Thursday, November 13, 2008

Report from the AASHE show: Progress from 2 yrs ago, Funding Still Challenging

The AASHE show was very well attended and everyone agreed interest, investments, and awareness in reducing carbon at the college level have increased significantly since the first AASHE show 2 years ago. After 3 days of speaking with dozens and dozens of people, answers to my pre-show questions are below, marked by ===.

Investment Levels
1. How aggressively will colleges invest in sustainability and actual efficiency and carbon reduction projects in the next 18 months, particularly given the recession. Have they put projects on hold or canceled projects? If they don't have a sustainability manger or officer, have they delayed hiring one? Who is approving investments?

== Budgets are being tightened, but not completely slashed. Travel budgets were cut by at least 5 colleges, preventing show attendance, but I did not find anyone who canceled an existing project. Some had budget, but the overall sense was that projects were stalled by the byzantine process of capital allocation and approval at universities, and that most Presidents and senior leadership have not increased investment mix toward energy efficiency or renewables. Clear agreement that power rested with the Capital budgeting process and team, and that facilities and EHS tended to have very tight budgets.

Benefits of Investment
2. Where do they see the biggest benefit of investment (or conversely where are they getting the most pressure to invest)? Students? Alumni? Trustees? faculty? cost savings? "keeping up with peer colleges as they battle for new students?

== Clearly student pressure, by a small but vocal group, is highest. Other than a very few exceptions, these efforts are not being lead or pushed by Presidents. One school had added a Trustee to their green team, which promoted more activity. It was very clear that schools do not have comprehensive investment strategys or goals. Investment prioritizes (energy savings, leadership/public statement, campus as classroom, >) remains unclear. Even stalwarts and leaders like Yale and Harvard, both of which have done great work, mentioned the challenge of the organizational intransigence.

Effects of Grading Schemes
3. At least 5 college "green" grading schemes have been develop, all using a different methodology. How much do this influence investment decisions?

== Schools were clearly aware of these competing schemes, but they didn't drive decisions.

4. How committed to actual climate neutrality are they if their organization as signed the PCC? Does the president and trustees realize that this may involved spending millions for offsets? Will the PCC be any different than the Talloires Declaration, a ten-point action plan for colleges and universities committed to promoting education for sustainability and environmental commitment signed by over 330 colleges and universities, but for which little investment was made?

=="Climate Neutrality" is not understood by adminstrators, and thus falls into the bucket of platidues such as Patriotic, Educational, Leadership. A few schools are not signing for this reason and I met one person who believed this overstepping goal will back fire and discredit the program and movement.

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