• Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

Title

The PCC 2.0 Football

The American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (or "PCC") has been around for a couple of years now. Over 600 schools have signed on, and many of those have completed and filed their initial (baseline) greenhouse gas inventories. Completing a GHG inventory is the major deliverable due one year after a school signs the PCC.

April 3, 2009
 
 

The American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (or "PCC") has been around for a couple of years now. Over 600 schools have signed on, and many of those have completed and filed their initial (baseline) greenhouse gas inventories. Completing a GHG inventory is the major deliverable due one year after a school signs the PCC.

There are deliverables due at the end of two years, as well. The early PCC signatories are, in most cases, already at work on these. Or at least they think they are. In more than a few cases, they're only partly right.

See, the first-year deliverable, the GHG inventory, was pretty simple to manage. A person or a small team could do it, so long as a handful of administrative departments were willing to share some basic data. A single effort, a committed implementor or two, and data which (when it existed) was pretty straightforward. The major challenge at most schools was dealing with GHG emissions from travel, where institutions often had little or no reliable data. Still, you could put brackets around the estimates and move on. A technical problem, not a managerial or leadership one.

The second-year deliverables, by contrast, require much more in the way of management and (especially) leadership. In a nutshell, they include coming up with a carbon neutrality plan (a roadmap to get to net zero GHG emissions), a plan to educate all students (to some degree) on issues of sustainability, and a mechanism for increasing sustainability-related research. Oh, and metrics by which all of these will be tracked.

My impression, after talking to sustainability staff members at a number of colleges and universities, is that most (in many cases all) of the emphasis is on setting a date for carbon neutrality, and then a plan (with milestones) to achieve that. A good portion of the schools have initiated efforts to increase the sustainability content of the curriculum; most of the larger institutions are doing this in a haphazard manner, or are adding a brief sustainability component to their new student orientations. Truly universal sustainability education at any measurable level seems to be limited pretty much to small colleges. (Let's face it, a 45-minute presentation during new student orientation isn't going to accomplish much. Kids in the immediate throes of moving from home to dorm have other priorities. As well they should.) And many schools haven't yet addressed the issue of increasing sustainability-related research at all.

I'm less concerned about the inattention to research. It's still more than five months before the first year-two deliverables are due, and a research initiative with some small amount of institutional funding attached can be put together on short order.

But I'm highly concerned about the haphazard way that a number of schools are attacking the issue of sustainability in curricular and co-curricular education. The challenges here are very real. Getting sustainability incorporated across the curriculum requires the cooperation of many (many!) academic departments, most of which focus intently on more traditional subject matter. Incorporating sustainability events into the co-curriculum is easier (and student affairs staff are often more readily directable than are faculty), but what sort of participation rates can realistically be achieved? How can a series of inherently optional co-curricular activities claim to achieve 100% penetration of the student body?

Then there's the question of metrics. Assessment. Evaluation, even if it's self-administered. The architects of the PCC did a good thing when they incorporated the requirement for metrics, because without them the PCC could quickly degenerate into a "feel good" statement. But selling assessment on campuses (particularly private, four-year campuses) has historically been fraught with peril. I don't sense a level of buy-in that might make this exercise the exception. (Buy-in is gradually increasing, but I still think we're a long way from being willing to grade ourselves objectively on matters of sustainability.)

So, keep an eye on your sustainability staff. As August approaches (the deadline for charter signatories is Sept. 15), expect to see them looking particularly busy, and particularly frantic. The biggest portion of responsibility under the PCC needs to be handed off from staff to faculty and senior academic administrators. At Greenback, and at a number of other universities, I don't see much sign that they're ready to take the ball and run.

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