Going Green Equals Good Business. College Presidents Making Eco-Friendly Changes on Campus Say It's Not Only the Right Thing to Do, but Also the Most Financially Savvy

By Asquith, Christina | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, May 3, 2007 | Go to article overview

Going Green Equals Good Business. College Presidents Making Eco-Friendly Changes on Campus Say It's Not Only the Right Thing to Do, but Also the Most Financially Savvy


Asquith, Christina, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


The environment is hot, figuratively, and some fear, literally as well. Last February, an international panel of 1,000 scientists concluded unequivocally that humans are responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the earth's climate and could eventually trigger catastrophic global weather changes.

Since the problem is global, environmentalists say finding a solution must also be a worldwide undertaking. But first, people must act locally, and in this context, one college at a time. One group of college administrators is leading the charge, helping colleges and universities take steps to "equip society to re-stabilize the earth's climate."

The nonprofit American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment currently has more than 150 signatories, each pledging to help eliminate their campuses' greenhouse gas emissions over time and to integrate sustainability into their curriculums. The group's goal is to have 1,000 or more presidents sign the commitment by 2009. As part of the commitment, institutions must complete an emissions inventory and set a target date and milestone markers for becoming climate neutral within two years.

Dr. Anthony Cortese, co-director of the Climate Commitment program and co-founder of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, says higher education is a major force in leading environmental change. In fact, it's a $317 billion-a-year industry that employs millions of people and spends billions of dollars annually on fuel, energy and infrastructure. ACUP signatories say they hope their efforts will send a message to students that they must take responsibility for maintaining the environment.

"If higher education is not relevant to solving the crisis of global warming, it is not relevant, period," says David Hales, president of the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine, and an ACUP member.

The growing support of the Climate Commitment is just one indicator that eco-consciousness is being taken seriously by college leadership. By joining the commitment, available at www.presi dentsdimatecommitment.org, the presidents promise to cut carbon emissions, make new campus construction green, install wind, solar and geothermal power systems and encourage better transit systems, among other things.

"If every U.S. campus used 100 percent clean energy, it would nearly quadruple our current renewable electricity demand, create thousands of new jobs, support emerging green industries and speed the availability of innovative financing options," says ACUP's report on the commitment.

Leading By Example

Cape Cod Community College, in West Barnstable, Mass., is located in a region long sensitive to environmental issues. As a summer tourist destination, Cape Cod's economy largely depends on preserving its natural beauty.

For years, the college has had an environmental program to improve conditions at nearby Otis Air Force Base, but only recently did the administration realize that change also needed to come from within.

"Students and faculty began to say we should walk the talk," says CCCC President Kathleen Schatzberg, whose college-bought car is the popular Toyota Prius hybrid.

According to Schatzberg, the electricity bills were "killing" the college. So in 1999, they decided to turn to hydrogen power. The fuel cell cost $1 million to install, but the performance contract promised that the installation costs would be covered by the money the school saved on its energy bill. Although the cell was expected to last 20 years, it died after five. Thanks to the contract, the school wasn't left holding the bill. Because of that safety net, Schatzberg says she doesn't consider the experiment a failure.

"We had hoped for 20 years. But we realized that there's a need to find places to try this stuff out--a stage between research development and mass market," she says. …

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