Top Trending Earth Day #CleanEnergyU Dialogue: What Did We All Learn?

Sue Hall

So how did our experimental #CleanEnergyU dialogue between university students and clean energy leaders end up top trending on Twitter during Earth Day? How did #CleanEnergyU manage to engage 7 million impressions – double that of our first fall 2014 dialogue? What were all these leaders talking about, and what did we learn from them?

Students from around the U.S. shared clean energy photo petitions on Twitter.

Students from around the U.S. shared clean energy photo petitions on Twitter.

This Earth Month, campuses spanning Boston University, Valencia College, Spelman College, Grand Valley State University, Southern Oregon University, Rochester Institute of Technology, University of Wisconsin Stevens Point and all the other members of Chevrolet’s Clean Energy Campus Campaign were joined by clean energy leaders to explore their vision for a clean energy future by 2025 – and the actions it will take to get us there. Gathering in classrooms and outdoor quadrangles, students and faculty posted their clean energy vision and action priorities to chalk boards and Post-It walls – snapping selfies and tweeting onto #CleanEnergyU – to build a collective vision.  This spring, the #CleanEnergyU dialogue was also joined by another dozen campuses from the Sierra Student Coalition which morphed the vision-Post-It-wall process into a photo-petition. Students tweeted their #CleanEnergyU vision statements to their campus twitter accounts to stage a virtual “sit-in” for Earth Day to raise their clean energy voices to their administrations!


At the same time, international clean energy leaders joined the #CleanEnergyU dialogue via a live tweetathon where they took questions from students during a three-hour long open dialogue – while also sharing their own Post-It vision statements via #CleanEnergyU. Chevrolet even embraced its own Post-It wall process as youngsters joined their parents on a “take-your-kid-to-work-day,” bringing new fresh visions for how to create a greener world.twitter1

The twitter2results?

While last fall #CleanEnergyU engaged leaders spanning multiple sectors and continents, this Earth Month the conversation really began to heat up. Over a thousand Q&A tweets sprung up across parallel live conversation threads spanning fossil fuel divestment, the water/energy/food nexus, battery storage tech innovations – identifying concrete actions students can take to help drive a clean energy future via the US #PowerDialog or joining the Sierra Club students attending the Paris #COP21 accord meeting!

Campuses also took the #CleanEnergyU dialogue in new directions as GVSU, Spelman and the Sierra Club #SeizetheGrid Convergence took the #CleanEnergyU Post-It conversations into faculty classrooms and workshop settings.

twitter3twitter4twitter5“The clean energy Post-Its are genius,” texted Anastasia Schemkes, Campaign Representative at the Sierra Student Coalition “They are a gold mine for students’ clean energy ideas!”

As she explains further, within five minutes of students entering the door, the #CleanEnergyU Post-It dialogue rapidly brought all students’ visions to life in the workshop – empowering them to further discuss how the barriers in the energy supply network could best be overcome and prioritizing local community based clean energy solutions.

At GVSU in Erik Nordman’s policy classroom, the conversation clearly also took a very thoughtful turn, with an extra credit assignment resulting in insights from student Zachary Sompel, published in our recent GBIG blog, that most clean energy leaders would have been proud to pen.

“The recent collaboration with Chevrolet and other universities has put a face on the otherwise masked assailant in the room- the energy crisis. The fact that large corporations have also come to the realization that we, as citizens of earth, are on the verge on an energy catastrophe is a refreshing idea.” GVSU student, Zach Sompels continues, “We see the most powerful weapon in our arsenal against unsustainable energy is the “spread of information. The idea. Wind turbines can be torn down, solar panels destroyed, bills turned down, and plastic thrown away, but what can’t be destroyed is a unifying idea. Only when the people work and come together, to a realization that our earth is headed toward a serious energy crisis, are we able to unify under this idea of a clean energy future and fight for change.”

As a result, Joel Makower is now challenging students to think even more deeply during the next fall #CleanEnergyU dialogue, offering to publish the best student articles next time on

So what did campuses learn from the #CleanEnergyU process?

Some takeaways were surprising:

  • “At Valencia College, we think the students’ vision Post-Its can be leveraged to draw awareness to their striking focus on more electric/hybrid vehicle solutions: this #CleanEnergyU Post-It dialogue was a great way for students’ voice to be collected and shared more broadly across campus. The activity gets students thinking about their role in a clean energy future.”valencia1
  • “The Sierra Student Coalition transformed the Post-It vision selfies into photo petitions for our Seize the Grid campaign. Students at nearly a dozen campuses posted  #CleanEnergyU selfies to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to bring the message to fellow students and their administrations. The photo petitions have engaged hundreds of students and we’re going to continue to promote #SeizetheGrid photo petitions as a way to start acting for 100% clean energy on campus.”
  • “At BU, we are struck by how our campus #CleanEnergyU carbon tower/Post-It dialogue inspired others to engage their communities in the clean energy conversation for action. It is especially exciting to see a company like Chevy to follow suit!  That was a most welcome addition!”

Other campuses’ vision/action priorities offered a striking reflection of their core values and cultural priorities:

  • At Spelman College, clean energy visions were all anchored upon empowering their “beloved North End” local community to collaborate toward a clean energy future together with the college studentsspelman1
  • Southern Oregon University’s ideas stretched the envelope with vision statements embracing fewer people and radical simplicity
  • The Sierra Club campuses voiced an almost military style discipline with their exceptional focus on energy efficiency actions (100%) and clean energy/renewable energy visions (57%) – all focused on-message, sent to their administrations, campaign style!

#CleanEnergyU speakers also chimed in to highlight the clean energy, transportation and education – and were similarly focused on priorities that were most strategic to realizing a clean energy future, pushing further up the supply chain to the water/energy/food nexus and fossil fuel divestment spectrum.

In terms of the overall consensus, viewing the vision/action results as a whole for the Chevy campuses, the No. 1 vision unsurprisingly focused on 100% clean energy/renewable solutions – although the classic gap between vision and actions was also visible as recycling topped the “action” lists (can we recycle our way to a clean energy future?). More nuanced, however, were the No. 2 and 3 slots dedicated to greener transportation and education priorities, reflecting the parallel importance of moving beyond an exclusive building focus for clean energy. These vision priorities embraced transport solutions ranging from biking, walking, electric vehicles, magnetic trains and more, while also extending adoption of cleaner energy practices to a broader community. Also encouraging were campuses’ cluster of action priorities in the local sustainable food arena, with posts recognizing how a shift to a meat-less diet can deliver equivalent carbon savings to taking one’s car off the road.

twitter6Special congratulations to the BU interns, Chen Cao and Lindsey Chew, who first called for the #CleanEnergyU dialogue to be convened — and have helped co-design and moderate all our conversations to date! And to the couple of dozen campuses that have engaged in the #CleanEnergyU dialogue to date in ways that have brought our clean energy future to the top of the Earth Day twitter charts.

So are you interested to see where the next #CleanEnergyU discussions will turn this fall, as campuses celebrate National Campus Sustainability Day?  Wondering what the next suite of challenges are that #CleanEnergyU might address?

Stay tuned as we explore again this fall how campuses can best lead their communities toward a clean energy future, inviting in an even broader spectrum of local community leaders to join their campuses, in the quad and the classroom, to deepen the #CleanEnergyU dialogue even further!

Sue Hall
CEO, Climate Neutral Business Network