Bruininks slow to sign college climate change commitment

If the president signs, the “U” would have two years to develop a plan to be carbon-neutral.

by Alex Robinson

More than 450 college presidents and chancellors across the country have signed a commitment to make their campuses more sustainable.

University President Bob Bruininks is not one of them.

The American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, launched in October 2006, is essentially the Kyoto Protocol for colleges: a set of guidelines that will reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions from campuses across the nation.

Bruininks has not yet made a decision on whether he will sign the commitment and said he would not comment for the story.

In an e-mailed statement, University spokesman Dan Wolter said the president would most likely make a decision in January.

If Bruininks decides to sign the commitment, the University would have two years to develop a plan to become carbon-neutral – removing an equal amount of carbon dioxide from the environment as the University is emitting.

The University would also have to integrate renewable energy and sustainable themes into the curriculum.

Tony Cortese, a co-director for the climate commitment project, said signing the commitment gives universities a chance to be societal leaders.

“The University of Minnesota has a great reputation in sustainability and has been a leader in much of the research,” Cortese said. “By signing the commitment, the president would be essentially supporting the research his University has already done.”

Cortese said some presidents don’t sign the commitment because they believe the requirements are too complicated or too expensive to execute.

While most of the college signatories have smaller enrollments than the University, large schools such as Arizona State University and the University of California-Berkley have already signed the commitment.

Jennifer Ward, a spokeswoman for the president’s office of Berkley, said the school was already meeting the standards of the commitment before they signed it in March 2007.

“The signing was just a formal matter of demonstrating to other folks our commitment to environmental sustainability,” Ward said. “For all the points that are listed in the program, we had already been meeting them for two or three years, if not more.”

Todd Reubold, communications director for the Institute on the Environment, said the University isn’t going to make its decision based on what other colleges are doing.

“Each university system has its own uniqueness,” Reubold said. “So to say just because the University of California system signed on that we automatically should, I don’t think is a wise decision.”

While the University of Minnesota-Morris has signed the commitment, the Twin Cities campus is not the only college in the area that hasn’t signed. There are no signatories from the Big Ten conference.

Reubold said even though the administration hasn’t signed the commitment yet, it doesn’t mean the University isn’t concerned with environmental sustainability.

For instance, an Xcel Energy advisory board recently recommended to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission that the University receive more than $4.5 million in grants for five renewable energy projects – an impressive sum when compared to regular state allocations.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission will likely approve the grants this spring, Reubold said.

Three of the projects involve improving the efficiency of biomass, the basic ingredients for biofuel.

Another project will get $1 million if approved – the most of all five projects. It involves a University partnership with Xcel to test a hypothesis that battery storage technology will enable effective storage of wind energy.

“This is looking at one of the great challenges: What do you do when the wind isn’t blowing?” Reubold said.

In 2004 the University signed the Chicago Climate Change – a similar but smaller-scale agreement than the ACUPCC.

Stephen Peichel, president of the student group Applied Environmental Solutions, said if the University wants to continue to promote itself as a leader in environmental sustainability, Bruininks must sign the commitment.

“I can’t see how the U can say that they are on the cutting edge and be a top research University without pursing one of the top issues in the world,” Peichel said.

Justin Horwath contributed to this report.