Assessing Sustainability Education and Student Learning at Green Mountain College

May 5, 2011

By Meriel Brooks, Associate Professor of Biology and Director of the Environmental Liberal Arts Program, Green Mountain College

(This article appears in the May, 2011 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)

Over the last 3 years, supported by a grant from the Davis Educational Foundation, the faculty at Green Mountain College (GMC) has restructured an innovative environmentally-focused general education curriculum (the Environmental Liberal Arts program or ELA), revised or created 53 sustainability related or focused courses, and created a system for assessment-driven program revision. With the project nearing completion, what have we accomplished, what have we learned, and what is next?

What should our graduates know and be able to do in order to contribute to a more sustainable world? For 2 days in May of 2008, 45 GMC faculty members brainstormed and debated this question before arriving at an answer in the form of 5 broad goals:

The Climate Curricular Conundrum

May 5, 2011

By Mark S. McCaffrey, Associate Scientist at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado Boulder

(This article appears in the May, 2011 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)

If tested on their knowledge about the basics of climate, energy or the relationship between them, most Americans would score a D or an F according to two recent national studies[1]. The reasons for this lack of literacy are numerous and complex. Both climate and energy tend to fall through disciplinary gaps in traditional elementary and secondary science education, with climate occasionally tagged at the end of a unit on weather and energy being taught, if at all, in physics, or indirectly in other disciplines.

Climate and energy are multifaceted topics, with the science involved often being non-intuitive and difficult to master. Both topics tend to be blurred by misconceptions, misrepresentations and/or misinformation. And both can become lightening rods for ideological, political and even generational passions. Both are issues that are creating a perfect storm of confusion that, to mix metaphors, leads to a climate of inertia, in part because as a society we have yet to really have an adult conversation about either.

 Facts & Our Future” 2004

Modified from the Marian Koshland Science Museum of the National Academy of Sciences’ “Global Warming: Facts & Our Future” 2004

Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative – April 2011

April 21, 2011

By Peter Bardaglio, Senior Fellow, Second Nature

Welcome to the April 2011 issue of the TCCPI Newsletter, a monthly update from the Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative (TCCPI).

TCCPI is a multisector collaboration seeking to leverage the climate action commitments made by Cornell University, Ithaca College, Tompkins Cortland Community College, Tompkins County, and the City of Ithaca to mobilize a countywide energy efficiency effort and accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy. Launched in June 2008 and generously supported by the Park Foundation, TCCPI is a project of Second Nature, the lead supporting organization of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC).

We are committed to helping Tompkins County achieve a dynamic economy, healthy environment, and resilient community through a focus on energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Tompkins County and EVI Awarded Major EPA Climate Grant

EcoVillage at Ithaca on a sunny day!

Tompkins County, in a unique partnership with EcoVillage at Ithaca’s Center for Sustainability Education, has been awarded a $375,450 Climate Showcase Communities grantfrom the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to fund innovative approaches to creating dense neighborhoods that enhance residents quality of life while using fewer resources.

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We Have 100% of the Student Footprint

April 11, 2011

Last week, we released a new video that answers the two questions most frequently put to us since Second Nature was founded in 1993:

Why is Education for Sustainability so important?

Why focus on the higher education sector?

Heres’s our answer:

Watch the video on YouTube and Vimeo.

The Second Nature YouTube Channel
View this and other Education for Sustainability videos on our YouTube channel. While you’re there, become a subscriber!

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Share Your Sustainability Videos With Us
Has your school or organization produced video content about its sustainability initiatives? Share them with us by leaving a comment below or on our YouTube channel page.

Creating Finance Tools for Energy Efficiency Projects for the ACUPCC Network

April 7, 2011

By Arah Schuur, Director of the Energy Efficiency Building Retrofit Program, Clinton Climate Initiative
(This article appears in the April, 2011 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)

“How do we pay for this?” More and more, that is one of the first questions that public and private sector building partners ask before undertaking energy efficiency improvements to their buildings. Through the Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI) Energy Efficiency Building Retrofit Program, we provide pro bono advisory support to building owners around the world to help address this very issue, helping to plan, develop and implement large-scale energy efficiency projects. For almost every building owner, regardless of real estate sector and geography, finding or justifying the up-front capital for large energy efficiency projects is increasingly challenging as internal finances get tighter and the quick-payback projects are exhausted.

To address capital availability barriers, CCI works with financial institutions and other providers of capital to adapt existing and create new financial products that are specifically tailored to building energy efficiency projects. CCI typically assists in convening stakeholders; assessing market demand from building owners and financial institutions; identifying legal and accounting related issues; and developing and executing work plans. At a project level, we help building owners with financial modeling and to assess financing options in the local market; solicit interest from capital providers; review proposals and term sheets; and assist, where appropriate, in the negotiation process.

Don't Blame Your CFO if Progress is Slowing

April 7, 2011

By Wendell Brase, Vice Chancellor, University of California, Irvine and Chair, University of California Climate Solutions Steering Group

(This article appears in the April, 2011 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)

We’ve relamped practically every fixture on campus, installed occupancy sensors and flow-restrictors, adopted green cleaning practices, increased our landfill diversion rate, made LEED Gold our policy, converted to “thin client” computing and installed power management software, increased our AVR, and completed dozens of other, significant green actions. We “walk the talk,” yet our carbon footprint has only declined about ten percent. What now?

Our progress seems to be slowing down or, worse yet, topping out! We are beginning to understand the necessity for major capital investment in order to attack the remaining nine-tenths of our carbon footprint. We need large-scale changes in the way we consume energy and source it.

How do we make the transition from fast-payback projects and low-investment behavioral changes to projects with sufficient scale to, say, cut our carbon footprint in half by 2020? Such a milestone would surely be consistent with our commitment to attain carbon-neutrality “as soon as possible.”

What can we do to foster the new thinking and ramping-up that needs to occur?

Financing the Future of Energy Efficiency: How to Fund Your Carbon Emissions Reductions

April 7, 2011

By Mark Orlowski, Founder & Executive Director, Sustainable Endowments Institute

(This article appears in the April, 2011 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)

Facing rising energy costs and steep budget cuts, many colleges are grappling with how to finance urgently needed carbon emissions reductions. In response, more schools are tapping a new option for financing energy efficiency improvements, while earning a high return on investment. Their successful methods are revealed in Greening the Bottom Line: The Trend toward Green Revolving Funds on Campus.

The Cambridge-based Sustainable Endowments Institute (a special project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors) published the report in collaboration with 11 partner organizations including the ACUPCC, AASHE, Second Nature, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Power Partnership.

Based on the first survey ever conducted about green revolving funds (GRFs) in higher education,Greening the Bottom Line details how GRFs help cut operating expenses and greenhouse gas emissions at 52 schools. The number of green revolving funds has more than quadrupled since 2008. A major incentive is the financial benefit–a median annual return on investment of 32 percent. The breakthrough in this approach is using the substantial cost savings to replenish the fund for investment in the next round of green upgrades.

Sustainability Training in the Classroom and the Field

March 8, 2011

By Anouk Bertner, Emerging Leaders Manager, The Natural Step Canada
(This article appears in the March, 2011 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)

The ACUPCCDuring a recent speaking trip to North America, The Natural Step’s Founder, Dr. Karl-Henrik Robèrt, when asked about the most serious sustainability impact of colleges, replied: “The worst emission from colleges is ignorant students.”

Institutionalizing Sustainability: Shifting Gears, Shifting Culture

March 8, 2011

By Wim Wiewel, President, Portland State University

(This article appears in the March, 2011 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)

RIGHT - PSU President Wim Wiewel (r) and Portland Mayor Sam Adams (l) bike to work

On my first day at Portland State University back in August 2008, I rode my bike to work alongside Portland Mayor-elect Sam Adams. The ride symbolized Portland State University’s partnership with the city, and both Portland and PSU’s commitment to sustainability. I haven’t stopped pedaling since.

How we think about and implement sustainability at Portland State University reflects that ride. Our region provides more than just background and scenery—it gives us a context for the work that we do, as well as a broad array of public, private, and nonprofit partners willing to tackle our common challenges.

Sustainability as the Goal of Higher Education

March 8, 2011

By Anthony Cortese, President, Second Nature
(This article appears in the March, 2011 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)

The ACUPCCWith this issue of The ACUPCC Implementer we will begin a more focused effort to help all higher education institutions institutionalize sustainability as a core goal through the lens of the ACUPCC, and to help signatory schools meet the Commitment as comprehensively as possible. In the accompanying articles you can see how a president of a major research university views his role in helping higher education lead this effort, what strategies and resources are available for presidents and other senior leaders to lead these institutional efforts and an important framework, the Natural Step, for understanding and taking action on societal sustainability.

Sustainability in the Walls

March 8, 2011

By Georges Dyer, Vice President of Programs, Second Nature

(This article appears in the March, 2011 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)

After the initial excitement and enthusiasm of a commitment to sustainability starts to fade, organizations often find themselves facing a long, steady climb to integrate sustainability into all of their activities, so it is simply second nature.

Doing so requires engaging employees and other stakeholders so everyone is on the same page about what sustainability means, understands how everyday decisions contribute to achieving the end goals, and is empowered to work across departments and traditional boundaries to overcome barriers.

To really embed sustainability in the walls of an organization, leaders at all levels must work tirelessly to create and hold a clear vision; establish tangible goals; communicate objectives and progress; build capacity throughout the organization; establish metrics; and celebrate successes.In 2009, a group of ACUPCC presidents developed a resource calledLeading Profound Change, which explores the president’s role in ensuring the institution maximizes its contribution to creating a sustainable society.  They laid out three tenets to accelerate progress:

An Education in Green Living, DownEast

February 14, 2011

The latest issue of DownEast Magazine includes a great article called An Education in Green Livingabout education for sustainability efforts going on at Maine’s colleges and universities.

The article notes that fifteen Maine institutions have signed the ACUPCC – that’s about half of all of Maine’s the colleges and universities, and they represent about 75% of the students in the state.

The following schools are highlighted in the article (listed here with links to their pages on the ACUPCC reporting system): Unity CollegeCollege of the AtlanticBowdoin CollegeUniversity of MaineUniversity of Maine at Presque IsleColby College, and the University of Southern Maine.

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ACUPCC Co-Chairs Support the Better Buildings Initiative

February 9, 2011

President Barack Obama and Energy Secretary Steven Chu tour the Engineering Labs at Penn State University in State College, February 3, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Last week, in a speech delivered at Penn State University, President Obama announced the Better Buildings Initiative, which aims to improve energy efficiency and reduce energy costs. This factsheet provides more details on the announcement. The Co-Chairs of the ACUPCC Steering Committee have issued the following statement in support of this initiative:

On February 3, 2011, President Obama announced the Better Buildings Initiative, which aims to achieve a 20 percent improvement in energy efficiency by 2020, reduce companies’ and business owners’ energy bills by about $40 billion per year, and save energy by reforming outdated incentives and challenging the private sector to act.

The initiative will also include the Better Buildings Challenge, which the White House describes in the following way:

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What You Need to Know about Carbon Offsets

February 3, 2011

By Joel Levin, Vice President for Business Development, Climate Action Reserve

(This article appears in the February, 2011 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)

I once heard a speaker at a conference define a carbon offset as the absence of a colorless, odorless gas. Try explaining that to your grandmother! No wonder there is so much confusion and doubt surrounding offsets.

Offsets can be a real way for universities and others to make cost effective GHG (greenhouse gas) reductions with an impact that goes beyond the facilities over which they have direct control. In buying a carbon offset, you are investing money in a third-party project that reduces GHG emissions. Universities can participate in carbon offset markets, either as buyers or as project developers (i.e. originators and sellers of offsets.) [1]

Because it is generally not possible for the buyer of an offset to fully investigate and understand the project that he or she invests in, highly credible independent registries have been established that can offer buyers confidence in the offsets they purchase.

For anyone considering participating in the offsets market, either as a project developer or a buyer, there are five concepts that are critical to understand.

ACUPCC Program Planning for 2011

February 3, 2011

By Toni Nelson, ACUPCC Program Director, Second Nature
(This article appears in the February, 2011 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)

The ACUPCCThe support team at Second Nature has developed a plan for 2011 that will provide information and resources on key topics related to the implementation of climate action planning and sustainability education, as well as opportunities for signatories to gather in person to discuss challenges, opportunities, and ways to overcome barriers to these goals.  Second Nature is introducing a briefing paper series, “Viewpoints on Sustainability,” to provide information and resources on specific topics in a concise format that will highlight important concepts and related resources. A website redesign is also in the works, with a re-organized resources section that will group information by topic and thus make it easier to find information on specific topics of interest to the signatories.

Key Topics for 2011

Topics to be addressed through briefing papers, the ACUPCC Implementer, and webinars and other in-person events such as training workshops will include how to institutionalize sustainability at your institution, financing resources and opportunities, outreach to and engagement of the campus and local community, higher education’s role in adapting to climate change, and education for sustainability.


The Carbon Offset Potential of Campus Forests and Other Land

February 3, 2011

By Jennifer Andrews, Director of Program Planning and Integration, Clean Air-Cool Planet
(This article appears in the February, 2011 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)

The ACUPCCOne of the questions that CA-CP still gets quite often as we support schools in their GHG inventories and climate action plans is, “What about our forests?  Can’t we count them as offsets, since they are sequestering carbon?”  You can read the initial response to that question in this article, previously printed in the Implementer.  We have since worked with Chatham University (Pittsburgh, PA) and the US Forest Service to explore in more detail the role campus forest or other green space might play in the journey toward carbon neutrality.


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