Second Nature Blog Newsletter

Polar Vortex, Warming Paradox

January 7, 2014

By Dr. Anne Waple, Director of Communication and Science at Second Nature

If you're among the 200 million Americans who have been experiencing our recent, let's just say, chilly conditions, then you might be wondering if global warming has suddenly come to a screeching halt. Well, it turns out that far from being an indicator of a slow-down in global climate change, it's one more piece of evidence for increasing climate instability as a result of human-induced warming.

Linked to a decrease in sea ice extent and increased warming in the Arctic, the recent intrusion of very cold air into the continental U.S. is a result of the polar vortex weakening and allowing Arctic air to flow south. The polar vortex is the circulation pattern that typically fences cold air into the Arctic.  Below are several excellent descriptions of this phenomenon and its link to a warming planet.

While this recent event is not record-breaking for most of us and will be thankfully short-lived, it has caused significant impacts across much of the country, closing schools and businesses, shutting down transportation, interrupting power for some residents, and prompting emergency declarations in several cities and communities. 

A Few Explanations from Weather and Climate Experts:

Andrew Freedman at Climate Central

Union of Concerned Scientists

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UC Irvine Earns California's Highest Environmental Honor

December 17, 2013

ACUPCC Signatory, University of California Irvine, has earned California’s highest environmental honor, the Governor’s Environmental & Economic Leadership Award for its Smart Labs program. UC Irvine is committed to Governor Brown's plan to reduce California's carbon footprint and to the University of California's commitment to reach carbon neutrality by 2025, as recently announced by UC's new President, Janet Napolitano. Through UC Irvine’s “deep energy efficiency” program (their term for energy efficiency retrofit projects with associated significant energy savings) they are determined to demonstrate that efficiency can provide a major fraction of needed carbon abatement -- feasibly, quickly, and cost-effectively. The Irvine campus is now 

approaching a 50 percent overall reduction in energy intensity achieved through a comprehensive program of deep energy efficiency, as a result of their “Smart Labs” program. Only a few years ago, no one believed that efficiency improvements and retrofits would yield a major percentage of needed carbon abatement, because the efficiency gains of new technologies - particularly sensors, digital controls, and software – were underestimated. All of those are key elements in UCI's comprehensive “Smart Labs” retrofit program. 

Learn more about the award

Plains, Trains, and Sustainability

December 17, 2013

Plains, Trains, and Sustainability: Regional Collaborations with UMACS and NWF Campus Ecology


By Axum Teferra, Kresge Membership and Engagement Fellow




This year, Second Nature partnered with the Upper Midwest Association for Campus Sustainability (UMACS) and National Wildlife Federation- Campus Ecology (NWF) for Second Nature’s first Midwest Regional Collaborative Symposium.The event took place from November 7th-9th, 2013 at Luther Collegein Decorah, Iowa, and integrated an ACUPCC (American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment) Pre-Conference for both signatory and non-signatory institutions.

Second Nature staff members chose to ride the rails from Massachusetts to Iowa in order to minimize the group’s carbon footprint. This 32-hour train ride took the team through many states and landscapes, ending at Luther College in Decorah, the Iowa town nestled in a 470 million year-old crater.  

View of wind turbine adjacent to the Luther College campus in Decorah, Iowa

Second Nature Staff

President Napolitano announcement

November 18, 2013

On Wednesday November 13th, the President Napolitano of the University of California, seal of the University of Californiaannounced her intent to bring the University to net energy neutrality by 2025. This bold plan builds on the reduction in carbon emissions that all campuses of the UC system have made as signatories to the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) and demonstrates the true transformation that can result from higher education leadership. At Second Nature, we are looking forward to continuing to work with the campuses of the University and President Napolitano’s chancellors and staff as they implement this inspiring initiative. The full text of President Napolitano’s remarks can be found here:

ACUPCC Progress from Greenhouse Gas Reporting Trends

November 6, 2013

by Ashka Naik, Director of ACUPCC Initiatives, Second Nature


As of November 2013, 616 signatory institutions have submitted 1998 GHG Inventories in total.

616 institutions have submitted at least one GHG report.  492 institutions have submitted at least two GHG reports, with which we have datasets to analyze trends of emission within the ACUPCC network.

Figure 1: The following figure highlights the breakdown of how many GHG reports have been submitted by signatory institutions.

The 492 institutions that have submitted at least two GHG reports present the following trends on their GHG emissions.

  • 286 (58%) of the 492 signatory institutions show a reduction totaling 2,898,816 metric tons of CO2e. 
  • 198 (40%) of the 492 signatory institutions show an increase of 1,196,815 metric tons of CO2e. 
  • 8 of the 492 signatory institutions show no change in their emissions.
  • The cumulative emissions reduction from these 492 signatory institutions is 1,702,001 metric tons of CO2e.

The Future Ain't What it Used to Be

November 5, 2013

“The Future Ain’t What It Used to Be”:

Collaborative Leadership, Higher Education, and Climate Destabilization

Dr. Peter Bardaglio


 By Peter W. Bardaglio, Ph.D., Senior Advisor, Second Nature


Icebergs in Iceland: an endangered species?



“The future ain’t what it used to be,” Yogi Berra once declared.[i] He wasn’t talking about climate change, but he could’ve been. Eight out of the nine hottest years on record worldwide, including last year, have occurred since 2000. The rate of the Arctic summer melt is accelerating at an astonishing pace and the latest reports now predict that we could have ice free summers in the Arctic as early as 2015. Scientists at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii announced this past May that for the first time in human history the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere passed 400 ppm. The last time carbon dioxide levels were this high was probably in the Pliocene epoch, over three million years ago. To top it off, a paper just published in Nature predicts that by mid-century over half the planet will be experiencing average temperatures equivalent to the hottest days recorded since 1860.[ii]

As bad as this news is, and it’s bad, there is some really good news on the clean energy front.

Join Second Nature at 2014 NCSE Conference in Washington D.C., January 28th-30th

November 4, 2013

By Sarah Brylinsky, Director of Climate Resilience & Educational Programs

Join Second Nature at the 14th National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE) Conference "Building Climate Solutions", in Washington D.C., January 28th-30th.

Visit the conference website to register or find out more about this unique and action-oriented event, and be sure to join us for a symposium and breakout workshop to develop an action-plan for supporting resilience efforts in higher education.

Preparing Campuses and Communities for a Changing Climate
2014 NCSE Workshop, Second Nature

Higher education has already taken a successful leadership role in climate mitigation through the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), with nearly 700 campus committed to achieving climate neutrality (not net carbon emissions).

Join Second Nature at the Ecodistricts Summit in Boston on November 12th

November 4, 2013

By Sarah Brylinsky, Director of Climate Resilience & Educational Programs

Second Nature will be presenting at the Boston Ecodistricts Summit.  Our panel will discuss the role of higher education in creating resilient communities through living laboratory development.  Hope to see you there!

Universities as Living Laboratories for District Transformation
Tuesday November 12, 2013 | 1:30 to 3:00 PM EST

THE ACUPCC: Reflection on Progress & Planning Ahead With The 2013-15 Steering Committee On Board

October 4, 2013

by Timonthy White, Chancellor, California State University System and Chair of the ACUPCC Steering Committee

The ACUPCC is entering its 7th year in full force. Today, this network—comprised of 673 colleges and universities—represents 6,413,193 students. And as it grows, these institutions continue making remarkable progress towards addressing sustainability and climate issues on their campuses across the country, both in institutional operations and curriculum development. To date:

  • Collectively, ACUPCC signatories report an annual cumulative reduction of 328,698 metric tons of CO2e emissions. In addition to producing a combined 444,300,134 kWh of renewable energy annual, which is the equivalent of powering 46,928 American households every year.
  • Three signatories—College of the Atlantic (ME), Colby College (ME), and Green Mountain College (VT)—have achieved carbon neutrality, and 44 more have set a target date within the next ten years .
  • More than 180 signatories have established programs to encourage student climate and/or sustainability research, 82 signatories have included sustainability learning outcomes in institutional General Education Requirements, and 108 signatories offer professional development to all faculty in sustainability education.
  • Collectively, 144 signatories have secured funding from outside sources totaling over $309 million, and 209 signatories reported savings from implemented CAP projects totaling $144.5 million.

For more details on progress made by the ACUPCC, read the latest Progress Summary of June 2013.

Join Second Nature and the ACUPCC at AASHE 2013!

October 1, 2013

Sarah Brylinsky

By Sarah Brylinsky, Director of Climate Resilience & Educational Programs

Join us at the following sessions during AASHE 2013 in Nashville TN, October 6th-9th!  Second Nature will be presenting on topics important to you, including ACUPCC implementation, student leadership, climate resilience, and power-purchasing agreements on campus.  The Second Nature staff would love to meet you if you are attending - be sure to say hello at our sessions and networking events!

Click here to see the AASHE schedule


Climate Resilience Sessions

Roadmap to Resilience: Assessing Tools and Strategies for Climate Preparedness on Campus
Panel Discussion Room #101C, Tuesday, October 8th, 1:30pm ­ 2:30pm
Sarah Brylinsky, Director of Climate Resilience & Educational Programs, Anne Waple, Program Manager, Second Nature

Data Chronicles of October: ACUPCC Reporting by Carnegie Classification

October 1, 2013

by Ashka Naik, Director of ACUPCC Initiatives, Second Nature

As of September 2013, the ACUPCC reporting system has 1990 Greenhouse Gas Reports, 521 Climate Action Plans and 328 progress reports. As we look deeper into these publicly shared data—submitted by more than 670 institutions over the course of 5.5 years of the initiative—what we see is an intricate picture that is telling of the overall progress made by the US higher education sector in its pursuit to create a sustainable and thriving society. These outcomes can also educate us about the challenges and opportunities confronting our institutions.

In this blog series, we will highlight trends and patterns that emerge from these publicly submitted reports. Our goal in sharing these chronicles is twofold. It is to share the network’s impact by leveraging the power of data. But more importantly, it is to underscore how a committed community of “doers” at higher education institutions has brought this extraordinary higher education sustainability movement to life.

Analyzing submitted reports by Carnegie Classification reveals how different types of institutions are advancing in their Commitments to climate neutrality.

Figure 1: The above chart highlights how different Carnegie Classifications are represented within the ACUPCC.

Figure 2: The above chart highlights how different Carnegie Classifications are represented within the entire US higher education sector.
Accessed September 23, 2013].

Join Second Nature at the 2013 New England Campus Sustainability Forum

September 13, 2013

On Friday, September 20th, 2013, Second Nature will once again co-sponsor and participate in The New England Campus Sustainability Forum. This year’s theme is “Climate Change & New England Campuses: Impacts and Solutions” and it will take place at Colleges of the Fenway in Boston, MA.

We invite you to join Second Nature and our partners for the following educational opportunities:

Assessing Campus Vulnerabilities to Climate Impacts (Workshop)

This workshop will provide an overview of climate impact assessment resources using the 2013 National Climate Assessment, and discuss components of preparing a campus and community vulnerability assessment.

Panelists include:
• Sarah Brylinsky, Director, Climate Resilience & Education Programs, Second Nature
• Anne Waple, Program Manager for Climate Adaptation, Second Nature
• Jenn Andrews, Acting Executive Director, Clean Air-Cool Planet

The Roots of Love

July 24, 2013

by Gabriela Boscio, Program Associate, Second Nature

“For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.”
― Carl Sagan

(This post is part of a series by the Second Nature team about why we do what we do.)

How does love grow? When do you know it has taken root? How can you pinpoint its beginning?

My passion for sustainability is something that’s been growing within me for most of my life, and I am not sure exactly when or why it started. As a child, I loved plants and animals. I loved reading about them and learning about them, and I loved observing nature. I remember thinking in grade school that I wanted to be a scientist when I grew up, because I wanted to keep learning about nature, through exploration and investigation. My family supported and encouraged this love by providing me with copious amounts of nature books, magazines and collectible wildlife fact cards, as well as by spending time with me outdoors, and putting up with my incessant animal-factoid sharing (“Did you know baby cheetahs chirps like birds?”).

Example of a book from my childhood. Joyce Rogers Wolkomir and Richard Wolkomir. 1992.

And the Awards Go To...

June 6, 2013

Yesterday we announced the recipients of this year's Second Nature Climate Leadership Awards. Congratulations to these impressive and deserving institutions!

2013 Climate Leadership Award Winners

    Doctorate Granting University
    Missouri University of Science & Technology (MO)
    Portland State University (OR)
    SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry (NY)   

    Master's Granting Institution
    Chatham University (PA)
    Goddard College (VT)

    Baccalaureate College
    Middlebury College (VT)
    Oberlin College (OH)  

    Associate's College
    Bellevue College (WA)
    University of Hawaii Kauai Community College (HI)

    Special Focus Institution
    Pratt Institute (NY)

The Sustainability Imperative at Florida A&M University

May 7, 2013

By Richard D. Schulterbrandt Gragg, Associate Professor, School of the Environment, Chair, FAMU Environment & Sustainability Council

(This article appears in the May, 2013 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)

The Roots of Sustainability

"If you’re looking for a big opportunity, seek out a big problem." This guidance by H. Jackson Brown Sr. speaks to the many opportunities and challenges we have experienced at Florida A&M University (FAMU) in finding a home for the cultivation, integration and expression of our interests in environment and society. The big opportunity is to institutionalize sustainability in the context and framework of FAMU’s rich and storied relationship to the environment rooted in its history, its people and community, and its recognition as a pioneering academic institution. FAMU was founded in October 1887 and is an 1890 land-grant institution ‘dedicated to the advancement of knowledge, resolution of complex issues and the empowerment of citizens and communities.’ The main campus is located in Tallahassee midway between Jacksonville and Pensacola; the College of Law is in Orlando. The effort to formally prioritize environmental issues and sustainability began in 2007 when the student-led FAMU Green Coalition petitioned then President James H. Ammons to create and implement a sustainability program and has culminated with FAMU becoming a 2013 signatory to the American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment. When asked why he signed the Commitment, Interim President Larry Robinson replied: “It was the consensus of the students, faculty, staff, administration and stakeholders for FAMU to publically declare its actions and commit to an environmental leadership role in accord with our historic mission and vision in collaboration with other higher education institutions.”

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Haywood Community College, Sustainability on the Rise

May 7, 2013

By Preston Jacobsen, Sustainability Analyst, Haywood Community College

(This article appears in the May, 2013 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)

Haywood Community College (HCC) has a rich history of sustainability. When President Rose H. Johnson arrived in January 2006 she made sure sustainability was a strategic imperative for the college. In May of 2007 President Johnson signed the ACUPCC, committing HCC to the far-reaching goal of eliminating its operational greenhouse gas emissions, supporting the educational opportunities for students to advance a low carbon society and to publicly report progress on an annual basis. To support the goals of the ACUPCC and other sustainability efforts, HCC also joined AASHE, participates in AASHE's STARS program, and is a member of the Sustainability Education and Economic Development (SEED) Center. In order to be successful in its sustainability endeavors, President Johnson implemented a cross-campus team based approach to enhance and integrate educational offerings with the campus' day-to-day operations. To coordinate this effort HCC hired an Energy Manager and a Sustainability Technician to oversee the sustainability projects, grants, and initiatives of the college. In 2009, President Johnson extended her sustainability leadership beyond the campus by partnering with President Rusty Stephens and Wilson Community College to create the CODE Green Initiative. CODE GREEN is a North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS) initiative to develop and promote Sustainable programs across all 58 NCCC's through curriculum and campus development. 

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Ball State University: The ACUPCC as ‘Feature’ and ‘Framework’

May 7, 2013

By Robert J. Koester, Professor of Architecture & Director of Center for Energy Research, Education & Service

(This article appears in the May, 2013 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)


This article provides a brief overview of the history of activities at Ball State University as we have engaged the challenges of bringing sustainability into the many dimensions of the campus community.  The long-standing history of interest which predates the origination of the ACUPCC and the follow-on implementation of ACUPCC are described.  Key points regarding institutional structure, the role of champions, and the importance of communication are emphasized.  Finally the benefit of our long-standing engagement is noted in the current branding of the institution.

Starting in 1990, Ball State University began its “dance” with the challenges of sustainability. At that time, the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Warren Vander Hill, appointed our first Green Committee (G-1) consisting of 14 members charged with formulating “…recommendations which, if undertaken might raise environmental consciousness in our student body, foster conviction in students regarding these issues, and empower them with understandings of how they might effectively channel their awareness to shape the future...”  Some 35 recommendations were made; including short-term immediate actions that could occur at no cost and longer-term, more substantial steps that would require structural change and/or sizable capital expenditure.  

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2013 Climate Leadership Award Video Competition Winners

May 7, 2013

By Gabriela Boscio, Sustainability Capacity Building Intern at Second Nature 

All through Earth Month, finalists of the 2013 Second Nature Climate Leadership Awards vied for the most votes on the video they produced. Each of these 2-3 minute videos highlights the innovative sustainability efforts on their campuses. Voting was held through Planet Forward's website and ran from April 1 to April 30, 2013. Read the press release for more details.

After a total of 48,882 votes cast during the month-long period of public voting, the winner of this year's 2013 Climate Leadership Awards Video Competition is Missouri University of Science and Technology. This Doctorate Granting Institution garnered 16,374 votes, making it the top vote earner overall and in its Carnegie classification.

Missouri S&T’s entry features the university’s Solar Village, a neighborhood of student-built solar houses that acts as a living lab and home for students and faculty. The video also highlights their geothermal energy project, which will reduce the campus’s carbon dioxide emissions by 25,000 tons per year and cut energy usage in half.

Colby College, ACUPCC Signatory, is Carbon Neutral

April 5, 2013
Completion of a biomass plant in 2012 allowed Colby to switch to low-grade wood as its primary fuel, saving close to 1 million gallons of oil per year.

"Colby is the fourth signatory of the American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment to achieve carbon neutrality and the largest institution to reach that goal to date," said David Hales, president of Second Nature, the support organization of the ACUPCC. "Colby's achievement is particularly significant; they have followed both the spirit and letter of the commitment to insure that their net contribution to atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases is zero, while setting a practical example of sustainability in every aspect of their institutional life."

Read the full news release, and learn more about how Colby achieved this milestone.


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