for faculty and stronger state and federal leadership. Here are our best and worst picks for 2008:


Presidents Stepped Up

By December 2008, six hundred and five college and university
presidents in every state of the U.S. had signed the American College
and University President's Climate Commitment (ACUPCC). These
courageous leaders committed their institutions to doing what the
world's scientists urge is necessary: achieving climate neutrality by
or before 2050. Although most of these commitments were secured in
2007, the real push to implement the commitment began in 2008 with most
of the signatories submitting greenhouse gas inventories and taking
immediate steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Many have also
begun to develop climate action plans, setting target dates and interim
milestones for becoming climate neutral. In the future, the signatories
have agreed to integrate sustainability into the curriculum and to make
their action plans, inventories and progress reports publicly
available. Credit for this outstanding leadership is due to Dr. Anthony
Cortese and his group, Second Nature, as well as to AASHE and
Eco-America, and of course, first and foremost, to the presidents

Butte Threw Down the Gauntlet

As she accepted Butte College's grand prize in the 2008 National
Chill Out Competition, President Diana Van Der Ploeg explained, "Our
goal is to be climate neutral by 2010 and I know that is ambitious, but
I think we can do it." The two-year community college in Oroville, CA
announced in 2008 that it had devised a plan to reduce its direct
emissions of carbon dioxide by 100% by 2015 without relying on carbon
credits. Photovoltaic (solar electric) panels, which currently generate
about 28% percent of the campus' electricity needs, will be expanded to
meet all campus electricity needs within the next several years. Butte
is also successfully moving more than a thousand commuters out of their
cars into the largest community college transportation system in
California while integrating sustainability into its curriculum.

Students Voted for Clean Energy

More Millennials (youth, ages 18-29) turned out to vote this year
than anytime since 1972 and it appears that the prospect of clean
energy and green jobs were part of the draw. By election day, the
Energy Action Coalition's Power Vote campaign had generated almost
350,000 pledges from students and other youth who promised to vote and
to hold decision makers at all levels of government accountable for
shifting to clean energy and creating millions of new green jobs. The
number of pledges collected equals about 1/10 of the total increase in
the youth voter turnout in 2008, providing a signal that youth
enthusiasm for clean energy not only translated to votes, but helped
determine the outcome in most of the swing states in the presidential

We Engaged at Record Levels

The higher education community engaged at record levels in national
sustainability initiatives in 2008. According to event organizers'
tallies, 1,365,250 students, faculty and staff at approximately 2,100
college and universities (that's more than half of all colleges and
universities in the country) participated in a range of events focused
on advancing sustainability and climate action. The largest event by
far (and the largest ever of its kind that we know of in the US on
sustainability and climate action) was the Focus the Nation teach-in
(now known as the National Teach-In) held on January 30, 2008 with an
estimated one million participants at 1,900 campuses. Other
record-breakers included the National Campus Chill Out Competition
Earth Day Awards Broadcast (13,550 participants at 330 campuses made it
the largest campus sustainability and climate action awards program in
the U.S.) and the AASHE conference (1,700 participants from 400
campuses made it the largest higher education sustainability conference
held to date and one of the largest campus environmental conferences
held in two decades). If you add the 350,000 pledges collected by the
Energy Action Coalition during Power Vote, involvement levels in 2008
swell to more than 1.7 million.


Faculty Not Keeping Pace

While many college presidents have committed their institutions to
bold action to address climate change, few faculty have caught up with
the vision and management of their campuses. A national study, Campus Environment 2008,
conducted by Princeton Survey  Research Associates International for
the National Wildlife Federation at 1,068 campuses concluded that
little if any progress has been made in educating students for
sustainability since the study was first conducted in 2001. At only a
minority of schools, for example, have fifty percent or more of the
students taken a course on the basic functions of the earth's natural
systems and even fewer have taken courses on the connection between
human activity and environmental health. Areas such as business,
engineering and teacher education still lag far behind the natural and
physical sciences in offering environmental or sustainability courses
within their disciplines. Part of the reason for this may be that only
a minority of campuses have program to support faculty professional
development on environmental or sustainability topics and an even
smaller minority formally evaluate or recognize how faculty have
integrated sustainability topics into their curriculum. Dr. Jean
MacGregor's Curriculum for the Bioregion Initiative
-based at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington-is one of the
leaders in bringing faculty from multiple institutions together to
develop best practices for educating for sustainability within and
among diverse disciplines.

States Slowed Innovation

While it is important to work towards effective federal legislation
to curb GHG emissions in the U.S., there is much that can be done at
the state level to boost innovation. Unfortunately, many states are
missing these opportunities. According to the U.S. Department of
Energy, as of 2008, only 24 states and the District of Columbia have renewable portfolio standards (RPS)
in place that require power generators to generate a specific
percentage of renewable energy by specific dates. Campus renewable
energy programs in states with strong REPS thrived this year, but their
counterparts in other states were at a comparative disadvantage,
including campuses in states with non-binding standards (Illinois,
Virginia, Vermont and Missouri) and in states with no renewable
portfolio standards at all (Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida,
Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan,
Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina,
Tennessee, West Virginia and Wyoming).

Communities Remained Gridlocked

A handful of campuses all across the U.S., including Colorado
University, the University of Montana, University of North Carolina at
Chapel Hill and the University of Washington have begun to demonstrate
ways to effectively move students, faculty and staff out of
single-occupant vehicles into more sustainable transit options. The
vast majority of campuses, however, remained gridlocked in 2008. The Campus Environment 2008
study revealed that a select few schools offered free or discounted bus
or public transit passes, carpooling or vanpooling programs, or other
incentives not to drive alone in 2008.As we seek solutions in 2009 and
beyond, Will Toor and Spenser W. Havlick's book, Transportation and Sustainable Campus Communities
(Island Press, 2004) provides an excellent blueprint for developing
greener transportation plans, transit systems, fleets and more and
Toor's article, "The Road Less Traveled," in Walter's Simpson's new
book, The Green Campus: Meeting the Challenge of Sustainability (APPA, 2008) provides additional insights.

Fossil Fuels Reigned

Although the anecdotal evidence of campuses generating clean power
on site or purchasing carbon credits or renewable energy certificates
is mounting, fossil fuels remained by far the dominant source of energy
in 2008. Eighty-six percent of schools generated no renewable energy
on-site in 2008 at all for heating or cooling; less than 8% purchased
renewable energy certificates or carbon credits to promote cleaner
energy from off-site sources; and less than 12% used wind, solar
electricity, biomass or other clean sources on site to generate
electricity. At carma.org, where it is possible to look up college and
university power plants, it is surprising how many campuses, even with
robust and visible sustainability programs, are running plants that
emit comparatively large amounts of greenhouse gases, using coal and
other relatively polluting fuel mixes.  Many of these campus plants are
listed as planning to produce similar or greater CO2 output in the
future and none indicated a planned reduction.

To Conclude:

Ultimately, a dramatic collective reduction in campus global warming
pollution was not the headline this year, but we made considerable
progress. Between hundreds of thousands of student pledges to hold
elected officials accountable for clean energy and green jobs, a
massive teach-in on global warming solutions, and hundreds of
presidents' climate commitments, 2008 signaled a wide-spread
understanding that global warming is a real problem, requiring a
willingness to set what seem like nearly impossible goals in order to
quickly cap and begin to reduce concentrations of greenhouse gases in
the earth's atmosphere.

Confucius said, "When it is obvious the goals cannot be reached,
don't adjust the goals, adjust the action steps." President Diana Van
Der Ploeg of Butte College and hundreds of other college and university
presidents all across the country have signaled a willingness to do
just that, aiming towards climate neutrality with the hard work ethic
and inventive spirit that represents the best of what we have been and
can be as a nation.

Published: December 30, 2008