By Bronte Payne, Environment America Research and Policy Center
On February 14, 2017, Environment America and the Student Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs) launched a campaign to secure commitments from American colleges and universities to shift to 100 percent renewable energy.
“Colleges and universities can lead the nation’s efforts to transition to 100 percent renewable energy and address our largest environmental challenges,” said Bronte Payne, Clean Energy Associate with Environment America. “Renewable energy makes our campus communities safer, healthier and helps end our reliance on dangerous fossil fuels.”
“With programs to slow climate change in trouble in Washington, other centers of national leadership need to step up. America’s colleges and universities are critically important in this regard,” said Gus Speth, Former Dean, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.
Hundreds of colleges and universities already pledged to achieve carbon neutrality as signatories of the Climate Leadership Commitment. Universities that eliminate use of fossil fuels will play an important role in transitioning the nation to 100 percent renewable energy. The campaign launched as hundreds of college administrators, sustainability directors and clean energy experts met to collaborate on achieving their carbon emission reduction targets.
“Since 2006, the Climate Leadership Network has been driving higher education campuses to meet aggressive renewable energy goals with over 500,000,000 kWh being produced from renewable sources at signatory institutions every year,” said Tim Carter, Executive Director of Second Nature. “In the decade since the Network started, procuring renewable energy is simply a smart business decision in many areas of the country. Environment America’s 100 percent renewable energy campaign will bring awareness to the longstanding commitments these campuses have made and accelerate progress across the sector.”
A combination of environmental concerns and declining costs have made renewable energy the “go-to” option for many communities, businesses and institutions. Major corporations, including Google, General Motors and Walmart, have already committed to completely shift to renewable energy. Dozens of local governments, including San Diego, California, St. Petersburg, Florida and Georgetown, Texas, also have plans to go 100 percent renewable.
“Colleges and universities are significant users of energy and can make a big difference by transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy,” said Rob Sargent, Environment America’s Clean Energy Program Director. “As influential institutions in our communities they can set an example across America.”
“The shift to a sustainable campus requires the input and innovation of all members of the Cornell community,” said Sarah Zemanick, Campus Sustainability Office Director. “There will be challenges with transitioning from our current energy systems to new ways of producing, operating, and managing, but as a University we are uniquely positioned to embrace these challenges as educational and research opportunities, and share our progress and successes with the world.”
At the same time, the energy and enthusiasm of public-minded students at colleges and universities has played a role in most important social transformations, and will do so again as we shift to clean energy.
“The idea of shifting to 100 percent renewable energy inspires young people who have the greatest stake in stopping investments in fossil fuels and tackling the climate crisis,” said Nicole Walter, CalPIRG Student Board Chair. “Engaging students on college campuses across the country helps train activists and leaders we’ll need to make the clean energy transition.”
“Now, more than ever, we need leadership. Which is why we are counting on the higher education community to lead, by committing to a rapid shift to clean energy,” said Payne. “We are excited to work with students, faculty and campus administrations to embrace 100 percent renewable energy.”
Find out how you can start organizing support for 100 percent renewable energy on your campus.