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Northwestern Releases Inaugural Sustainability Plan

Solidifying its commitment to mitigating climate change, Northwestern University has released its inaugural Strategic Sustainability Plan (2017-2021).

The comprehensive plan details the next five years of environmental stewardship at Northwestern, laying the groundwork for achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. It comes as institutions across the country prepare to celebrate Campus Sustainability Month in October, an event administered by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).

“As a leading global institution, Northwestern is committed to mitigating the impact of climate change,” said President Morton Schapiro. “We have an obligation to future generations to reduce our carbon footprint, yes – but also a tremendous opportunity to contribute to global climate solutions,” he said.

“That effort officially launches today – with implications for the future of our planet – and it starts right here, in our backyard.”

An active participant in the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Better Buildings program, Northwestern has been recognized for its inclusive approach to developing the plan. The University gathered significant input from students, faculty and staff through sustianNU, a University-wide engagement wide program that led development of the plan.

John D’Angelo, vice president of facilities management, presented in May at DOE’s Better Building Summit, discussing this successful model for engaging the campus community in support of sustainability goals.

“Northwestern is a proud EPA ENERGY STAR partner and Better Buildings participant,” said D’Angelo. The programs “allow us to learn from others on the same journey and ensures that we maintain transparency along the way,” he said.

Northwestern has already made progress toward reducing the University’s environmental impact. For example, energy efficiency and conservation projects have cut campus energy use intensity in campus facilities by 14 percent from a 2010 baseline.

In June, AASHE recognized Northwestern’s progress to date with a silver STARS rating for campus sustainability. The University expects to achieve a higher rating when AASHE makes its next evaluations in three years.

“Northwestern has demonstrated its commitment to addressing the linked challenges of sustainable energy in recent years through significant investment in programs, faculty, staff and infrastructure,” said Bradley Sageman, co-chair of sustainNU’s sustainability council and chair of the department of Earth and planetary sciences. “The creation of a campus sustainability plan brings all of these efforts together and sets clear goals for the future. It is the logical next step for our community.”

In support of the University’s goals, Northwestern completed its first comprehensive Greenhouse Gas Emissions Assessment, to establish a baseline for accurate tracking and reporting of progress. The assessment measured greenhouse gas emissions associated with University functions including energy usage in buildings, fuels used by University vehicles, commuting practices of students, faculty, and staff and University sponsored travel.

sustainNU is a University-wide program that engaged students, faculty and staff in developing the Strategic Sustainability Plan. Stakeholders from throughout the University formed working groups focused on the plans five program areas — built environment, transportation, resource conservation, experiential learning and communication and engagement.

The working groups, the sustainability council (comprised of working group chairs) and senior leaders serving as the steering committee will lead initiatives to achieve the plan’s goals. This inclusive approach ensures broad support for the campus sustainability efforts.

“If we actively participate in the sustainability plan at both the institutional and personal levels, together we can make the most lasting impact,” said Kathia Benitez, director of sustainability for the University.

Additional objectives in the plan include commitments to:

  • Reduce energy consumption in campus facilities by 20 percent by 2020 (from a 2010 baseline).
  • Transition the campus fleet to run exclusively on renewable energy by 2030.
  • Divert at least 50 percent of waste generated on campus from landfills by 2020.
  • Support hands-on, experiential learning that enables students to address environmental issues and grow as leaders in sustainability.
  • Foster a culture of sustainability and environmental stewardship through programs such as a green office certification program.

Northwestern has been recognized as a local, regional, and national leader in promoting sustainability. In addition to the recent recognition from AASHE and DOE, the University was ranked No. 31 on Sierra Club’s 2017 Cool Schools rankings (227 total colleges and universities) and has earned accolades from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Illinois Governor’s office and others. A full list is available on sustainNU’s website.

“Northwestern’s sustainability plan will ensure that we continue making major reductions to our energy, climate, and resource footprints across all aspects of our operations, and in an inclusive, transparent, and accountable manner. By reinforcing our commitment ot sustainability research, teaching, and outreach, the University will strengthen its contribution to societal goals as well,” said Eric Masanet, sustainNU’s co-chair and professor of Mechanical Engineering.

Achieving the plan’s goals will require a University-wide effort. Students, faculty, and staff are invited to join a sustainNU working group, participate in the Green Office program, join an environmentally focused student group and take action in their personal lives to conserve energy and resources.