Why It Matters
College and University Campuses
For decades, we have had the power to harness clean, abundant energy from the sun and the wind. Now, it can be done more efficiently and cheaply than ever before. Yet, the U.S. is still producing, consuming and wasting energy in ways that do lasting damage to our environment and our health.
It doesn’t make sense to frack for gas near schools instead of putting solar panels on their roofs; drill for oil near beaches instead of harnessing the winds that blow offshore; or burn coal, oil, and gas instead of powering our homes, cars and lives with clean, renewable energy.
We’re promoting a bold and clear vision of a greener, healthier world, one powered solely by clean, renewable energy. We’re also taking concrete steps right now that will bring us closer to the world we want to live in.
America’s institutions of higher education can play a crucial role in the fight to prevent the worst impacts of global warming. Colleges and universities across the country should aggressively deploy clean energy on campus, setting a goal of getting 100 percent of their energy from clean renewable sources.
What is clean, renewable energy?
Not all renewable energy sources have an equal benefit for the environment. Some forms of biomass and hydroelectric power, for example, can create environmental problems. Colleges moving away from fossil fuels should ensure that they transition to to truly clean, renewable energy, including energy sources that are:
- Virtually pollution-free, producing little to no global warming pollution or health threatening pollution
- Inexhaustible, coming from natural sources that are regenerative or practically unlimited. No matter how much we use, there will always be more
- Safe, with minimal impacts on the environment, community safety and public health, and those impacts that do occur are temporary, not permanent
- Efficient, representing a wise use of resources. Although all energy sources must be deployed responsibly, solar and wind energy meet these criteria, as do many types of ocean, tidal, river current and geothermal energy. Energy efficiency technologies also count as “clean energy” – delivering continuous environmental benefit at limited to no environmental cost
Why Campuses are Great for Renewable Energy
- Colleges are major energy users – The nearly 5,000 colleges and universities in the U.S. serve 20 million students, representing more than 6 percent of the national population. All told, the higher education sector spends roughly $14 billion on energy cost each year.
- Campuses are conducive to clean energy – College and university campuses often have physical attributes that make them good locations for hosting clean energy projects. Many have space on rooftops, in parking lots, and on marginal lands for hosting solar panels, wind turbines and other clean energy projects. Additionally, there are mechanisms for campuses to use off-site renewable energy to achieve 100 percent renewables.
- Colleges can save money by investing in clean energy – In 2013, 72% of the institutions that submitted data to Second Nature reported saving money through their sustainability initiatives. Colleges can save money and hedge against volatile fossil fuel costs by investing in clean energy.
- Clean energy can provide research and learning opportunities – Colleges’ roles as leaders of innovation and training make them ideally suited to lead the way toward a clean energy future. They can apply newly developed technologies on campus, and use clean energy installations as opportunities for teaching and research.
- Students want clean energy – Adopting clean energy appeals to prospective students and meets desires of current students and faculty. The Princeton Review and other college guides for prospective students highlight schools that have made a commitment to sustainability. The first renewable energy installation at Northwestern University, solar panel system covering the roof of the Ford Motor Company Engineering Design Center, was the result of the two years of planning and fundraising by university students.
- Colleges can spur local clean energy expansion – The Clean Energy Extension program at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, works with cities and towns to help accelerate the adoption of clean energy, recently providing technical assistance that helped the town of Greenfield reduce energy consumption by 20% from 2008 to 2016.
Voices for 100% Renewable
More than 200 forward-thinking leaders have lent their Voices for 100% Renewable energy. Among them are Rocky Mountain Institute founder Hunter Lovins; director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State Michael Mann; NAACP’s Jacqui Patterson and the Republican Mayor of Lancaster, Calif., Rex Parris. Read more Voices for 100%, and amplify them so more people hear them: http://100percentrenewable.org.
Our strategy is to engage and mobilize students, faculty, staff and alumni to show breadth and depth of support of support for renewable energy to overcome inertia and resistance.
We are engaging with existing networks of colleges and universities and leveraging our success on campuses. We identify champions within the higher education community and create momentum within the sector. By engaging and mobilizing passionate students, faculty, staff and alumni to weigh in with administrations and key campus players, we can show that 100 percent renewable energy is popular and either embolden, persuade or pressure college and university administrations to act.
At schools with existing efforts to meet climate change goals, we will make the case that accelerating the shift to 100 percent renewable energy is the best and most effective approach to achieve these goals.
By joining forces with motivated and active students we can elevate the importance and urgency of 100 percent renewable energy. We can repower our campuses, communities and the country with 100 percent renewable energy.