Published: April 22, 2019 By

These comments were delivered by Dave Newport, Environmental Center Director, to open the 26th Annual Campus Sustainability Summit on April 18, 2019.

Welcome to to the 26th edition of the CU Campus Sustainability Summit.

This annual event, aimed at highlighting sustainability successes across campus, is jointly planned, funded, organized and delivered by the Office of the Provost, the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, the Vice Chancellor for Infrastructure and Safety, and the CUSG Environmental Center.

Thanks to all for making this happen, yet again. And thank you all for coming. an historic photo of Environmental Center staff


In the fifteen nanoseconds of fame I have left, the concepts of time, place, actions and consequences are increasingly relevant.

I feel a bit like we’re in the late innings of the most important baseball game ever. We’re behind. But as baseball teaches us, the hardest, fastest pitch flies the furthest when the wood properly meets the leather. And our early innings have shown we know how to hit.

This Earth Day the Environmental Center turns forty-nine years old.

49 years sounds like a long time.

But Earth has been spinning around the Sun for around 4.5 billion years--and the human race has only been “civilized” for about 6,000 years.

And our style of so-called civilization has, of late, spawned many pressures on us to divide our team against each other.

At the same time, we have become increasingly aware of the timeline we need to follow if we are to transition to a sustainable, just, and peaceful society. Among other things, this timeline requires us to rapidly combat climate change’s very consequential consequences.

Climate science tells us we must take very significant climate action in the next 10-15 years—or we may have lost the opportunity to avert those very consequential consequences.

Particularly challenging is the reality that while the onset of climate change will impact us all, it is much more impactful on low-income, at risk people.

To create effective alliances in the innings we have left, we must focus on bringing together and working on behalf of all people, the majority populations and the under-represented.

The current state of social and political affairs may not seem encouraging of our ability to build broad alliances. But a quick look at CU’s history reminds us of the many runs CU has scored-- against the prevailing wisdom of their times.

First, from the student section:

  • Students started the nation’s first collegiate recycling program at CU. This is the home of collegiate recycling. And for over 20 years, the students operated the entire program. Now, we have a high performing recycling partnership with the campus, just hit a record high diversion rate, and operate in a new LEED Gold building.

  • The students voted to launch and set up a student fee structure for the nation’s first student bus pass 28 years ago. Now we cooperate as a campus to maintain this critical resource that is used over by students over 2-million times per year.

  • 19 years ago students voted to raise their fees to pay for renewable energy for student-run facilities, the first campus in the nation to do so. Now we have almost 2 MW of solar just on athletics facilities—and campus leadership is planning much bigger arrays.

  • The UMC student union is CU’s first LEED rated building, a CU Student Government facility. Now, over 25 CU buildings are LEED Gold or Platinum as the result of a student fee agreement with the campus 15 years ago.
  • And eleven years ago, the students voted to require all CUSG buildings become carbon neutral, the first student-led mandate in the US under the President’s Climate Commitment.

Second, actions led by campus staff, academics and researchers—have helped inform decades of CU’s sustainability leadership.

  • We are #1 in earth-science research—turning many graduates out into the world to make it a better place. Several faculty are members of the IPCC, the most expert array of climate scientists on the planet.

  • CU is home to the nation’s first environmental law class and casebook in 1951 and maintains a top ten environmental law program today.

  • You can’t walk into a campus dining facility and not learn about sustainability—and be able to eat healthy, local, and yummy food. Campus Dining is doing everything right.

  • You can’t work out in the Rec Center without learning of that facilities sustainability features—and how things like clean air, water, food, and active lifestyles help your personal sustainability—and the environments.

  • Housing built the campus’ first water reuse system into a LEED Platinum residence hall—before permitting for it was even approved. Their new LEED Platinum Dining Centers educate students about sustainability while they eat.

  • CU is first in the nation to roll out the PIPs Rewards app. This technology allows students to earn points for recycling, biking, busing, etc that convert to cash for food and other green perks. And through the leadership of the Office of Financial Aid, students’ can now convert their points to cash against their fees and tuition, also a national first.

  • The Athletics department, partnering with Facilities and the EC, ten years ago rolled out the first NCAA Division 1 sports sustainability program, Ralphies Green Stampede. Athletics started out chasing zero waste but has grown to include carbon and water neutrality, 4 LEED Platinum buildings, 90% of the on-campus solar generation, and the nation’s first net-zero energy indoor practice facility. Arguably the most sustainable department on campus—AD Rick George is not content with that and will soon roll out significant new goals for the next ten years.

  • CU Chancellors have raised their game too. Chancellor Bud Peterson was a charter signatory of the President’s Climate Commitment 12 years ago that committed CU to pursuing carbon neutrality. The carbon plan approved by the Board of Regents is on the threshold of attaining the first goal: a 20% reduction of carbon emissions over 2005 levels by the year 2020.

  • Chancellor DiStefano took an additional very big step forward last year when he committed CU to be part of the University Climate Change Coalition (UC3), a newly formed group of 13 leading North American research universities that have united to help communities achieve their climate goals and accelerate the transition to a low-carbon future.

  • Many of these efforts have been led by CU’s Vice Chancellor for Infrastructure and Sustainability David Kang, who ably drives a myriad of sustainability efforts across the operations side of the campus—and was very impactful with regards to the powerful new UC3 alliance signed by Chancellor DiStefano.

  • Likewise, Chief Sustainability Officer Heidi Van Genderen has been doing the incredibly critical work of forming alliances and relationships with the seemingly countless people and programs at CU and in the community that have been quietly heading in the same direction. Heidi is executing this indispensable action with aplomb.

  • Finally, our alumni extends CU’s reach and leadership into society more so now than ever. With veterans of CU, Student Government, and the City of Boulder now occupying seats in Congress, the governor’s administration, the state House and Senate, municipal leadership, business, law, community leaders, on down the list.

We have a great team, we’ve led the league in the early innings, and we have the talent to extend the game, but we need more runs.

As a campus we have committed to combating the climate change crisis by first working inside the sphere of influence the campus has—neutralizing our own carbon emissions.

But in the ten years since that plan was approved by the Board of Regents, the science has improved—and the climate has deteriorated. So, are those ten-year-old goals sufficient? Can we forge new climate leadership paths?

We have proven our capacity for greatness. We have the talent. We have the resources—we live in the richest nation on the planet.

And we have the best ball club: CU Boulder. The historic leader in this space, CU led higher education’s sustainability movement for decades. Our successes have inspired hundreds of other campuses to follow us—but now a few of them have passed us.

CU was the first campus of any kind to achieve a STARS Gold rating. Now a few quality schools have climbed past us to STARS Platinum.

So the most solvable challenge we face now is to align our many formidable assets into the ball club we know we can be.

As we participate in this conference today, we must think about not just what actions to take, but how to bring people together in the process.

United we win.

Time has reflected well on us; history has taught us we have proven capacity for greatness. But Moore’s Law seemingly informs everything we do now, not just the doubling of semiconductors. Even baseball games are speeding up.

The place in which we live and breathe is inhabited by great people with shared values and formidable talent. We live on the lands of the Ute, Arapaho, and Cheyenne people. But this historic place is under great threat that will not benefit anyone—and impact those with the least, the most. Climate and social injustice does not comport with who we have shown ourselves to be—and is not sustainable going forward. So we must lead through a lens of ecological and social justice.

A team divided against itself cannot win.

Likewise, the individual actions we take, while magnificent, will fall short if the synergies and leverage we need are not matched by the leadership our history has shown we are capable of. Our leaders are every day buffeted by competing needs, priorities, and attitudes. Remaining focused on great challenge that is advancing at a high rate will require new skills even from the best leaders. We must support them.

The consequences of all these actions will define our legacy in short order, for better or not.

The health and wellness of our 6,000-year-old civilization turns on our ability to play the best ball we’ve ever shown over the next 10-20 years.

Our history confirms that we have the capacity to win—when we play as a team.

Thank you.