With an internationally known environmental activist looking on, President Jake B. Schrum furthered Southwestern University’s commitment to environmental leadership by signing the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment. The document formally commits campuses to eliminate their greenhouse gas emissions over time and educate students about climate neutrality. 

Schrum signed the document Feb. 10 during the visit of Wangari Mathaai, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her work with the Green Belt Movement in Africa. Mathaai was on campus to give Southwestern’s 10th annual Shilling Lecture. She spoke at Southwestern the day after attending a hearing on Capitol Hill at which scientists reported that climate change is worse than they previously thought.

“Colleges and universities like Southwestern who believe in their core values have an obligation to be models for their students’ support for sustainability, which is absolutely crucial to saving our planet,” Schrum said in signing the document as Mathaai and more than 20 student representatives looked on.

Maathai congratulated the president for signing the commitment. “I want the whole world to copy your actions at Southwestern University,” she said.

President Schrum, in turn, congratulated the students who were on stage with him. “Thank you for challenging and inspiring all of us,” he said.

Signatories to the President’s Climate Commitment must pledge to do the following:

  • Complete an emissions inventory.
  • Within two years, set a target date and interim milestones for becoming climate neutral. This means either emitting no greenhouse gases, or offsetting emissions through energy credits and other methods.
  • Take immediate steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by choosing from a list of short-term actions.
  • Integrate sustainability into the curriculum and make it part of the educational experience.
  • Make the action plan, inventory and progress reports publicly available.

Since 2006, more than 600 colleges and universities in all 50 states have signed the agreement. Southwestern becomes the 18th in Texas to sign it. Huston-Tillotson University is the only other institution in Central Texas whose president has signed the agreement.

The Presidents Climate Commitment is modeled after the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, which has been signed by mayors in more than 900 cities, including Austin, Fort Worth and San Antonio. That initiative was started in 2005 to advance the goals of the Kyoto Protocol, which was signed that same year by 141 countries, but not the United States.

“The document is only words, but the idea behind it is really powerful,” said Connor Hanrahan, a junior physics major and officer of SEAK, the student environmental group at Southwestern. “That’s what exciting. This puts Southwestern in a unique place in Texas as a leader in environmental awareness.”

For Southwestern, Schrum’s signing of the Presidents Climate Commitment continues a commitment to sustainability that began in April 2007, when Schrum signed a treaty known as the Talloires (“Tal-wahr”) Declaration, an international initiative related to sustainability in higher education.

Since then, Southwestern has undertaken a variety of sustainability initiatives, including the following:  

  • A “Civic Engagement/Green Hall” opened in the new Dorothy Manning Lord Residential Center in fall 2007.
  • The new Wilhelmina Cullen Admission Building was designed to be a green building, and Southwestern has applied for the building to become certified under the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program. The building was designed with the goal of Gold LEED certification, the second highest possible certification.
  • The Center for Lifelong Learning, which is currently under construction, was also designed to be a “green” building.
  • Southwestern students have organized two environmental summits for area high school students.
  • Two graduating seniors have returned to Southwestern as AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers, with job responsibilities that include helping implement a campuswide sustainability plan.
  • The university has made recycling bins available in all campus offices. Both paper, plastic and aluminum cans are now recycled.
  • Southwestern students, faculty and staff members are constructing an organic community garden behind the Studio Arts Building this semester.
  • Compost piles for food waste also have been set up near the community garden.
  • When Herman Brown and Moody-Shearn Residence Halls were renovated in summer 2008, the old fixtures and furniture was picked up by an organization that could recycle them.
  •  The custodial staff is phasing in the use of all green cleaning products.
  • Students have been working with the Sodexo staff to have the Commons go “trayless.”

The university currently is working with the City of Georgetown on the possibility of buying electricity generated from wind power.

Hanrahan noted that Southwestern might not have been able to sign the climate commitment during the current economic crisis if it had not had the foresight to begin making changes several years ago, such as designing its new buildings to receive LEED certification.

For more information on the Presidents Climate Commitment, visit        http://www.presidentsclimatecommitment.org/