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Monday, December 28, 2015

The Best 318 Campuses of the Year, 2015

These campuses are helping erode the double standard sustainability efforts have faced. For years, we’ve had to make the case for sustainability action and also gently make the case against the status quo. No more pussy-footing around post-Paris; the status quo is on its death bed.

by Dave Newport, LEED AP
[Updated 12.29.2015. See Coda]

Time was ahead of its time in 1988.

That year they chose Earth as Time’s Planet of the Year—naively hoping it would influence nations to act on the Earth’s behalf.

And after twenty-seven years of hitting the snooze button, 195 nations sobered up in Paris, got out of bed and went to work on the future of the human race. 

While far from perfect, I’ll cop to being a fan of COP21.

Time’s 1988 choice was announced one day after the adoption of the Montreal Protocol, the last international treaty with any significant environmental consequence.

In 2015, the Paris Climate Agreement (text) has at least a chance of actually doing something significant to address climate change. I will argue it already has. Keep reading. And the actions of 318 US campuses helped underpin that deal—and substantially improve sustainabilistas’ prospects for getting work done on campus.

So, a scant few weeks after the Paris deal was locked, those campuses deserve to be recognized—at least by me. 

Here’s four solid reasons why.

1) It’s about the planet, finally (yes, it always was)

Just a few days just before the Paris COP21 convened, the White House Council on Environmental Quality reached out to scores of campuses asking for their support of the American Campuses Act on Climate Pledge. 318 campuses responded affirmatively and stood with President Obama behind the future of the planet.

If campuses had been given more time, the list would likely be much longer. My campus had 72 hours to turn around a pledge to the White House. We made it but certainly no foul if others didn’t—or didn’t even know about it.

Anyway, the list of campuses that showed up “includes historically black colleges and universities, religious institutions, women’s colleges, technical schools, community colleges, all schools in the Ivy League, and a variety of public and private universities located across more than 40 states.”

318 campuses stood in support of saving the planet. And the Paris Agreement is unabashedly about saving the planet. The very first paragraph of the deal recognizes “that climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet...”

Ah, duh.

But this bloody obvious reality has been marginalized by flat Earth stalwarts for decades. Sustainabilistas have been pitching actions to improve our campuses and, oh by the way, help the planet—and have been met with cynical attitudes and pejoratives that we are “activists” and “bunny huggers” and “starry eyed radicals.” We're not tree-clinging "crypto-socialist ecofreaks" as one campus administrator friend likes to joke (he uses a coarser f-word...), we're part of a team that includes all nations and their leaders.

So when 318 campuses stand with The President of the United States and the leaders of 195 nations and say “we need to save the fricking planet,” it’s a free get-out-of-jail-card for all of us.

Our colleague Clara Chaxin Fang penned an important blog just before the Paris talks that called for more emphasis on training students as activists. This set off a great conversation on the Green Schools Listserv about the relative merits of activism.

The Paris deal comes with activism as part of the deal.

Deal with it.

2) Climate deniers lost

Word: the $500 million-plus spent promoting climate denial over the last couple decades was wasted. The deniers lost. 195 leaders agreeing to save the planet pretty much makes irrelevant any of the BS we’ve been subjected to for decades. 

195 nations don’t unanimously agree on anything: gravity, currency, calendar, or who won the World Cup. 

But they unanimously agree that climate change is threatening human life on Earth.

So if somebody barks climate denial crap at you, you can quietly ignore them, gently hand them the Paris Deal and an Alka Seltzer, or just tell them they lost so shut the hell up.

195 nations can’t all be wrong.

It’s going to take a while for this new reality to percolate through the oil ooze in skeptics’ brains. Likewise, there’s a bunch of ideological barriers to accepting the opinion of 97% of the planet’s climate scientists and the agreement of 195 nations--but there are ways to be gracious in victory.

First, stay out of the argument about who is causing climate change. If the deniers want to deny human complicity in climate change, let em. So what. Remember, they lost—although many will go down with their guns firing. But far fewer skeptics deny that climate change is actually happening. Their beef is about the blame game. So stay out of the blame game.

Second, steer the conversation to solutions. For climate deniers, if the solutions are market-based instead of more government regulation-based, they are far more inclined to support climate action. Perfect! The Paris deal is about voluntary, market based approaches.  

Coming soon to a planet near you: the business of climate action.

Let's do business.

3) The poor oil companies

Not kidding, this is what the conservative trade journal MarketWatch penned in the hours after the Paris Deal was announced: “As if it couldn’t get any worse for oil companies, the historic climate-change deal agreed in Paris is seen as another nail in the coffin of future demand for fossil fuels, Morgan Stanley analysts said in a note.”

Wow, the poor oil companies. :( Quick, let’s get the oil execs beds in the homeless shelter…

Quickly reverting to their avaricious roots, MarketWatch went about reporting the big banks’ advice on which stocks “have exposure to climate change-related solutions…for investors wishing to play the climate change and low carbon solutions theme.” In short, how to make money from climate action.

So, welcome to the beginning of the end of the fossil fuels addiction and the path towards a decarbonized planet.

What does this mean for campus sustainabilistas? Everything.

No more double standard for sustainability efforts on campus. For years, we’ve had to both make the case for a sustainability action AND ALSO make the case against the status quo.

No more; the status quo is on its death bed.

We don’t have to argue against the paradigm that oil is cheaper—and always will be.  Even the CEO of the nation’s fourth largest utility is publically admitting that wind energy is cheaper than natural gas for the foreseeable future. And gas is close to historic lows right now. So, don’t let your conservative energy manager or CEO blow you off with low fossil fuel-cost BS.

Likewise, businesses are buying wind and solar at record rates—what do they know that campuses don’t?  The list of big boys contracting for hundreds of megawatts of wind and solar includes Apple, HP, Kaiser Permanente, Google, Dow, Amazon, and Owens Corning

All the above continues to drive the divestment movement across the planet, which is now at a record level. The pressure on trustees still in an oil coma to wake up and smell the renewables mounts every day. And with each news cycle, more divestment news cometh—although some continue to reject the inevitable.

2015 has seen many horrors beyond the scope of comment here, but it has been a very good year for the business of climate sanity.

In 2016, all things are possible.

4) People and the planet, finally

If he hadn’t already put righties and some lefties on edge with his ground breaking encyclical on climate justice, the run-up to Paris was significantly defined by Pope Francis’ Moral Action on Climate Justice rally in Washington DC, and in his many speeches during his September visit to the USA.

Did the Paris deal deliver on the Papal imperative?  Some say yes, many other climate justice advocates say not really

Either way, climate justice has been inserted into the climate action conversation for the first time. For the first time, the plight of poor nations, indigenous peoples, victims of environmental injustice, and the impacts of climate injustice on global security are being seen by many as a serious issue. 

Will this translate into justice for all? It’s a start but needs lots more attention. The Paris Deal has only one reference to climate justice, and it is hedged, as "noting the importance for some of the concept of “climate justice”, when taking action to address climate change..."

I can understand why the climate justice advocates are pissed at Paris.

But for campus sustainabilistas, Paris and Pope Francis further enabled a budding alliance between the overly white sustainabilista community and the largely under-represented social justice advocates. We have previously offered New Rules for campus sustainabilistas to expand the choir. Paris at once ratified those rules and said they were inadequate. So we keep working.

The work is to grow beyond our white walls, ally with campus diversity and social justice advocates, and harness the power of Paris and the Pope. And this alliance, while obviously much larger and more diverse, is also much more politically powerful because every campus is worried about its diversity issues.

Paris didn’t solve the planet’s climate justice inequities any more than it stopped climate change, but it further warmed the rapport between sustainabilistas and campus social justice advocates.

So, let’s warm to the task.

The envelope please.

318 campuses stood with President Obama in support of the Paris Deal. In turn, 318 campuses stood with 195 nations in support of life on Earth, climate sanity, green business, and climate justice. The ramifications of that are profound for those of us who have chosen to work in this realm.

I don’t want to overstate the positive impacts of any of the above, but it has been a good year for campus sustainability. I don’t say that easily; in fact, I’ve never said that before. I have several times bashed the academe for campus inaction on sustainability

Scott Carlson at the Chronicle for Higher Education wrote a fair article this year that asks some valid questions about campus sustainability, its impact, and its future.

Carlson points out that while sustainability-related issues are breaking out all over the planet, on campus "sustainability no longer gets as much campus attention as sexual assault, affordability, or institutional viability." 

Indeed, the article concludes with cautionary tales.

"Advocates should be able to make the case for how green programs can reduce costs and risks in energy prices, appeal to prospective students and forward-thinking businesses, or keep educational programs relevant for the future."

"Some [campus sustainability advocates] are still talking about rescuing a polar bear on an iceberg," says Mr. Collison. "If they don’t get to the next level, we’re doomed."

With great respect to those comments: been there, done that. I've been making the business case for sustainability since before Facebook existed. And here we are.

Color me Pollyanna, but the Paris Deal gives us new tools. We must use these tools in our work: it's about life on Earth, the climate debate is over, carbon fuels are passe/green is mainstream business, and we act best when we work on behalf of those with the least.

As a good friend likes to snark: "when all else fails go to truth."

318 Chancellors and Presidents can't all be wrong.

For those contributions, the 318 leaders that helped legitimize higher education’s participation in the Paris Deal and enable more robust climate and sustainability actions should be given their due. 

Time to give thanks.

Therefore, in the unanimous opinion of a committee of one, I hereby declare these 318 campuses as The Department of Changed 2015 Campuses of the Year. 

Their leaders should be respected and sincerely thanked by all of us for stepping up when asked to by our President and in response to the moral imperative climate change presents, consistent with the academe’s tradition of championing critical causes, and reflective of all things right and good for those most at risk in the world.

Thanks to 318 Chancellors and Presidents for signing that pledge.

Please accept these tributes. You know who you are. (See below for complete list.)

Now back to work.

There is no Plan B.


Campuses that signed the American Campuses Act on Climate Pledge
Updated December 10, 2015

CODA 12/29/15: 218 campuses had signed by the CEQ's original deadline. Another 100 campuses have signed on since. The article above and list below have been updated to reflect these data. -DN

(If your campus didn’t sign off but wants to, contact the White House Council on Environmental Quality and they will happily add you to the fold of leadership institutions. Interested schools should email for instructions on how to join.)

1. Agnes Scott College
2. Alfred State College (SUNY)
3. American University
4. Antioch College
5. Antioch University New England
6. Appalachian State University
7. Auburn University
8. Augsburg College
9. Ball State University
10. Bard College
11. Bay de Noc Community College
12. Bennett College
13. Bennington College
14. Bentley University
15. Berea College
16. Bergen Community College
17. Binghamton University (SUNY)
18. Boston Architectural College
19. Boston University
20. Bowdoin College
21. Bowie State University
22. Brandeis University
23. Bristol Community College
24. Brookhaven College (Dallas County Community College District)
25. Brown University
26. Buffalo State (SUNY)
27. California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo
28. California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
29. California State University Channel Islands
30. California State University Maritime Academy
31. California State University San Marcos
32. California State University, Bakersfield
33. California State University, Chico
34. California State University, Dominguez Hills
35. California State University, East Bay
36. California State University, Fresno
37. California State University, Fullerton
38. California State University, Long Beach
39. California State University, Los Angeles
40. California State University, Monterey Bay
41. California State University, Northridge
42. California State University, Sacramento
43. California State University, San Bernardino
44. California State University, Stanislaus
45. Carnegie Mellon University
46. Cayuga Community College (SUNY)
47. Cedar Valley College
48. Central Community College
49. Champlain College
50. Chandler-Gilbert Community College (MCCCD)
51. Chesapeake College
52. Claflin University
53. Clark Atlanta University
54. Clarkson University
55. Cleveland State University
56. Clinton Community College (SUNY)
57. Coahoma Community College
58. Colby College
59. Colgate University
60. College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY)
61. College of Lake County
62. College of Optometry (SUNY)
63. Colorado College
64. Colorado State University
65. Columbia University
66. Columbia-Greene Community College (SUNY)
67. Coppin State University
68. Cornell University
69. Corning Community College (SUNY)
70. Cuyahoga Community College
71. Dartmouth College
72. Delta College
73. Denison University
74. Denmark Technical College
75. DePaul University
76. Desert Research Institute
77. Dickinson College
78. Duke University
79. Dutchess Community College (SUNY)
80. Eastern Connecticut State University
81. Emory & Henry College
82. Empire State College (SUNY)
83. Erie Community College (SUNY)
84. Estrella Mountain Community College (MCCCD)
85. Farmingdale State College (SUNY)
86. Fashion Institute of Technology (SUNY)
87. Finger Lakes Community College (SUNY)
88. Florida A&M University 
89. Florida Climate Institute 
90. Florida Gulf Coast University
91. Florida International University
92. Frostburg State University
93. Fulton-Montgomery Community College (SUNY)
94. Furman University
95. Gallaudet University
96. GateWay Community College (MCCCD)
97. Gateway Technical College
98. Genesee Community College (SUNY)
99. George Mason University
100. Georgetown University
101. Glendale Community College (MCCCD)
102. Goshen College
103. Goucher College
104. Governors State University
105. Green Mountain College
106. Hampshire College
107. Harvard University
108. Harvey Mudd College
109. Haskell Indian Nations University
110. Haverford College
111. Hawai'i Community College (UH)
112. Herkimer County Community College (SUNY)
113. Honolulu Community College (UH)
114. Howard University
115. Hudson Valley Community College (SUNY)
116. Humboldt State University (CSU)
117. Iowa State University
118. Jamestown Community College (SUNY)
119. Jefferson Community College (SUNY)
120. John Carroll University
121. Johns Hopkins University
122. Kapi'olani Community College (UH)
123. Kaua’i Community College (UH)
124. Kent State University
125. Lane Community College
126. Lasell College
127. Lawson State Community College
128. Leeward Community College (UH)
129. Lewis and Clark College
130. Lincoln University of Missouri
131. Macalester College
132. Maritime College (SUNY)
133. Maryville College
134. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
135. Mesa Community College (MCCCD)
136. Miami Dade College
137. Michigan State University
138. Middlebury College
139. Millersville University
140. Milwaukee Area Technical College
141. Missouri University of Science and Technology
142. Mohawk Valley Community College (SUNY)
143. Monroe Community College (SUNY)
144. Montgomery County Community College
145. Morehouse College
146. Morgan State University
147. Morris Brown College
148. Morrisville State College (SUNY)
149. Nassau Community College (SUNY)
150. New York University
151. Niagara County Community College (SUNY)
152. North Carolina A&T State University
153. North Country Community College (SUNY)
154. North Lake College
155. Northeast Lakeview College (Alamo)
156. NorthWest Arkansas Community College
157. Northwest Vista College (Alamo)
158. Northwestern University
159. Norwalk Community College
160. NYS College of Agriculture & Life Sciences at Cornell University (SUNY)
161. NYS College of Ceramics at Alfred University (SUNY)
162. NYS College of Human Ecology at Cornell (SUNY)
163. NYS College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University (SUNY)
164. NYS School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell (SUNY)
165. Oakton Community College
166. Oberlin College
167. Onondaga Community College (SUNY)
168. Orange County Community College (SUNY)
169. Pacific University
170. Palo Alto College  (Alamo)
171. Paradise Valley Community College (MCCCD)
172. Paul Smith's College
173. Phoenix College (MCCCD)
174. Pitzer College
175. Pomona College
176. Portland Community College
177. Portland State University
178. Princeton University
179. Purchase College (SUNY)
180. Quinebaug Valley Community College
181. Radford University 
182. Ramapo College of New Jersey
183. Randolph College
184. Raritan Valley Community College
185. Rio Salado College (MCCCD)
186. Rochester Institute of Technology
187. Rockland Community College (SUNY)
188. Rutgers University
189. Salisbury University
190. San Antonio College (Alamo)
191. San Diego State University (CSU)
192. San Francisco State University (CSU)
193. San José State University (CSU)
194. Santa Clara University
195. Schenectady County Community College (SUNY)
196. School for International Training
197. School of the Art Institute of Chicago
198. Scottsdale Community College (MCCCD)
199. Shaw University
200. Smith College
201. Sonoma State University (CSU)
202. South Mountain Community College (MCCCD)
203. Southern Connecticut State University
204. Southern Oregon University
205. Southern University Agricultural Research and Extension Center
206. Southern University and A&M College
207. Southern University at New Orleans
208. Southern University at Shreveport
209. Southern University Law Center
210. Spelman College
211. St. Mary’s College of Maryland
212. St. Philip's College (Alamo)
213. Stanford University
214. Stonehill College
215. Stony Brook University (SUNY)
216. Suffolk County Community College (SUNY)
217. Sullivan County Community College (SUNY)
218. SUNY Adirondack
219. SUNY Broome
220. SUNY Canton
221. SUNY Cobleskill
222. SUNY Cortland
223. SUNY Delhi
224. SUNY Downstate Medical Center
225. SUNY Fredonia
226. SUNY Geneseo
227. SUNY New Paltz
228. SUNY Oneonta
229. SUNY Oswego
230. SUNY Plattsburgh
231. SUNY Polytechnic Institute
232. SUNY Potsdam
233. SUNY Ulster
234. Swarthmore College
235. Syracuse University
236. Temple University
237. The College at Brockport (SUNY)
238. The College at Old Westbury (SUNY)
239. The George Washington University
240. The New School
241. The Ohio State University 
242. Tompkins Cortland Community College (SUNY)
243. Towson University
244. Truman State University
245. Tufts University
246. Tulane University
247. Unity College
248. Universities at Shady Grove
249. University at Albany, SUNY
250. University at Buffalo, SUNY
251. University of Alaska Southeast
252. University of Arizona
253. University of Arkansas
254. University of Baltimore
255. University of California, Berkeley
256. University of California, Davis
257. University of California, Irvine
258. University of California, Los Angeles
259. University of California, Merced
260. University of California, Riverside
261. University of California, San Diego
262. University of California, San Francisco
263. University of California, Santa Barbara
264. University of California, Santa Cruz
265. University of Colorado Boulder
266. University of Connecticut
267. University of Delaware
268. University of Florida
269. University of Hawai’i - West O'ahu
270. University of Hawai’i at Hilo
271. University of Hawai’i at Manoa
272. University of Hawai’i Maui College
273. University of Illinois at Chicago
274. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
275. University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences
276. University of Maryland University College
277. University of Maryland, Baltimore
278. University of Maryland, Baltimore County
279. University of Maryland, College Park
280. University of Maryland, Eastern Shore
281. University of Massachusetts Amherst
282. University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
283. University of Michigan
284. University of Minnesota
285. University of Minnesota, Morris
286. University of Mississippi
287. University of Nevada, Las Vegas
288. University of Nevada, Reno
289. University of New Hampshire
290. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
291. University of North Carolina at Wilmington
292. University of Northern Iowa
293. University of Notre Dame
294. University of Pennsylvania
295. University of Puget Sound
296. University of Richmond
297. University of San Francisco
298. University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV)
299. University of Washington
300. University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point
301. University of Wisconsin - Oshkosh
302. Upstate Medical University (SUNY)
303. Vassar College
304. Vermont Law School
305. Villanova University
306. Wake Forest University
307. Wake Technical Community College
308. Wells College
309. Wesleyan College
310. Wesleyan University
311. Westchester Community College (SUNY)
312. Western Michigan University
313. Western Technical College
314. Wheaton College
315. Willamette University
316. Williams College
317. Windward Community College (UH)
318. Yale University