Join the Clean Energy Conversation at #CleanEnergyU

Sue Hall

Chevrolet today celebrated a striking innovation that will help us all drive toward a cleaner energy future: it opened an entirely new source of funding – the US voluntary carbon market – to accelerate energy efficiency performance to new heights at our schools and universities.   Eleven campuses will now receive millions of dollars of funding from Chevy, which committed to purchase their energy efficiency reductions as carbon credits – and retire them to permanently benefit the planet as it drives towards its 8 million ton reduction goal.

That’s quite a clean energy legacy for Chevy to leave — thanks to the new Campus Clean Energy Efficiency methodology it helped pioneer (and we wrote) that opened the door to this new capital market for high-performing energy efficiency projects.

So when did universities last gain access to such a new source of capital, I asked Prof. Bob Koester from Ball State University?  “A decade ago, green revolving loan funds entered the scene; before then you have to go back about thirty years to find the use of utility and policy-based incentives.” So if we’re lucky this is a once-a-decade kind of a thing?  “Yes, that seems to be the pattern.”

Yet the good news is that the drive toward a clean energy future doesn’t need to stop here with Chevy: LEED buildings whose performance exceed specified thresholds can now continue to earn money from the broader US carbon markets to drive their clean energy performances even deeper over time. We can even expand LEED buildings’ access to carbon markets beyond those located on campuses by expanding the methodology’s scope to other sectors. The US voluntary carbon market invests $180 million annually and, with energy efficiency projects now only securing about 2 percent of those carbon market revenues, the share of carbon funding that a clean energy future can now draw upon is set to rise significantly.

So why is clean energy important to us all? Why did these 11 campuses strive to achieve energy efficiency performance levels that secured them millions of carbon credit funding?

The conversations now taking place on Twitter at #CleanEnergyU are shedding light on why so many leaders across the campuses and non profits have stepped forward to pioneer this new partnership road with Chevy.

Wim Weiwel, president at Portland State University, suggests that “university presidents are in a uniquely influential position to not only shape the debate about climate change but also to be catalysts for action. We lead institutions that are full of brilliant, forward thinkers (our faculty) and eager idealists (our students). We also oversee multimillion dollar budgets and large-scale construction projects… We can lead by example.”

Enid Cardinal, senior sustainability advisor to RIT’s president, agrees: initially “conflicted”, she came to see Chevy’s program as an “ideal opportunity for RIT to reinvest in its sustainability efforts.” Why? “Universities have a responsibility to experiment with technological and operational solutions. The funding (RIT will) receive as part of Chevy’s Campus Clean Energy Campaign will be used to do just that.”

Yet university presidents are not alone: they have been joined by their students who have also taken key leadership roles. So why would our student “idealists” decide to partner with Chevy toward this same clean energy future?

Students’ motivations certainly strike the proactive, activist – and idealistic – note as Wim expected: “Student leaders across the country are taking the initiative to make our campuses and the world a better place,” noted Shaun Franks, student from Southern Oregon University. “I’ve seen students engage in multiple ways from managing the investments of SOU Green Fund, researching clean energy at the SOU Center for Sustainability, having their voices heard on campus issues at the President’s Sustainability Council.”

Yet student leaders like Shaun also recognize that their own leadership can be amplified further by partnering with their administration, their community and even proactive companies like Chevy. “Student engagement at SOU has always been amplified by the support of university staff, administration, and community partners… And I know (students) appreciate it when corporations (also) stand ready to support them when they lead.”

Maybe that’s the collaborative, entrepreneurial mindset that enabled Shaun to secure the Chevy funding for Southern Oregon University while still a student: he was the person who connected his SOU administrators with the Chevy team – and made sure the funding for SOU’s leadership came through!

Other students’ clean energy aspirations have focused on driving on-the-ground progress today: Ryan Peters, a new intern at Boston University “didn’t want to wait four years to begin making an impact” after he graduated. His astute analysis proved BU would be eligible for Chevy carbon credit funding: “it validated the clean energy steps taken at BU and built the momentum — and new funding — we needed to push for even more ambitious carbon reductions. We can now even outpace our earlier ambitious goals!”

Other students, like Marcea Lewis, strike a more thoughtful, personal note: speaking from Spelman College, a campus dedicated to raising African American women’s voices to make a difference in the world since 1881, she now believes that “living a more sustainable life is something anyone can implement. The earth will continue to thrive if we treat it right and put forth the effort to conserve its resources.”

So in a word or two, why have others joined Chevy in driving towards a clean energy future?

  • “The US and China have just committed to big carbon goals for 2030: colleges have a critical role getting us there.” Eban Goodstein, Director Bard College, Chevy Environmental Advisory Board
  • “Chevrolet #CleanEnergyU funding will help charge up @IllinoisAlma as the campus heads down the clean energy road.” — @sustainILLINOIS, University Illinois at Urbana Champaign
  • “Clean energy is important to me because it powers the future I want for my children.” David Tulauskas, Sustainability Director, General Motors
  • “The reason clean energy is important to me is that it takes ‘us’ in the right direction for long term sustainability.” Terry Pahl, Facilities Director Grand Valley State University

Interestingly, students have told me that they don’t have a place to get into conversation with students from other campuses — or our sustainability leaders — to discuss their clean energy aspirations. So we thought we’d invite our student leaders – and yours – to join that conversation today at #CleanEnergyU alongside their university presidents, NGO leaders and Chevy.

So join the conversation! Why is a clean energy future is important to you? Share your views with Chevy by joining the conversation with these student leaders via #CleanEnergyU today.

Sue Hall
CEO, Climate Neutral Business Network