The University Network

UW-Madison Faculty Presses University To Take Climate Action

Faculty members at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are joining the fight to tackle climate change. They have adopted a resolution calling for the university to take action and adopt measures that would ensure an environmentally friendly campus.

The resolution encourages funding, creation and implementation of a campus-wide climate action plan with specific and measurable targets. Additionally, the proposed program would hold the university accountable by reporting and evaluating the progress of its sustainability goals to the UW-Madison community.

The faculty’s goal is for the campus to be carbon neutral by 2050 or sooner.

“Carbon neutral” means making no net release of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by reducing carbon fuel use and emissions, purchasing carbon offsets to fund projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, or offsetting emissions through landscaping.

The resolution also encourages the administration to report progress on its goals to the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment — a network of around 700 colleges and universities around the country committed to climate action — and/or the AASHE STARS (American Association for Sustainability in Higher Education – Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System) or other similar system.

Leah Johnson, a junior and chair of the Sustainability Committee at the Associated Students of Madison, helped draft the resolution.

While she describes the faculty’s move as a “huge step in the right direction” in an interview with The Daily Cardinal, she said the onus is on the administration to act on the plan.

“The [Faculty Senate] has the ability to influence the administration, but it is the job of the administration to act on it,” Johnson told The Daily Cardinal. “What happens next as a follow up to the faculty’s passing of the carbon neutral plan will [show] what the university is actually prioritizing.”

There has not been any response to the resolution yet, Johnson told The University Network (TUN), but she does not think that means it went unnoticed.

“The chancellor has a lot of other things on her plate right now and they are being addressed as she sees fit,” she said. “This is a topic students seem very keen on rallying behind, myself included, so I would expect to see some action taken soon.”

Students have been thinking very ambitiously and would like to see an extensive adoption of clean energy as a main contributor to carbon neutrality, Johnson told TUN. There have been talks of trying to localize food purchasing and to make small improvements in buildings themselves to cut down on overall carbon emissions, she said.  

“There are a lot of ideas being thrown around, a lot of good ideas, and it is just a matter of time before some of them start being implemented,” said Johnson.

The university recognizes that sustainability must be incorporated into the ways in which the facilities are being used and the campus being maintained, according to UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank who authored a blog post in September on current sustainability efforts. She listed education, outreach and research, projects to increase recycling, renovating and constructing sustainable buildings, and purchase of renewable energy credits from Madison Gas and Electric as some of the current efforts. Currently, 15 percent of campus electricity used annually comes from renewable energy.

“This passing of this resolution was important in showing that the university is taking seriously the Chancellor’s call to be stewards of the environment and we should all expect to start seeing changes soon,” Johnson told TUN.