Deferring Climate Committments: An Issue of Costs or Priorities?

NWF   |   March 9, 2009

A new article in the Chronicle of Higher Education (sub. req.) profiles a minority trend that could, if economic conditions persist, become a majority problem.

Scott Carlson reports that "about 25 percent of the colleges that should have turned in their
greenhouse-gas reports in September are still delinquent. Of the
colleges that had a deadline in January, nearly half have yet to file."

The American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, which has more than 600 signatories, commits schools to working towards climate neutrality, and the first step in that process is creating a public greenhouse gas inventory. As Carlson points out, it is a difficult requirement, but an easier one than those following, which include creating an emissions reduction plan, carrying it out, and integrating sustainability education into the university's curriculum.

However, between budget shortfalls and shifting priorities, many schools have failed to create or publish their emissions report, and some, like the College of Alameda in California, seem to have forgotten entirely. Many of the delinquent schools are small institutions with fewer resources or shrinking enrollments, for whom large investments in sustainability were always a stretch:

"Mr. King says Cabrillo [College] may have to
postpone plans for some renewable-energy projects, like solar panels,
that require upfront investment. The college has plans for a new
building that would be certified platinum in the Leadership in Energy
and Environmental Design program, but budget concerns may require the
college to shoot for a lower certification instead."

Many of the schools that have yet to create an inventory report that their philosophy remains unchanged, and that sustainability remains an important part of the agenda, even in difficult times. The article also notes that supporting organizations, such as Clean Air — Cool Planet and AASHE, are continuing to reach out to schools that are lagging and provide resources.

But what of the other 75%, who have reported their emissions and are now (presumably) writing their climate action plans? The Chronicle notes in a different story that Butte College, a small, two-year institution in Northern California, has just added three new solar arrays to its existing panels from 2005. The beefed-up system will generate 2.7 million kilowatt-hours of electricity annually, and is expected to save the school $32.6 million on utility bills in the next 20 years.