70 College Presidents Sign Commitment to Limit Carbon Emissions on Their Campuses

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By Eric Vance

A growing number of college and university presidents are signing on to
a pact under which they agree to cut their institutions’ carbon
emissions to zero over time.

Called the American College and University
Presidents Climate Commitment, the agreement is modeled after a similar pact made by mayors across the country.

Each institution will set its own date for reaching campuswide "carbon
neutrality" — the point at which its carbon-dioxide emissions are
offset by the use of renewable sources of energy and the oxygen
released from trees and other plants on the campus — and each will
determine for itself how that goal will be achieved.

The 70 presidents who have signed the pact on so far represent
institutions as diverse as the University of Florida, with more than
50,000 students, and Pennsylvania’s Allegheny College, with about 2,000
students.

Colleges that sign the commitment will have two years, starting
in June, to catalog their sources of carbon emissions and lay out a
timetable for achieving carbon neutrality. In the meantime, they agree
to adopt several energy-saving measures — like requiring the use of
appliances that carry the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star
symbol for energy efficiency, or obtaining at least 15 percent of their
energy from renewable sources.

Carbon-dioxide emissions are among the human-caused pollutants
that an international group of scientists recently blamed for a warming
trend in the global climate (The Chronicle, February 2).

"It’s a crisis in slow motion, but it’s one that can be mitigated and
reversed with action like the one we’re taking," said Amy Gutmann, who
is president of the University of Pennsylvania and a recent signer of
the pledge. "As educators, universities and all of higher education
have a responsibility to enhance environmental literacy."

This June, college presidents who sign the pact will meet to
agree on specifics, such as how they will publicize their progress.
Each participating college agrees to create a plan and make statements
to students and the public on its progress in carrying out that plan.

Kathleen Schatzberg, president of Cape Cod Community College,
is a founding member of a leadership circle that promotes the
agreement, which means she acts as a recruiter to get other college
leaders to commit to the pact.

"Like just about everybody else these days, I am worried about
our future," Ms. Schatzberg said. "I am convinced that colleges and
universities can make a difference. We each run what amounts to a
little city."

As a community college, she said, Cape Cod may not do
cutting-edge research, but it offers an environmental-technology
program with internships at alternative-energy companies and the
Environmental Protection Agency. Already she has experimented with a
fuel-cell stack, which powered buildings on the campus for five years
using hydrogen from natural gas. Now she is working to set up a
windmill to harness the breezy cape weather.

A Broad Stroke

Michael M. Crow, president of Arizona State University and
another founding member of the leadership circle, said the commitment
focuses on colleges of varying enrollments and endowments in order to
brush higher education with a broad stroke. Mr. Crow said widespread
problems deserve widespread solutions.

"We are teachers, fundamentally, at the end of the day," he
said. "If the Americans can’t make their emerging cities work on a
sustainable basis, then how can anybody else?"

Arizona State, with more than 63,000 students at three campuses
in the Phoenix area, has one of the largest university enrollments in
the country. But the population of the metropolitan region, with more
than 3.8 million people, dwarfs the university. Phoenix has had the
largest annual population growth of any American city for the past two
years, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and Arizona was the
fastest-growing state in the country in 2005.

Mr. Crow said part of his university’s commitment is to help
its surrounding region become a model for sustainable growth. He said
colleges have not done enough and have only themselves to blame for any
confusion about climate change. To meet the carbon-neutrality goal, he
is hiring economics, engineering, and public-policy faculty members,
and offering discounted or free public transit to students.

In Philadelphia, Ms. Gutmann is also encouraging the use of
public transportation. But for getting around on Penn’s urban campus,
she said, other strategies might do more good.

"Our campus is designed to be environmentally friendly because
it is designed for walking," she said. "It is far better for people to
walk between their meetings and get exercise than to have to scurry to
find half an hour on a treadmill."

Penn has also raised thermostats one degree in the summer and
lowered them one degree in the winter. The savings allowed the
university to buy a third of its energy demands from wind farms. Last
summer, Ms. Gutmann said, the university saved $1-million by conserving
during peak hours.

The organizers of the commitment for college and university
leaders hope it will have 200 signatories by June and 1,000 by 2009.
The pact was modeled on the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement,
which was devised in 2005 and now has 402 signers.

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