10. Implementing Your Campus Climate Action Plan
10.1 Increasing the Chances of Implementation
College and university veterans know that it is dangerous to make assumptions or believe that things will progress the way they should. Key people come and go. Nasty politics can assert themselves. Budgets can crash. And the best laid plans of mice and men (and women) can go awry.
While all campuses work differently, in general CAP implementation is more likely if a high ranking professional staff member – with direct access to the president and other campus leaders – is assigned the task of managing implementation. This individual can serve as staff to and leader of a CAP implementation committee or delegate those responsibilities to a direct-report staff person who handles CAP implementation day-to-day details. The implementation committee might evolve out of the planning committee and should remain inclusive and open.
Implementation is more likely to occur if progress (or lack of it) is regularly communicated to the administration and the campus community accompanied by efforts to maintain a high level of interest. On-going student interest and support is essential because students can more easily speak out than can staff members. Since students come and go on a regular cycle, educating and involving students will be an on-going process.
An annual progress report that is widely circulated and discussed is an important part of the implementation process. While an annual progress report can be used by ACUPCC institutions to meet program reporting requirements, more importantly each time one is released it will shine a light on your school’s climate action efforts and encourage renewed commitment. The report could contain an updated GHG inventory (the ACUPCC requires such updates every other year), a listing of measures and projects completed that year, and an assessment of whether climate commitment goals for that year were met. This should be an honest discussion and not just a PR piece.
10.2 Hold an Annual Climate Summit
An annual climate action summit is another helpful accountability mechanism for maintaining the commitment and achieving the targets and eventual long-term goals defined by your CAP. At the summit, your president can deliver a progress report to the campus community, have an opportunity to indicate his/her renewed commitment, and answer questions and respond to concerns. A series of panel discussions could be set up to report on progress in various mitigation areas as well as discuss difficulties that have been encountered and what is being done to overcome them. A nationally recognized expert keynote speaker could be invited to kick-off the summit by reminding everyone of the climate crisis we are facing and thus the importance of holding fast to the climate commitment.
While it might seem like Earth Day is a good time to hold the summit, it may be too late because on most campuses the school year is over in late April which is when Earth Day officially occurs. Kick-off the school year by holding your campus climate summit in mid-September or October. Call it your campus earth day if you want. Or schedule it on Campus Sustainability Day, a nationwide event sponsored by the Society for College and University Planning held in October each year.
10.3 CAP Flexibility and Revisions
Implementing a climate action plan is a learning process and thus requires a flexible approach which allows changes and incorporates lessons learned along the way. Flexibility is important so that your CAP can respond to new conditions, technologies, and opportunities and thus stay current. Revisions to the plan can be released or proposed each year when the annual progress report is issued or the annual summit is held or you could build into your plan a formal review and re-evaluation process every two or three years. Revisions would be developed by the chief CAP implementing officer and the CAP implementation committee as a result of a transparent, participatory process. But be careful to avoid unnecessary backsliding.
Periodic reviews and re-evaluations of you CAP have another advantage. They provide additional opportunities for student involvement so that new classes of students can participate in the CAP analytical and planning process, maximizing the educational benefit of the endeavor.
10.4 What if Your President Leaves?
One danger or contingency all colleges and universities face is that a supportive campus president will leave and be replaced by a new leader who is not as interested in developing or implementing a CAP. If this happens, a lot of ground can be lost. Thus it is imperative that campus supporters of your climate commitment and CAP strongly insist that the selection process for new campus leaders include a climate action “litmus test.” While all new college and university leaders can be expected to bring to their job a list of their own priorities, it is essential that climate protection and climate leadership be among their top concerns.
If despite these efforts the new president is less supportive, it is important that there is a broad and deep awareness and support of your campus climate action plan among faculty, students, staff, alumni, and trustees, so that any loss in momentum is minimal.
This guide was produced with financial support from the American College & Univerisity Presidents Climate Commitment.