Last month, I presented our Climate Action Plan to the Board of Trustees at their winter quarterly meeting. Though the presentation wasn’t particularly stressful or demanding, giving it imposed a deadline for the completion of the Climate Action Plan about three months ahead of schedule. Our transition in leadership coupled with the massive planning and assessment efforts we’re undertaking this spring (re-accreditation study, Academic Master Plan, STARS, new buildings, etc., etc.) made it clear that our campus decision-makers would have their plates full — not to mention the regular demands on our involved students to get their course work finished. Though many of the component pieces have been put in place in the last year, I knew I would be unable to guide the campus community through some complex decisions in these spring months — decisions about transportation emissions reductions, carbon offsets and RECs, and full integration of our Energy Plan into our facilities projects planning. And I was glad to have the Board’s attention before the May meeting turns their thoughts more fully to our presidential transition.
Of course we’re working on these things still, but on a timeline that makes more sense for us. That’s an important component of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC); the ACUPCC establishes a goal — carbon neutrality as soon as possible — and then recognizes that it’s up to campuses to chart our own unique paths toward that goal. The Commitment identifies tangible action steps that signatories can take, and emphasizes the integration of sustainability and climate education into curriculum, research, and outreach efforts (not focusing exclusively on emissions reductions from operations).
But make no mistake, the goal is net carbon neutrality as soon as possible. To date, 677 institutions have signed on to the Commitment — representing 5.8 million students nationwide. Unity College has among the lowest emissions of any campus in the country, and we’re an energy-conscious campus; net carbon neutrality at Unity College won’t have a significant impact on global climate emissions. Our great contribution to this important work will be our ability to model an approach to carbon neutrality that emphasizes sustainability and environmental education, and regionally appropriate responses to energy consumption.
Though this Climate Action Plan does not set a target date for Unity College’s carbon neutrality, it does establish a road map to help us come to firm conclusions in the coming months. I’m convinced that Unity’s approach to sustainability in education and operations could lead to carbon neutrality within the next three to eight years.