Green Power and Higher Education
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by John Powers on 11/03/2011
Students are at the forefront of the environmental movement.
Back in 2003, before Al Gore made any movies and the U.S. woke up to the climate crisis, the rumblings of sustainability were beginning on college campuses across America. We saw Harvard encouraging students to “Go Cold Turkey” and turn off lights during thanksgiving and Duke ran a “Green Power Challenge” where the university matched student and faculty purchases of renewable energy. As is often the case with progressive ideas, student groups were, and continue to be, at the forefront of the environmental movement.
One area that has seen tremendous growth in the last decade has been voluntary purchases of renewable energy. We have seen average annual growth rates of 41% since 20041 in the voluntary market. Many of the first major purchasers of green power were colleges and universities, from Penn State to Carnegie Mellon. More often than not, the decision to support green power came from the ground up, with students demanding environmental accountability from their schools and often even voluntarily raising their own student fees to fund their green power programs.
This leadership continues today, as groups such as ACUPCC (American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment) and AASHE (Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education) have helped formalize and direct the sustainability efforts of higher education and include supporting renewable energy. To date, 670 college and university presidents have signed the ACUPCC agreement, which commits their schools to working to combat climate change. This commitment includes developing a Climate Action Plan, measuring greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, setting targets and reducing carbon emissions through a combination of efficiencies, behavior changes, and green power and carbon offset commitments.
The influence of university green power purchasing goes beyond the campuses themselves. Early on, large green power purchases inspired corporate America to take notice too. Pearson, the leading publisher of college textbooks, has embraced the sustainability mission it shares with so many of its constituents in the world of education. “We know that many of our stakeholders – young people, educators, business people and everyday citizens – are passionate about sustainability, as are many of the people that work at Pearson.”
As part of this commitment, Pearson purchases over 140,000 MWh of green power annually - enough to offset all their North American facilities and land them in the top 25 of the EPA’s Green Power Partnership program.
Through a combination of purchasing green power, building Climate Action Plans and implementing energy reduction projects, institutions of higher learning have long led the charge on sustainability. By showing accountability for their own footprint, schools can meet the demands of their students, inspire corporate action beyond the campus and educate students to share this knowledge as they enter the workforce.
Need help with the sustainability plan on your campus? Check out our free resource: 6 Simple Steps: Best Practices For Sustainability on College Campuses.
1 NREL Voluntary Green Power Purchase 2015
John Powers is Director of Environmental Commodities at Renewable Choice.