Advancing Higher Education: ACUPCC Institutions Lead Sustainability and Climate Progress

April 17, 2012

The American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) is celebrating five years of higher education’s leadership on the critical issues of our time, with new data from signatories’ public reports showing unprecedented success and innovation in renewable energy, curriculum, energy efficiency, green building, and financial savings. 202 institutions have submitted Progress Reports on their implementation of the commitment in the first five years, showing the following results, which are indicative of progress throughout the network.  While reports are still coming in and numbers are subject to change, preliminary analysis of the latest data shows:

  • Collectively, the ACUPCC represents the 3rd largest purchaser of Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) in the United States, with 156 Signatories purchasing a total of 1,279,765,254 kWh RECs.
  • 175 signatories report current curriculum offerings include 9,548 courses focused on sustainability
  • 67% of signatories affirmed that their Climate Action Plan has saved their institution money.  Generating total savings of $100 million dollars.
  • The 406 institutions that have submitted more than one GHG inventory have reduced cumulative annual CO2e emissions by approximately 384,000 metric tons — an average of 970 tons per year per institution
  • Reporting signatories show a total renewable energy output of 170,000,000 kwh — the equivalent of powering 14,617 American households electricity for one year.

Through the ACUPCC, higher education has become the only sector in the U.S. with a critical mass committed to the scientifically necessary goal of climate neutrality.  During the first 5 years of the initiative, over 700 colleges and universities in the US signed the ACUPCC, representing all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and every type of public and private institution (2-year, 4-year, research university).  6 million students attend ACUPCC institutions – approximately one-third of all college and university students in the United States. International initiatives modeled after the ACUPCC have launched in Scotland and Peru, and similar initiatives are being explored in Taiwan, Australia, and Hungary.

It is a rare example of a voluntary initiative that includes accountability through the ongoing public reporting process, to which all ACUPCC signatories agree.  All public reports are available on the ACUPCC Reporting System at

Measuring Success

Sustainability has become a key lens for measuring success in higher education- driving society’s economic renewal by jump-starting the sustainable economy.  New findings show how ACUPCC institutions have fostered career preparedness for their students through curriculum development, secured funding for new opportunities, and shown leadership in institutional research and innovation.

  • Preparedness: Understanding sustainability is requisite for career preparedness in the 21st century.  ACUPCC institutions are integrating sustainability into education and research to ensure graduates are prepared to contribute to and create a sustainable economy.
  • Opportunity: The ACUPCC generates cost savings and new funding sources that better enable schools to reduce tuition costs and increase access.
  • Innovation: ACUPCC campuses are cradles of innovation through research, experimentation, and role-modeling solutions in operations.  These schools are putting cutting-edge design practices and technologies to work in the areas of energy efficiency, green building, water conservation, food services, transportation, renewable energy, and more. They are creating community partnerships to implement sustainable solutions beyond their campus boundary and engage students in experiential service learning.

Academic Leadership (Preparedness)

ACUPCC institutions are employing a range of innovative approaches to ensure that climate and sustainability issues are incorporated into the educational experience of all students.  The following figures are preliminary results from the latest ACUPCC reporting and represent minimum values, which will grow upon further analysis of the data.  Within the ACUPCC network, (of the 202 institutions who have submitted a Progress Report), at least:

  • 175 signatories combine to offer 9,548 courses focused on sustainability
  • 18 have included sustainability learning outcomes, tracks, or certificates in every academic major.
  • 26 have included sustainability in fulfilling regional accreditation requirements.
  • 15 have included sustainability in fulfilling state accreditation requirements.
  • 49 have included sustainability learning outcomes into institutional General Education Requirements.
  • 66 have offered professional development to all faculty in sustainability education.

Financial Savings (Opportunity)

In implementing their Climate Action Plans (CAP), ACUPCC institutions have already invested tens of millions of dollars in improving their campus infrastructure and reducing energy consumption and associated GHG emissions — as a result they are realizing significant cost-savings and securing significant funding from outside sources. In total, 99 institutions implemented projects that generated total savings of $100 million dollars.

84 signatories reported that they have secured funding from outside resources, totaling $ 169,774,421.

  • 13 Associate colleges secured $13,511,194
  • 25 Baccalaureate colleges secured $13,762,507
  • 23 Master’s granting institutions $80,752,579
  • 21 Doctorate granting institutions $59,808,141
  • 2 Special Focus secured $1,940,000

67% of signatories affirmed that their Climate Action Plan has saved their institution money.

  • 22 have saved between: $10-49k
  • 20 have saved between: $50-99k
  • 12 have saved between: $100-249k
  • 13 have saved between: $250-499k
  •  9 have saved between: $500-999k
  • 19 have saved between: $1-10M
  • 3 have saved between: $10-20M
  • 1 has saved between: $40-50M

Role Modeling Solutions on Campus (Innovation)

605 (91%) institutions have completed a GHG inventory; over 400 have completed more than one inventory. Additionally, 459 (69%) institutions have completed a Climate Action Plan.  These public reports show:

  • 10 have set a target date within the next five years (by 2017)
  • 40 have set a target date within the next ten years (by 2022)
  • 58 have set a target date within the next fifteen years (by 2027)
  • 100 have set a target date within the next twenty years (by 2032)
  • 122 have set a target date within the next twenty-five years (by 2037)
  • 155 have set a target date within the next thirty years (by 2042)
  • 326 have set a target date by 2050 (includes 2050)

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reductions

  • 406 institutions have submitted more than one GHG inventory, showing for the first time trends in higher education emissions rates over time.
  • On balance, these ACUPCC institutions have reduced cumulative annual CO2e emissions by approximately 384,000 metric tons — an average of 970 tons per year per institution
  • Of the 406 institutions that have submitted more than one GHG inventory, 207 have shown a reduction totaling more 1,621,000 metric tons
  • Extrapolating this 970-tons-per-institution average to the entire ACUPCC network, suggests the network has reduced annual GHG emissions by approximately 651,000 metric tons.
  • 28 million metric tons of CO2e will be eliminated annually when the current signatory group reaches climate neutrality.

Examples of emissions reductions at individual ACUPCC institutions over the stated time period:

Renewable Energy on ACUPCC Campuses

134 institutions produce 170,000,000 kwh of renewable energy annually. This is the equivalent of powering 14,617 American households electricity annually. These institutions have on-campus renewable energy sources – helping to make the transition to a clean and just society, and becoming more secure in a changing energy market.

  • Total Solar Output: 85,577,602 kwh annually – Solar panels on 93 campuses
  • Total Wind Output: 45,695,241 kwh annually – Wind turbines on 48 campuses
  • Total Biomass Output: 30,514,735 kwh annually – Biomass systems on 5 campuses
  • Total Geothermal Output: 5,605,323 kwh annually – Geothermal systems on 13 campuses
  • Total Fuel Cell Output: 4,504,400 kwh annually – Fuel Cell systems on 3 campuses

Climate Action Policies on Campus

  • 82% have created a policy to purchase ENERGY STAR rated appliances
  • 77% have created a policy to build to LEED Silver standards
  • 9% have created a policy to offset emissions from institution-paid air travel
  • 67% have created a policy to provide access to public transportation to get to campus
  • 37% have created a policy to get at least 15% of their electricity from renewable sources
  • 10% have created a policy to invest institution endowment funds in sustainable investments
  • 63% have created a waste minimization policy on campus

For more information on these reports and leadership in the ACUPCC network, please contact the ACUPCC Support Team –

Ready to sign? Download the commitment document and send a signed copy to the address provided on the document. See who else has signed, and contact your colleagues to learn more about their experience. Members of the Steering Committee and Presidential Fellows are ready to share their stories about participation in the ACUPCC. Contact to speak to members of the support team, or if you would like an ACUPCC signatory to contact you. And please visit the Resources and Reporting sections of the website to get a sense for the valuable information-sharing that the ACUPCC learning community is facilitating.

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