Monday, March 29, 2010

Fast Company & Making Sustainability Second Nature

Fast Company has featured four blog posts discussing higher education's role and progress in moving society towards a healthy and sustainable future. Co-authored by me and Second Nature President Tony Cortese, they are part of Fast Company's Inspired Ethonomics series:

Part 1 discusses how higher education must make creating a healthy, just, and sustainable society an overarching goal of higher education, and how the concept of sustainability, as former Cornell president Frank Rhodes suggests offers "a new foundation for the liberal arts and sciences."

Part 2 covers how Higher education must lead a process of re-thinking how we operate our society. It must transform its teaching, research, operations, and service to communities, and prepare graduates - 3 million per year - for 21st century businessif we are to have a chance at a thriving, peaceful, global society.

Part 3 talks about how students must experience sustainable living first hand and be involved in helping their schools become powerful role models of sustainable practices for the rest of society. As Michael Crow, President of Arizona State University (ASU), has said of the U.S. higher education sector: "We may only have 2% of the carbon footprint, but we have 100% of the education footprint," and as some wise old Chinese person said: Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I will understand.

4. Leadership for a Thriving World
Part 4 shows how leadership at all levels - from the students to the presidents and trustees - is making real change happen in higher education. From the 665+ institutions that have joined the American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment to the Define Our Decade campaign from the Energy Action Coalition, this sector is providing much needed leadership, challenging business, government and the rest of us to follow suit.

Stay going.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

New Report Shows Bold College & University Action on Climate Disruption Provides Model for Governments

March 23, 2010 Press Release from Second Nature

While the US government and the global community have been slow to address severe climate disruption, colleges and universities are stepping in to boldly slash their carbon emissions, research and develop new technologies, and prepare students to create a safer, clean energy economy.

According to a new annual report (PDF) released today by the American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), the participating schools are working to cut a combined estimated 33+ million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year. The ACUPCC, launched in early 2007, is currently comprised of 677 schools in all 50 states and the District of Columbia - representing nearly six million students and about one third of the US higher education student population.

David Shi, President of Furman University and Co-Chair of the ACUPCC, noted, "Sustainability is one of the few enterprises that fosters collaboration among institutions. That so many schools have embraced the climate commitment is unprecedented. Such bold action on such a broad scale provides a model for the rest of society to emulate."

Recently, more than 300,000 individuals called their Senators as part of a coordinated effort promoted by dozens of advocacy groups urging the US government to pass comprehensive climate legislation. But the higher education sector is not waiting for uncertain government action.

ACUPCC schools, growing in numbers each month, have conducted greenhouse gas inventories and developed comprehensive climate action plans for their own institutions. Their bold commitments are voluntary and transparent, with public reporting submitted to the ACUPCC online Reporting System. The higher education sector is the first in society to substantially pursue climate neutrality.

Colleges & Universities Slashing Carbon Emissions
According to the new ACUPCC report, 66% of the participating ACUPCC schools have determined that they will reach climate neutrality in their campus operations by or well before 2050. Relative to its 2005 baseline, the University of Florida is working to reduce emissions 3% by 2012, 17% by 2020, 42% by 2030, and 83% by 2050. The University plans to achieve climate neutrality in 2025 using carbon offsets, while continuing to reduce its internal emissions each year thereafter. The University of Wyoming is reducing emissions 15% by 2015, 25% by 2020, and 100% by 2050. Its plan incorporates behavior change, facility upgrades, and long-term infrastructure and alternative energy projects in line with Wyoming's position as an energy-producing state.

In 2007, College of the Atlantic in Maine became the first higher education institution in the US to achieve carbon neutrality. All of the school's electricity comes from renewable sources. By purchasing locally and reducing travel, the college has cut its actual emissions by about 40% over the last three years and has purchased offsets to reach "NetZero" with a plan to continue reducing its direct emissions and thereby the amount of offsets purchased over the long term.

Students Learning How to Address Climate Disruption
Central to the ACUPCC are efforts to ensure that all graduates are equipped to help society address climate and sustainability in their personal and professional lives. Wilson Community College in North Carolina offers a certificate program in home weatherization and features the use of a carbon footprint calculator in a required course. Georgia Institute of Technology's Center for Biologically Inspired Designs is conducting a research project, informed by research on honeybee colonies, on more efficient Internet hosting. Santa Fe Community College offers a solar energy certificate program through which students acquire the skills they need to find jobs in the solar and green building sectors. The Gund Institute of Ecological Economics at the University of Vermont is examining the relationships among ecological, political, and economic systems and whether the Genuine Progress Indicator is a better metric than Gross Domestic Product.

Working Beyond the Campus Gates
At Ball State University in Indiana, students and faculty recently researched and developed a new model for sustainable neighborhood renewal in Indianapolis. This Smart Growth Renewal District has been selected as one of five pilot projects in the nation to be supported by the Office of Sustainable Communities, a new collaboration among the EPA and the federal Departments of Transportation and Housing & Urban Development.

Villanova University students are designing and constructing schools, water supply systems, and small-scale electrification projects using renewable resources, together with partners in Kenya, Thailand, Nicaragua, and Honduras. A group of Green Mountain College faculty and students are looking for potential sites for solar, hydroelectric, wind, and geothermal energy in Poultney, Vermont, with the intent of creating a community energy plan for the town.

Cognizant of the significant impacts associated with the manufacture, use, and disposal of products, the University of Arkansas has partnered with Arizona State University to launch the Sustainability Consortium, which will determine a way to clearly and consistently measure product sustainability. The program, in collaboration with various NGOs and government partners, is funded by major manufacturers and retailers. Said University of Arkansas Chancellor and ACUPCC signatory G. David Gearhart, "We are excited to be involved in this ground breaking work that will change the way business is done around the world."

Many more examples of new innovative climate- and sustainability-related activities by colleges and universities are featured in the new ACUPCC Annual Report available online (PDF).

About the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment
The American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment, a high-visibility effort to address global warming, garners institutional commitments to neutralize greenhouse gas emissions and accelerate the research and educational efforts of higher education to equip society to re-stabilize the earth's climate. The ACUPCC is led by a Steering Committee comprised of more than 20 university and college presidents and is hosted and staffed by Second Nature, a Boston-based national nonprofit organization, with additional support provided by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. ecoAmerica, a third founding supporting organization, contributed to the production of the 2009 ACUPCC annual report. More information at

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Operation Free - veterans' with a new mission

One of the most exciting projects going on in our country today - along with efforts like, Define Our Decade, and the Presidents' Climate Commitment - is Operation Free. Veterans seeing the connection between costly and unnecessary wars, energy supply and demand, and climate disruption are touring the country fighting for policies that will stop sending our money into the hands of our enemies (and destroying the lives of people in countries that are "resourced cursed"):

Stay going.

Friday, March 12, 2010

350 in 2010

Save the date - 10/10/10 for a day of work on climate action to raise awareness on the need to move toward 350 ppm.

Stay going.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Define Our Decade - the gift of climate disruption

We're already starting to feel the impact of greenhouse gases emitted decades ago. In the meantime, we've continued to increase the annual rate of emissions year over year.

In other words, not only has the faucet been turned on, filling the bathtub (i.e. the atmosphere) more and more each year, we've been turning the tap so we're filling more and more each year, and faster and faster each year. Play around with Climate Interactive's C-Learn Freeware Online Simulator for a little while to see how hard that makes it for us to get the level of the bathtub back down to a safe level of 350 parts per million.

The human brain has trouble dealing with the concept of time. Decades seem like forever, until they fly by. That's why we need to Define Our Decade, set out the visions of the future we want to create, and then continuously work to make those visions a reality.

In November I attended the Society for Organizational Learning's Leading and Learning for Sustainability workshop, where Peter Senge referred to what he called "The Gift of Climate Disruption." I interpreted that to mean that because climate disruption represents such a massive threat to civilization, to all people on the planet, it also represents a great opportunity to put aside our differences, to better understand each other, and to work together to create better systems, which don't have negative unintended side-effects like climate disruption.

Climate disruption itself is just a symptom of more systemic, underlying forces at play, that taken together represent "unsustainability." Just solving that problem won't create a sustainable society. For example, if we create a miracle solution of cheap, clean energy, that could in many ways make a lot of other problems worse - it's likely we would take that solution and simply ramp up a lot of other activities that are devastating to social and ecological systems.

However, climate disruption does force us to think systemically, and to acknowledge our role in the system. Nearly every aspect of our modern economy and daily lives are dependent on fossil fuels, so we are all implicated in this problem, and all presented with the opportunity to develop better systems. As Adam Kahane has said "if you're not part of the problem, you can't be part of the solution."

So my vision for the next decade is for us all to come together and agree that we want to implement the smart, effective, safe solutions that already exist and create a prosperous, thriving, and sustainable future.

We will disagree on many of the details of how to get there, but if we can agree that we all want to do everything we can to affirm life and keep this human experiment going, and if we can work together in good faith towards the goal of sustainability, we will get there.

For me, elements of a vision of a sustainable society that I think are absolutely achievable by 2020 include:
  • thriving communities increase people's capacity to meet their needs
  • smart city design reduces transportation demand by 60%
  • renovating 75% of the existing building stock to reduce demand by 75%
  • all new construction is net-zero
  • 100% renewable electricity smart grid
  • 90% of all food travels less than 100 miles (eating habits shift and improve nutrition, urban and vertical farming abounds, permaculture design becomes the norm)
  • every job is a green job
  • global trade is fair
That's not a comprehensive vision of course... but some of the key elements of I think we can actually do in the next 10 years. Many may look at that list and think it's absurdly ambitious - even impossible. But we certainly won't even come close if we don't try, if we don't stretch, and keep the indirect implications of every decision we make as front-of-mind as possible. And I really do think it's possible. Particularly if we all slow down a bit and take the time to reflect on what is really important in this life, and how we relate to and affect other people - from our immediate family, to our neighbors, our nation, and those we may never meet, on the other side of the world and on the other side of Our Decade.

Stay going.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The 9 Billion Ton Hamster

Check out this funny clip with a decidedly unfunny message from nef, One Hundred Months, and Wake Up Freak Out via our friends at the Global Footprint Network. They say:

In its recent report, Growth Isn’t Possible, UK-based nef (the new economics foundation) concludes that it is impossible to avoid the dangers of climate change as long as economic growth continues in high-income countries.

While it is impossible to have never-ending growth of stuff, it is possible to have an endless growth of value - that's the key differentiation between economic growth and economic development. A focus on the latter, and on how we more effectively meet our needs and live more fulfilling lives is central to a strategic approach to sustainable development.

Stay going.