2. Creating an Institutional Structure for Your Climate Action Plan
A first CAP planning step is creating appropriate institutional structures for preparing and implementing your plan. Typically, this means identifying participants and establishing one or more committees or working groups – necessarily working with the full blessing, support, and involvement of top campus leadership. As you develop your CAP team, be sure to focus on existing institutional strengths and attempt to bring into the fold those who have already been working in this field, academically or operationally.
Top-level support from the president or chancellor is critical for success, as they are in the position to convene all of the various constituencies from the campus community that will need to be represented in the process. Ongoing active involvement from the president or chancellor is also important in maintaining momentum and effectiveness. To that end, the members of the ACUPCC Steering Committee developed Leading Profound Change - a peer-to-peer resource to support all presidents and chancellors in taking an active a leadership role in the ongoing process of developing and implementing the climate action plan. It provides an overview of research on select approaches to leading transformational change and examples of successful strategies from ACUPCC campuses to help with the big-picture thinking needed to sustain enthusiasm and implement climate action plans over the long-term.
2.1 Your CAP Team and Leadership
If your school already has sustainability staff or an energy officer or manager, these are key players and should be involved in leadership roles. Your campus environmental task force or sustainability committee also should play a central role. This committee may not have all the right people, expertise, or organizational capacity to undertake full supervision of the development of your CAP but it should be substantially involved in the process. There is everything to gain by including already identified campus environmental leaders, advocates, and enthusiasts on your CAP team.
Who are the people, offices, and constituencies that should be included in some way? Here is possible list:
- President’s Office
- Board of trustees
- Vice presidents’ offices including chief academic and business offices, VP for student affairs, VP for research, etc.
- Key operations offices including facilities management, purchasing, transportation, public relations, etc.
- Chief information officer (to address green computing)
- Energy officer or manager
- Sustainability director and staff
- Campus environmental/sustainability committee or task force
- Faculty and staff senates
- Faculty experts
- Student government officers
- Student environmental clubs
- Key community experts and representatives
Since our ultimate goal is to save the planet from the ravages of climate change, it is important to go beyond the confines of the ivory tower, get off campus, and include the wider community. Thus, your CAP team might include one or more liaisons with local government. Such an arrangement might inspire your county or local towns and cities to develop their own climate action plans. Similarly, if other schools in your area are committed to making significant reductions in GHG emissions, it could be mutually beneficial to include liaisons from each campus on CAP committees.
But who will lead the CAP effort? The leader or chair could be your sustainability director, if he or she has enough experience and the right credentials, or a prestigious faculty member who is given release time to take on this project. It could be a special assistant to your school’s president. Conceivably it could also be a very exceptional student who hopefully would be given substantial academic credit for taking this project on. An undertaking this large could have co-chairs. Whoever is selected to lead should be enthusiastically committed to climate action, have strong technical background in relevant areas, be engaging, fair, well-liked, and be able to motivate others and build a strong team.
The leader must be a collaborator at heart and encourage collaboration among all CAP team members and other members of the campus community. He or she must recognize key contributions while making all CAP team members feel as though the time spent on this project is time well spent – especially since many will be serving as “volunteers.” The leader must be on good relations with your president, have a direct line to him or her, and be able to bridge the gap or perhaps “the great divide” that may exist between campus leadership and campus grassroots. In the end, this is a people process and personalities make a huge difference. The right or wrong person or persons leading the CAP process can make world of difference.
2.2 CAP Committee Structure
Developing a CAP is a complicated and multi-faceted undertaking. While it’s a good idea to invite all interested and relevant parties to the table, they probably will not all fit around the same table! That means creating sub-committees or working groups. Here is a possible CAP organizational structure:
- CAP Steering Committee – Led by the CAP chair (or co-chairs), this committee reports to your campus president and chief academic and business officers and is responsible for overall CAP development, coordination, analysis, goal setting, and preparation along with supervision of the following subcommittees
- CAP Sub-Committees – These can be broken down along these lines:
- Greenhouse gas inventory –Creates, interprets and periodically updates your campus GHG inventory
- **Energy **– responsible for developing the energy conservation, on-site renewables, green power purchasing, new construction/green design, CFCs, and carbon offsets GHG reduction strategies and projects
- **Transportation **– responsible for developing fleet vehicles, campus bussing, commuting and air travel components of your plan
- Solid Waste, Purchasing and Food – this subcommittee is a bit of a catch-all to address GHG mitigation areas not addressed by other sub-committees
- Curriclum and Research – responsible for developing those aspects of your CAP which will introduce climate change and sustainability into the curriculum and enhance research to address climate change
- **Communications **– responsible for (a) keeping the campus community up-to-date on your school’s climate action efforts and for (b) developing and implementing plans to involve that community as much as possible in both the planning process and in actions that reduce GHG emissions
While all of the sub-committees have important assignments, the energy committee in particular has some heavy lifting to do. To accomplish its task, it might make sense for that sub-committee to create and manage individual working groups for each area --energy conservation, on-site renewables, green power purchasing, new construction/green design, CFCs, carbon offsets, etc. The energy sub-committee may be heavily comprised of facilities staff members who are responsible for campus energy systems and have expertise in the areas of concern.
Most campuses already have a proliferation of committees and meetings – so there is something to be said for economizing on the creation of new committees. Maybe existing committees can be assigned responsibility for some of the CAP tasks. Whatever structure you create, it should be a good fit to the way your school does business.
2.3 Transparency and Stakeholder Participation
Colleges and universities are intellectual communities whose members appreciate openness and enjoy vigorous public debate. Your CAP team should reinforce these desirable inclinations by maintaining a fully transparent process with lots of public or stakeholder participation and discussion. There are a variety of ways of doing this. Meetings of the steering committee and sub-committees can be advertised as “open meetings” so interested parties can sit in. Periodic reports and updates can be issued and publicized. Occasional presentations, workshops, and town meetings plus a regularly updated CAP website will keep the campus community informed and on-board.
2.4 Getting Started
As one of its first acts, the CAP Steering Committee – with full involvement from sub-committee members – could conduct a kick-off workshop, “charrette,” or even a day-long retreat to:
- Review the ACUPCC charge if a signatory
- Engage in a visioning exercise
- Conduct a SWOT analysis
- Ascertain CAP team members’ interests, skills, and connections
- Assign sub-committee and individual responsibilities
- Identify near-term tasks
The vision exercise is a facilitated brainstorming session that asks CAP participants to imagine and create a vision of their institution as a genuine leader in addressing climate change, an institution that is:
- Teaching students to understand climate change and to help solve it after they graduate
- Doing critical research which contributes to climate change solutions
- Achieving deep cuts in GHG emissions
- Setting an example and inspiring the wider community to become part of the solution too
The results of this exercise can be captured in a vision statement. This exercise is essential because the CAP process requires departing from past practice and “business as usual” and thus imagining a different future.
A SWOT analysis identifies institutional Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats that will help or hinder the CAP planning process and eventual achievement of CAP goals.
It’s important that the CAP process be viewed as meaningful and effective public service as well as an enjoyable experience. The kick-off workshop should set the right tone. It’s important that your school’s president start it off with a brief statement and a hearty thanks to all participants.
2.5 Energizing the CAP Process
Here are some ways to energize your CAP team and its work:
1. Make sure you have an energized leader who is genuinely passionate about addressing the climate problem**. This person needs to be inspiring and bring an abundance of positive energy, enthusiasm, and good personal relations to all aspects of your work.
2. Be inclusive and invite onto your CAP team those who care the most about climate change and who bring the most positive energy to the work. Behind this point is a simple truth: energized people energize others! So open the door and invite these spark plugs onto your team.
**3. Regularly remind your CAP team how important their work is by reviewing the critical nature and urgency of climate change while at the same time sharing positive developments. **This is all about merging “gloom and doom” with hope! Both can motivate – though neither by itself is very effective. Guest speakers or faculty lectures on climate change can underline the importance of your work. Perhaps start each CAP meeting with a different committee member sharing two news stories, one about the latest scientific findings (generally bad news) and one about efforts underway to constructively address the climate problem (good news). To stay up-to-date with the latest news on climate change, consider signing up for the weekly newsfeed “Earth Equity News” from the Climate Crisis Coalition – founded by “climate crisis crusader” Ross Gelbspan among others.
4. Explore the emotional side of the climate change issue. While your CAP meetings may need to be business-like, it’s important to find opportunities and venues where team members as well as others on campus can get in touch with their emotions about climate change. The reality is that most of us, even environmental activists, are in deep psychological denial about this threat. To some extent, denial or psychic numbing is a necessary coping mechanism. But denial is also a danger since it diminishes our perception of the problem and excuses a lack of effort or urgency in addressing it. Of course, helping people get in touch with their emotions is risky because it could be a painful experience and send them running for the hills! It’s important to help people understand that they hurt when they contemplate the danger of climate change because they care so much about their families, society, future generations and the Earth. That understanding can produce deep positive motivation to continue this important work.
5. Ask your president to regularly demonstrate interest and support. Regular visits by your campus president to see how your CAP work is progressing will do wonders to keep spirits and enthusiasm high. Providing the resources you need is also critical to CAP energy levels. It might make sense to schedule an informal get together with your president, say every six months, to share with him or her progress and problems-to-date and thus to invite his/her continued involvement, encouragement and support. Keeping your president personally engaged will help your CAP team stay personally engaged. The Leading Profound Change document from the ACUPCC Steering Committee underscores the importance of this sort of involvement and on a peer-to-peer basis it offers some practical approaches presidents can take.
6. Develop a strategy to regularly celebrate small victories (as well as occasional large ones). Climate action is a huge undertaking and probably will take many years to achieve. To keep your climate action program stoked up during this period, you want to celebrate many smaller victories and achievements along the way. These small victories and your celebrations of them are so important that it makes sense to be very conscious and deliberate in identifying them within your CAP and making plans ahead of time to announce and celebrate them. These celebrations are great occasions for bringing your entire extended CAP team together, inviting campus leadership to say a few words, and praising/rewarding those who did the most to make the accomplishment you are celebrating happen.
**7. Have fun. **Let’s face it: so much of what we do on campus wears us down, especially when campus politics intervene. Contemplating the fate of the Earth is also a difficult assignment. So finding ways to have fun as you undertake campus climate action is very important.
2.6 CAP Communications
Reducing GHG emissions is a multi-faceted challenge. There are very strong awareness and behavioral change components. Thus, a communication strategy is key. That strategy should not only inform people about and invite them into the CAP process but it should encourage and facilitate their involvement as change agents, implementing carbon reductions and the CAP itself.
To be most effective, a communications strategy should tailor its message and media to different audiences on campus. Different strokes for different folks. At least these four steps are involved:
- Identify various campus constituencies
- Understand what gets their attention, motivates them, and how they can help
- Develop appropriate focused communication tools to reach them
- Provide incentives, rewards, and recognition where you can
Given the importance of communications to reducing carbon emissions on campus, it makes sense to involve faculty and professional staff experts in communications, public relations, art, design, and media.
There are better and worse ways of communicating with and motivating people. For some great ideas, see Fostering Sustainable Behaviour: an Introduction to Community-based Social Marketing (Doug McKenzie-Mohr and William Smith, 1999) and The Low Carbon Diet: A 30 Day Program to Lose 5000 Pounds (David Gershon, 2006). The latter resource is often used in “global warming cafes” which use a highly effective methodology for motivating action on climate change.
2.7 Staffing and Resources Issues
But no matter how you look at it, addressing climate change in a serious way will increase workload. That’s reality. It needs to be addressed irrespective of whether the work takes place in new or existing campus organizations. While smaller schools may find the additional workload of the CAP process more manageable than larger schools, developing a plan and especially implementing it will be more work even if you hire a consultant.
This raises closely related issues of staffing and funding. Developing an effective CAP requires staffing, possibly new staff who will have the expertise and credentials for undertaking this work as well as have the time and means to make sure it gets done. Implementing it will also impose other staffing needs to motivate, coordinate, complete, and track needed projects and initiatives. Bolstering facilities staffing in the area of energy conservation is an obvious priority.
Adding staff and providing new resources during a time of economic stress is always difficult – though campus climate action advocates can argue that the climate program should be prioritized or at a minimum treated just like other campus programs that are adequately staffed and funded. In fact, on most campuses a great many programs are fully staffed that have far less significance – pedagogically and operationally – than campus efforts to responsibly address climate change. The extent to which your school provides the needed staffing and resources to develop and implement an aggressive and viable CAP is a true measure of top-level commitment. It will show in your final product and chances of success.
2.8 CAP Institutionalization
Success requires that climate action become an integral part of the way your college or university does business – day to day and over the long run. In other words, climate action needs to become institutionalized, part of “business as usual.” The challenge here is making sure that successful institutionalization doesn’t push climate action into the background. Your CAP and climate commitment need to be raised to a high profile and remain there.
Institutionalization of the climate initiative can be at least partially accomplished by incorporating the commitment in key documents that guide campus decision-making and planning, such as vision and mission statements, strategic and campus master plans, campus-wide policies, and annual “state of the institution” speeches by your president. But better than exploiting these modest opportunities is recognizing the unprecedented transformational potential of responding to climate change. For those who take this challenge seriously, addressing climate change can become a process for entirely rethinking our institutions of higher learning.
While there are a great many factors critically important for successful institutionalization of your CAP, at the very top of the list is continuous support and encouragement by your president and top campus leadership. They need to follow the planning process carefully, support and empower those who are developing the plan, be realistic about what will be required, provide needed resources and staffing, set an example in their own behavior and the operation of their offices and units, and use the bully pulpit of their offices to educate and motivate the campus community to step up and be part of the campus climate solution. Yes, that’s a tall order.
2.9 Some Guidelines for Hiring a CAP Consultant
Organizational capacity or expertise limitations may be overcome by selecting and hiring a consultant to assist campus participants develop a CAP. Even if your college or university is fully capable of developing a CAP on its own, it still may make sense to hire an expert consultant to increase the likelihood of developing the best possible plan in a timely fashion. Here are some possible criteria to use in selecting such a consultant to assist with the operations component of your CAP (reducing GHG emissions). While finding all of these attributes in one consultant might be difficult or impossible, ideally a consultant hired to complete or assist a climate action plan would:
- Demonstrate a strong corporate commitment to sustainability
- Have extensive experience in the primary greenhouse gas emissions mitigation areas, i.e. energy conservation & efficiency, power plant fuel conversion, renewable energy technology installation, green power purchasing, space planning and green building design, transportation planning, carbon offsets, etc.
- Be especially knowledgeable and have a proven track record in the area of energy conservation and efficiency, possibly having completed comprehensive energy master plans, large self-financing energy projects, or retrofit projects that have produced deep cuts in energy use in already energy efficient buildings, etc.
- Be able to demonstrate knowledge of the barriers large organizations like colleges and universities face that prevent them from adequately addressing energy and climate issues – as well as demonstrating knowledge about how to overcome these barriers
- Have experience working in a campus setting with diverse stakeholders that often have conflicting interests
- Demonstrated ability to conduct and interpret a GHG inventory
- Be able to use and provide helpful evaluative tools and measures to prioritize and sequence actions
- Demonstrate the ability to identify creative financing strategies for large projects
- Be skilled in developing educational and promotional resources for outreach purposes
- Have completed one or more successful campus climate action plans which you can review (though this is a new field and highly qualified firms might not be able to provide completed plans at this time)
This guide was produced with financial support from the American College & Univerisity Presidents Climate Commitment.