July 1, 2015

by Gary Farha, President and CEO, CustomerFirst Renewables
CustomerFirst Renewables is a corporate partner of Second Nature

As more large electricity end users – including Higher Ed institutions – are considering securing dedicated large-scale renewable energy solutions, we are increasingly asked about the timing of when they should act. The question posed is whether purchasers should execute contracts prior to federal and state tax credits going away (which is currently slated to happen for solar and wind projects at year-end 2016 when the federal tax credit for solar goes from 30% to 10% and the “grandfathering” of the expired wind federal tax credit runs out) or whether they should wait – essentially gambling whether renewable energy costs will decline fast enough to offset the cost of diminished tax incentives.  

This is akin to the question we grapple with whenever a new technology comes to market (e.g., personal computers, flat-screen televisions, smart phones). We know that prices will come down in the future at the same time that product benefits increase, which makes deciding on when to enter the market a tricky question. Particularly when, in the case of renewables, the size and term of contracts (millions of dollars, up to 25 years or more) are much more significant than buying the latest electronic gadget.

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June 26, 2015

by Chris O'Brien, Director of Higher Education Programs, Altenex
Altenex is a corporate partner of Second Nature

The time has never been better for colleges and universities to make the switch to renewable energy, for three reasons:

Economics

First, the costs of renewable energy have plummeted, making them financially attractive on a wide-scale for the first time ever. For example, between 1977 and 2014, the price per watt of silicon photovoltaic cells has dropped from $76.67 to a mere thirty-six cents. Meanwhile, the cost of wind energy in the U.S. has dropped, on average, from 55 cents per kWh in 1980 to five cents per kWh at the end of 2012, resulting in unprecedented growth in both industries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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June 11, 2015
Posted in: Why We Work

by Rachael Moreland

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

In 2012, as a part of the Environmental Studies curriculum at Northeastern University, I enrolled in a course called, ‘Environment and Society’ which delved into the environmental injustices experienced by under-resourced and minority populations throughout the world. Prior to taking this class, I was struggling to find a deep connection to my major. I always found Environmental Studies to be an interesting topic, but I never felt passionate about the subject. Little did I know that my entire perspective would change after taking this course. The environmental consequences and health disparities experienced by the effected populations, for reasons that could have been prevented, made me sick to my stomach. Throughout the semester, my desire to help this cause increased enormously. I had developed a purpose and started drawing out my future plans. 

The following semester, I enrolled in the course, ‘Sustainable Development.’ This course led me to discover Dr. Daniel Nocera’s invention, the ‘Artificial Leaf,’ a unique design of the hydrogen fuel cell for cleaner and cheaper energy production, inspired by the naturally occurring process in plants—photosynthesis. Not only was the engineering behind this design intriguing, but I also found Dr. Nocera’s overall goal of mass-producing these devices in order to aid developing countries to be inspiring. However, understanding the exact mechanics behind this device proved to be challenging to a student of soft sciences. At this point of my undergraduate career, I started toying with the idea of going to grad school to study renewable energy systems in order to gain that deeper understanding that I so desired.

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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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