Academic journal article Contemporary Economic Policy

Do Actions Speak as Loud as Words? Commitments to "Going Green" on Campus

Academic journal article Contemporary Economic Policy

Do Actions Speak as Loud as Words? Commitments to "Going Green" on Campus

Article excerpt

Signatories to the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) pledge to pursue a path toward carbon neutrality through the choice of a set of Tangible Actions (TAs). The actions can be chosen either because they will lead to reductions or because they are the easiest to achieve. By exploiting the variation in the TAs chosen by colleges, we find evidence for both of these motivations. We find evidence that schools focusing their efforts on improving energy efficiency have achieved swift reductions. Conversely, schools pledging to use green power are generally already utilizing it and therefore do not achieve additional reductions. We conclude with suggestions for improvement in the ACUPCC reporting system that would improve potential for analysis. (JEL Q01, Q40, Q56)


In 2007, a group of 152 college and university presidents signed the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), a commitment to pursue the goal of carbon neutrality on their campuses. Since then, 525 additional colleges and universities have signed on. (1) Signatories agree to provide greenhouse gas inventories of their campuses, and once an institution has signed the agreement, it must follow up by committing to a set of Tangible Actions (TAs) undertaken to reduce its emissions. But do these voluntary commitments actually lead to tangible reductions in carbon emissions, or are they symbolic steps, chosen because they will be easy to achieve? This article represents, to our knowledge, the first attempt to assess whether these TAs are associated with significant reductions in emissions.

The decision to sign the ACUPCC agreement has been analyzed elsewhere (Stafford 2011). We do not focus on it here. We do not attempt to compare the emissions of signatory schools with nonsignatories, since those that do not sign the agreement do not report emissions data. Instead, we exploit the variation in TAs chosen by schools in order to assess which ones, if any, are associated with future emission reductions.

Economic theory suggests two ways to choose these TAs, depending on the objective of the institution. If an institution is genuinely motivated to reduce its emissions, then it will choose those TAs that it believes will lead to swift and significant reductions at the least cost. If this is the case, then we should be able to identify a significant reduction in emissions associated with these TAs in the years following commitment. On the other hand, if the agreement is largely symbolic, and institutions have no real interest in reducing emissions further, then these actions should not be associated with any significant reductions. In this case, the institution would choose the TAs that it could implement at least total cost. In many cases, this may mean choosing actions that the institution has already implemented. For example, a school that already operates a public transit system may commit to providing access to public transportation. While there is nothing wrong with the institution getting credit for this action, it will likely not be associated with additional emissions reductions after commitment. However, if it is characteristic that the schools that chose this TA are generally already implementing it, then we should be able to identify a significant difference in baseline emissions associated with this TA, measured at the time of commitment. Of course, it may well be the case that a single institution chooses a combination of TAs to serve both goals.

In order to separate these motivations and their impacts on emissions, we utilize a two-stage empirical approach. In the first stage, we use a fixed effects panel estimation to compare baseline emissions of signatory institutions to their emissions in the 2 years following commitment. We find strong and robust evidence that short-term emissions reductions have been achieved by schools committed to purchasing more energy-efficient appliances (such as those with the Environmental Protection Agency's [EPA] Energy Star rating). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.