WASHINGTON, D.C. — The leaders of 284 colleges and universities from around the country officially unveiled this week the The American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment, a pact that urges educational institutions to eliminate their greenhouse gas emissions.

The schools come from 45 states and represent about 15 percent of the country's higher education institutions, and included community colleges, major universities, and whole school systems, like the 10-school University of California system.

The official commitment signed by all members of the group says in part, "We believe colleges and universities must exercise leadership in their communities and throughout society by modeling ways to minimize global warming emissions, and by providing the knowledge and the educated graduates to achieve climate neutrality."

Michael Crow, the president of Arizona State University and the chair of the group's steering committee, told the New York Times, "Universities are huge institutions with huge carbon footprints, but they also are laboratories for concepts of sustainability."

The plan for signatories to the Climate Commitment follows three steps:
  1. Begin development of a comprehensive plan to achieve climate neutrality as soon as possible;
  2. implement two or more actions from a list of ways to reduce greenhouse gases while the more comprehensive plan is being developed;
  3. make the action plan, inventory, and periodic progress reports publicly available through the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.
The first step, creating a long-term plan to become climate neutral, begins with an inventory of each school's carbon emissions within the next two years, followed by the creation of specific strategies to neutralize those emissions.

The second step of the commitment includes taking at least two of the following actions: ensuring that all new campus construction will be built to at least the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED Silver standard; purchasing only Energy Star-certified products when possible; offsetting GHG emissions from school-funded air travel; encouraging public transit use by all comers to the school; purchasing energy from renewable resources; and supporting shareholder resolutions that address climate change and sustainability issues in companies that the school invests its endowment.

Mitch Tomashow, president of Unity College in Maine, told the Kennebec Journal that signing the commitment was a "no-brainer," but added that the sub-section of the commitment that requires making climate change and sustainability part of the curriculum for all students posed an entirely different challenge.

"That's going to be the most difficult thing to accomplish," Tomashow said. "Moving the curriculum so that every engineering student, every medical student, takes these types of classes -- that's a much bigger challenge, but that ultimately will need to happen."

More information about the commitment, as well as a list of all the schools that have signed on, is available at PresidentsClimateCommitment.org.