Its list of signatories continues to grow, and the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment received a major boost Wednesday with the announcement of a partnership with the William J. Clinton Foundation to address global warming through building retrofits.
The 427 college leaders who have signed the commitment are promising to take inventory of all greenhouse gas emissions on their campus and, within two years, develop a plan to become climate neutral. They also pledge to integrate sustainability education into their institution's curriculum.
To decrease energy consumption and work toward carbon neutrality, the commitment asks colleges to take several steps, which can include adopting green building standards and embracing energy-efficient appliances. That's where the Clinton partnership comes in. The foundation is connecting colleges with companies that are offering to help them fund and complete building retrofits intended to decrease energy consumption and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
It's an important initiative, because existing buildings are responsible for roughly half of all greenhouse gas emissions, said Anthony Cortese, president of Second Nature, a nonprofit group that promotes sustainability in higher education and is one of the coordinators of the climate commitment.
As part of the partnership, five of the world's largest banks -- ABN AMRO, Citi, Deutsche Bank, JPMorgan Chase, and UBS -- are offering $1 billion each in financing for energy efficiency retrofits so that colleges can avoid capital spending or increases in monthly operating expenses. Eight energy services companies are signed on to perform the projects. The Clinton Foundation's idea is that by ramping up the number of projects, these companies can cut down on marketing costs and charge colleges less for their services. The companies also have agreed to make systemic retrofits, and not advise colleges to make only quick fixes that have immediate paybacks.
Finally, the partnership allows colleges to enter into a purchasing consortium for energy efficient products. Manufacturers taking part in the initiative say they will offer discounts. Colleges can take part in the partnership if they have signed on to the commitment or have a separate agreement with the Clinton Foundation.
“This is going to give college presidents new tools and resources so they can undertake large-scale building projects, which are important to meet the commitment,” said Lee Bodner, executive director of the nonprofit organization ecoAmerica, one of the supporters of the commitment. "Working with the foundation will make the process easier."
Clinton announced the partnership at the 2007 Greenbuild conference in Chicago. It is part of a larger effort taken on by the former president and the U.S. Green Building Council to help colleges, elementary and secondary schools, and cities make existing buildings more energy efficient. The Clinton Climate Initiative began its retrofitting project in the spring.
Clinton praised the climate commitment, saying in his conference keynote address that it has "enormous potential." The initiative officially began this summer with more than 280 signatories.
"This is an important place to start changing minds," Clinton said. "It's not true that green schools aren't affordable." Operational savings over time will more than pay for construction premiums, sometimes in as little as one year, Clinton said.
Colleges have taken to that message. Eleven institutions announced Tuesday the initiation of pilot projects that will take advantage of the Clinton Climate Initiative resources. They include:
- Allegheny College
- Arizona State University
- College of the Atlantic
- Dakota County Technical College
- Lee College
- Los Angeles Community College District
- Middlebury College
- St. Lawrence University
- Syracuse University
- University of Colorado at Boulder
- University of Illinois at Chicago
Colleges can choose what projects they undertake. Larry Eisenberg, executive director of facilities planning and development for the Los Angeles Community College District, said the district's proposal involves retrofitting all 455 buildings across the nine campuses. The plan is to replace lighting fixtures, motors and fans with more efficient products.
The district is releasing a request for proposal, and Eisenberg said he expects the energy service companies signed through the Clinton Climate Initiative to offer the best pricing.
"The interesting thing is that higher education could have done this on its own, and it has been doing this on its own to some extent," he said. "We can command good prices, but it doesn't touch what the Clinton initiative can do on a global basis to bring the prices down."
Eisenberg said he expects other colleges to look at replacing fixtures and using new technologies offered by companies taking part in the initiative.
At Arizona State, the pilot project involves solar power. John Riley, executive director of purchasing and business services, said he is looking to use the latest technology to improve energy efficiency.
The plan is to retrofit seven buildings as part of the project. Riley expects that the amount paid for solar power would be equal to or less than the daytime rate the university is currently paying. And he is hoping that the exercise can serve as a model for other colleges.
"The goal is to go much deeper than we've been able to do with normal energy contracts," he said. "We're showing what a solar contract might look like, what the solicitation process might be like, so that people after us don't have to reinvent the wheel."