University of Florida president helps to lead nationwide effort to curb global warming

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida President Bernie Machen is among a dozen college and university presidents hoping to persuade other academic leaders nationwide to sign a pledge to curtail global warming.

Machen has joined the presidents of Arizona State and Ball State universities in becoming the first to sign the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment. They hope 380 other presidents and chancellors will do the same by June.

“Global warming is one of the great challenges of our time, and UF needs to do everything it can to help address the problem before it seriously impacts the lives of future generations,” Machen said.
Signing the commitment requires the colleges and universities to develop a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and achieve climate neutrality as soon as possible. UF has already begun this process, said Dedee DeLongpré, director of UF’s Office of Sustainability.

UF has completed an inventory of the greenhouse gas emissions generated by the physical campus; the Presidents Climate Commitment challenges colleges and universities to track emissions generated by commuting and air travel as well. The university is working on an action plan for climate neutrality and already has enacted three of five suggested tangible actions to reduce emissions while the more comprehensive plan is developed. These include:

– Establishing a policy to require all new campus construction to meet the requirements of the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver standard or equivalent as developed by the U.S. Green Building Council.

– Establishing a purchasing policy for energy-efficient appliances.

– Providing and promoting access to public transportation for faculty, staff and students.

“This commitment is a massive undertaking — it challenges us to rethink every aspect of campus operations with an eye for increasing efficiency and reducing carbon emissions.” DeLongpré said. “Thankfully, we’re on our way to integrating this thinking into campus decision-making.”

Organizers of the climate commitment program believe colleges and universities are uniquely qualified to address climate change. Their reasoning is based on a couple of facts: Higher education represents a $317 billion economic engine that employs millions and spends billions of dollars on fuel, products and services; and tomorrow’s workers — 17 million engineers, lawyers, journalists, etc. — are now enrolled in the 4,000 institutions of higher learning.

Tony Cortese, president of Second Nature, one of the three nonprofit groups facilitating the initiative, said the challenge to re-establish stable climatic conditions within a generation is one of massive proportions.

“Leading society in this effort fits squarely into the educational, research and public service missions of higher education,” Cortese said. “No other institution in society has the influence, the critical mass and the diversity of skills needed to successfully reverse global warming.”

The idea for the initiative arose spontaneously among several groups involved in sustainability and related issues. Its sponsors are Second Nature, ecoAmerica and the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

Part of the presidents’ commitment requires them to publish periodic progress reports. “The transparency is a very effective tool in getting institutions to live up to their commitments — this has been demonstrated in thousands of corporations and communities,” Cortese said.

Ron Wayne, [email protected]

Dedee DeLongpré, [email protected]

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