Advancing Higher Education: ACUPCC Data Demonstrates Sustainability & Climate Progress

June 7, 2012

By Stephen Muzzy, Senior Associate, Second Nature

(This article appears in the June, 2012 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)

The ACUPCC’s 5th year celebration also marks an important stage in the ongoing, unprecedented efforts of the network to publicly report on activities to eliminate operational greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and to provide the education, research, and community engagement to enable the rest of society to do the same. Because of these tremendous efforts the ACUPCC Reporting System now includes 1585 GHG reports465 Climate Action Plans, and 240 Progress Reports on the Climate Action Plan! Public reporting by ACUPCC signatories demonstrates transparency and integrity for each institution’s commitment and contributes to the collective learning of the network and general public. The ACUPCC Reporting System also allows signatories to track, assess, and communicate progress to their campus community and beyond, demonstrating to prospective students, foundations, and potential private sector partners that their institution is serious and transparent about its commitment to climate change and sustainability. The individual efforts taken together are demonstrating impressive results and the growing impact of the network to prepare graduates and provide the necessary solutions for a sustainable future.

Making an Impact

The ACUPCC’s earliest signatories have had more than four years to assess, plan and begin implementing their Climate Action Plans allowing them to:

  • Build institutional capacity to foster career preparedness for their students through curriculum development
  • Secure funding for and from climate and sustainability efforts and;
  • Demonstrate leadership in institutional research and innovation


Understanding sustainability is requisite for career preparedness in the 21st century. 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 240 institutions that submitted a Progress Report on their Climate Action Plan to date have reported the following data:


  • 76,935 graduates covered by sustainability learning outcomes.
  • 175 signatories combine to offer 9,548 courses focused on sustainability
  • 112 require all students to have sustainability as a learning objective
  • 66 have offered professional development to all faculty in sustainability education.
  • 49 have included sustainability learning outcomes in institutional General Education Requirements.
  • 37 have included sustainability in fulfilling regional or state accreditation requirements.
  • 18 have included sustainability learning outcomes, tracks, or certificates in every academic major.


  • 11,223 faculty members are engaged in sustainability research
  • 119 signatories have faculty engaged in sustainability research
  • 114 have a program to encourage student climate and/or sustainability research
  • 85 have a program to encourage faculty climate and or sustainability research
  • 67 have a policy that recognizes interdisciplinary research in faculty promotion and tenure.


In implementing their Climate Action Plans (CAPs), ACUPCC institutions have invested in improving their campus infrastructure and reducing energy consumption and associated GHG emissions. As a result, they are realizing significant cost-savings and securing funding from outside sources that better enable schools to reduce tuition costs and increase access.

After two years of implementation, 66% of signatories submitting a Progress Report to date affirmed that their CAP has saved their institution money. Of the 240 institutions that submitted Progress Reports, 158 listed savings from implemented projects totaling $104 million. This includes institutions from every Carnegie classification.

104 signatories have secured funding from outside resources totaling$195,706,941

  • 18 Associate colleges secured $19,039,214
  • 30 Baccalaureate colleges secured $18,956,507
  • 26 Master’s granting institutions $85,187,579
  • 26 Doctorate granting institutions $70,078,141
  • 4 Special Focus schools secured $2,445,500


Climate Neutrality

465 institutions (70%) have completed a CAP to date, agreeing to include a target date for achieving climate neutrality as soon as possible.  More than 30% of those signatories have set a target date to achieve climate neutrality within the next 20 years.

  • 9 have set a target date within the next five years by 2017
  • 39 have set a target date within the next ten years by 2022
  • 61 have set a target date within the next fifteen years by 2027
  • 106 have set a target date within the next twenty years by 2032
  • 130 have set a target date within the next twenty-five years by 2037
  • 164 have set a target date within the next thirty years by 2042
  • 338 have set a target date by 2050

Climate neutrality dates selected by ACUPCC signatories. This image is taken from the soon-to-be-released 5-year report.

Interim Reduction Goals
In the next 15 years signatories have set interim reduction targets that will eliminate gross GHG emissions (total scopes 1, 2, & 3 emissions) by 9.4 million metric tons of CO2e (MTCO2e) – a 33% reduction of the network’s current actual gross GHG emissions.

  • By 2017 target emissions reduction:          1,358,187
  • By 2022 target emissions reduction:          2,650,880
  • By 2027 target emissions reduction:          5,681,866

Total Interim Target Emission Reductions in the Next 15 Years:    9,436,994 MTCO2E

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reductions
 (91%) institutions have completed at least one GHG inventory.

  • 406 institutions have submitted more than one GHG inventory, showing for the first time trends in higher education emissions rates over time.
  • Of the 406 institutions that have submitted more than one GHG inventory, 207 have shown a reduction totaling more 1,621,000 metric tons
  • 28 million metric tons of CO2e will be eliminated annually when the current signatory group reaches climate neutrality.

Renewable Energy
134 institutions 
produce 171,000,000 kwh of renewable energy annually. This is the equivalent of powering 14,702 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

156 Signatories have purchased a total of 1,279,765,254 kWh Renewable Energy Credits (RECs).   One REC is created for every 1000 kilowatt-hours (or 1 megawatt-hour) of renewable energy produced electricity placed on the grid. A REC represents the property rights to the environmental, social, and other non-power qualities of renewable electricity generation.  This makes the ACUPCC currently the 3rd largest purchaser of RECs in the USA and a significant supporter of renewable energy development.

Green Building
491 signatories have 1779 USGBC LEED certified buildings. 325 green buildings are planned or scheduled for completion in next 2 years

Looking Ahead

Individual signatories are making great strides in preparing graduates, reducing GHG emissions and operational costs, and engaging their local communities. This comprehensive and continued institutionalizing of sustainability represents an unprecedented organizational and cultural shift. As ACUPCC institutions continue to lead on driving economic renewal and jump-starting the sustainable economy, the ACUPCC network will galvanize the higher education sector to produce the research and graduates necessary to create a sustainable society. We will continue to share data with the network as new reports are added to the Reporting System. ACUPCC data will be the key metric for determining the success of the initiative in next five years. Based on the early returns, we are very excited to see and share the terrific results of the ACUPCC network moving forward.

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