May 19, 2015

by Wim Wiewel, President, Portland State University
(This column first ran in the Portland Business Journal) 

As president of Portland State University, my role is to provide the very best educational opportunities and ensure our graduates are ready for the 21st century workforce. That means exposing students to the key ideas, problems and solutions they will face after they graduate – an obligation we take seriously at PSU. I believe, as do nearly 700 of my colleagues who have signed the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, that a focus on sustainability is critical to that preparation.

Yes, it’s a buzzword that rankles some people. What we have found at PSU, however, is that our students learn to analyze problems from multiple points of view – economic, social, technological, environmental. They become better thinkers and ultimately better global, and local, citizens.

Think of some of the bigger debates swirling around Oregon today: Should we allow coal trains to travel through the Columbia Gorge for eventual export to China? Should we build a liquid natural gas facility on the coast? The sustainability lens on these matters doesn’t reduce them to the binary good/bad, yes/no arguments that we hear so frequently. Instead, we apply systems thinking, which takes into account many other variables: Would it be better for the world if China burned cleaner U.S. coal? Would a natural gas facility produce jobs and serve as a bridge to reducing global carbon emissions?

When students tackle those difficult questions, they develop skills in determining complex trade-offs, in weighing long-term and short-term costs and benefits, and in devising creative and often low-cost solutions.

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May 6, 2015
Posted in: Why We Work

by Peyton Veytia, Second Nature Intern

(This post is part of a series by the Second Nature team about why we do what we do.)

In just two days, I will walk across a stage at TD Garden and be handed a piece of paper that signifies the end of my undergraduate career. One of the many perks associated with this milestone is that over the past several months I have been subjected by family, friends, and complete strangers to every iteration of this terrifying question: “So, what are you doing next?”

Until very recently, I could offer no definitive answer to this common query. I’ve known for practically my entire college life that I want to promote positive change through working in the nonprofit sector. That’s why halfway through my first semester I switched majors from History to International Affairs in order to pursue my vague and totally realistic dream of “saving the world.” But while I knew the nonprofit world was where I belonged, I struggled for a long time to find a cause or social issue that I connected with on a deep level and would want to develop my entire career around. I used this uncertainty as an opportunity to explore roles in many nonprofit organizations, with missions ranging from improving primary education, to accelerating social sector performance, to delivering health services internationally to, now, facilitating sustainability initiatives in higher education.

I’ve always been interested in broad intersecting issues like human rights, social justice, international development, and poverty alleviation. It wasn’t until I recently completed my senior thesis on health sector redevelopment in Rwanda that I realized I could combine all of these elements into one issue that I’m truly passionate about: improving healthcare delivery and overall health for marginalized populations, particularly those in developing countries.

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April 9, 2015
Posted in: Why We Work

by Devin Smith

(This post is part of a series by the Second Nature team about why we do what we do.)

Prior to joining the team at Second Nature six months ago, I was a youth worker for five years, teaching young people in and around Boston how to challenge issues of racism, sexism, violence, poverty, and the associated problems and lack of access that arise from it, in their homes and communities. I also helped them learn how to practice self-care and heal from previous traumas. Young people have an inherent understanding of fairness and equity, and recognize when they or those around them are being treated unfairly, even when they don’t have the language or tools to explain why it is happening. They are angry about the injustices in their lives, and are eager to find ways to make the world a better place.

My orientation towards youth work has always been firmly rooted in social justice, and a desire to carve out safe spaces for those that are most vulnerable in our society, and empower them to make meaningful changes in their lives. It was difficult, however, within the direct service framework, to explore and create broad societal changes that address the root causes of so many of the injustices young people face. At the time, I could not accept that the work I was doing had a ceiling for the amount of impact myself and other youth workers were able to have, because long-term, individual change and empowerment are only stop-gap measures. If we couldn’t address the institutional and societal problems as a whole, what was the point of doing this work at all?

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April 3, 2015

by Tim Carter, President, Second Nature

In today’s global society, it’s easy to think our individual impact is so microscopic as to become irrelevant. We are surrounded by systems, institutions, and forces that seem to drive activity beyond anything we could control. Research emerging from the study of cities may be telling a different story and could help inform our sustainability efforts.

Geoffrey West and Luis Bettencourt have been leading research to understand the growth and development of cities. In biology, organism size is tightly related to the way organisms use energy to process, or metabolize, materials. This biological relationship results in constraints to how populations, communities, or ecosystems can grow and expand. So the relationship between the individual and the ecosystem is actually one rooted in basic biology and physics. These researchers then asked if cities scaled in the same way. Do cities, the physical manifestations of groups of individual people, show universal scaling laws?

The early answers have generally been yes. In particular, there are two interesting ways cities scale. The first is the physical infrastructure - roads, pipes, wires - all the physical stuff of cities. We need less of these things per person as the city grows. Fewer road miles are needed per person, fewer gas stations per person, etc. This is known as sub-linear scaling. In other words, there are economies of scale as a city grows.

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March 10, 2015

by Ryan Peters, Second Nature Intern

As more institutions begin to realize the huge financial potential that can be unlocked through energy efficiency projects, Second Nature has been looking for opportunities to open this potential to institutions that can benefit the most from it.

To do just that, Second Nature and the Sustainable Endowments Institute (SEI) are partnering to offer an opportunity for American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) signatories to jump-start their Climate Action Planning. This month, we’re inviting a select group of 30 Minority-Serving and Under-Resourced Institutions to participate in a special pilot program, providing free/reduced cost access to the Green Revolving Investment Tracking System (GRITS) web tool, developed by SEI. Thirty-nine ACUPCC signatories are already using GRITS, allowing these institutions to track the financial and environmental progress of their energy reduction projects on campus. 

Through the GRITS platform, users can track and manage the financial progress of their Green Revolving Fund while also tracking the energy, carbon, and cost savings of individual projects. The flexibility of GRITS allows it to both assess the performance of previously implemented projects and to demonstrate the potential cost-savings of future projects. Using a minimal amount of input data, the platform calculates savings through the entire project life cycle, savings that can then be recycled into the revolving fund to finance future projects.

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February 12, 2015

by Rachael Moreland, Second Nature Intern

This is an exciting time of the year for Second Nature, as our American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) signatories report on all of their efforts and achievements towards attaining their Climate Action Plan goals. Higher education institutions have the power to inspire people and lead communities into a sustainable future. Here are a few noteworthy accomplishments from recent Progress Report submissions that I believe to be extremely inspiring and progressive in our shared goal of attaining sustainability.

In 2012, Salisbury University signed an agreement with Blue Hen Organics. This recycling center process-cleans non-toxic, non-hazardous, biodegradable materials such as yard waste, land clearing debris, construction wood, poultry manure, and food waste. These materials are professionally recycled into compost, topsoil, and specialty compost-based soil blends. Since signing with Blue Hen Organics, Salisbury University has had 100 percent of food waste (including paper products) from the dining hall composted into a soil enhancement product used by surrounding farmers and the University’s Horticulture Department. In 2013, this initiative helped keep 276 tons of waste out of local landfills.

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February 10, 2015
Posted in: Data Chronicles, ACUPCC

by Amanda Carpenter, Program Associate, Second Nature

Within the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment network, we like to highlight institutions that are making outstanding progress towards their carbon neutrality goals. Two of the metrics that we use to normalize the data are emissions per Full Time Equivalent, and emissions per 1000 square feet. These data points are taken from the self-reported values in the Greenhouse Gas and Progress Reports that are submitted by signatory institutions.

Emissions per Full Time Equivalent

The school that had the lowest gross emissions per Full Time Equivalent was the American Public University System at about 0.1 metric tons of CO2e, rounded up in our system to the nearest tenth. For their 2015 Greenhouse Gas Inventory, the American Public University System reported a Full Time Equivalent of 42136.0 students.

In the narrative section of the 2014 Progress Report, the American Public University System points to its high density and online learning 

programs as being a contributor for their success. 

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February 6, 2015

By Gabriela Boscio, Program Associate, Second Nature. Reposted with permission from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE)

Second Nature started a new video series on January 21, 2015. The series—titled “Sustainability Sit-Downs”—consists of 12 interviews featuring sustainability leaders from various backgrounds. Participants discuss the role of Higher Education in making a sustainable society, as well as current challenges and more.

Here are five reasons why higher education sustainability professionals should watch:

1. Get Diverse Perspectives on Sustainability in Higher Education

Interviewees in this series include people with various roles and titles, such as President, Sustainability Coordinator and Vice-Chancellor, among others. They also represent many types of institutions, including large public university systems, small liberal arts colleges, non-profit organizations, private sector companies and tribal colleges. This wide range of experiences feeds the conversation, helps us learn from each other and puts the issues into a larger context.

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January 16, 2015

by Dr. Anne Waple, Vice President, Second Nature

Normally, being at the top of the list is a good thing, but when it comes to ranking the Earth's annual temperature, we'd prefer to see ourselves somewhere lower on that particular chart. NOAA and NASA scientists announced on January 16th 2015, that 2014 was the warmest year on record for the globe since records began in 1880.

Of course, this is notable for many reasons:

Firstly this demonstrates the continuation of a trend - all of the top ten warm years have occurred since 1998, and nine of the top ten have happened since 2002.

The most recent decade is the also the warmest decade on average.

Every year since 1997 has been above the 20th Century average. And globally, there has been no month that has been below the long-term average in twenty-nine years. Yep, twenty-nine years. That means almost half of the global population has never experienced a month where the global temperatures were below average.

However, perhaps the most notable point about this year's record is that in no month during 2014 were there El Nino Conditions. This is the first time since 1990 that we have had a record warm year without El Nino conditions occuring for at least part of the year. Typically El Nino conditions will elevate global termperature, but this year, the Earth's warmth had no such push. So 2014 clearly demonstrates the influence of the ongoing and underlying trend towards globally warmer temperatures as a result of increasing greenhouse gases. 

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January 6, 2015
Posted in: ACUPCC

by Rachael Moreland, Second Nature Intern

The year 2015 brings waves of New Year’s resolutions from people who seek improvement. And among them, Second Nature signatories will share their efforts toward improving campus sustainability. Every other year, signatories submit a Progress Report on advancement towards their Climate Action Plan goals. Although the deadline to submit Progress Reports isn’t until January 15, a handful of schools already shared their accomplishments. I would like to highlight a few submissions that particularly captured our attention.

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