Let’s Lead on Climate: Higher Education Success Story, California State University, Northridge

The Climate Leadership Awards Program

A President’s Commitment

Dianne F. Harrison, Ph.D., president of California State University, Northridge (CSUN), has been a vocal and visible leader regionally, nationally, and across her campus on sustainability and climate change awareness. Shortly after Harrison’s arrival at CSUN in 2012, she made sustainability one of eight planning priorities for the university, and in 2013 initiated its 10-year Campus Sustainability Plan.

Updated annually, the plan focuses on meeting goals in 10 areas: Administration, Dining,Education, Energy & Buildings, Environmental Quality, Organics, Purchasing & Consumption, Transportation, Waste Management, and Water.

President Harrison (below, left) has long led the charge on environmental advocacy in academia, becoming one of the early signatories, and later serving on the steering committee, of the American Colleges and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC). ACUPCC is a high-visibility effort to address climate change by creating a network of colleges and universities that have committed to neutralize their greenhouse gas emissions and accelerate the research and educational efforts of higher education to equip society to re-stabilize the earth’s climate. In October 2015, Harrison became a charter signatory of the Climate Commitment.

With a climate change awareness champion at the helm, it’s no wonder CSUN is a climate leader among higher education institutions.  The university educates its nearly 40,000 students each year to be leaders in their own communities, helping them adapt to environmental challenges.

According to President Harrison, the campus is “a living laboratory,” engaging with a large and diverse community and focusing on integrating sustainability and climate change awareness into the spectrum of local community institutions.

A Focus on Solutions

Students with produce from CSUN’s campus food garden. Campus pre-consumer kitchen waste is collected, composted, and then used to fertilize the garden.

Among the initiatives on the CSUN campus is an innovative, closed-loop waste-­to-­compost-­to-­food program, designed to move the campus closer to its goal of zero waste. CSUN students are currently diverting more than 40,000 pounds of pre-­consumer waste a year from landfills and turning it back into food.  Each day, the students pick up kitchen waste from several dining locations and coffee grounds from campus coffee shops and then transport them to a student-­built compost facility. When the compost is ready, it is mixed into vegetable beds in the student-­run organic garden to provide nutrients for food production. Fruit and vegetables grown in the bed are then given to volunteers and donated to local nonprofit groups.

The Cal State system has also instituted a program, Campus as a Living Lab, which engages students from a number of different courses in using their campus as a real-­world laboratory for achieving specific sustainability goals. Since its inception in 2014, the program has produced 57 projects, including one involving CSUN civil engineering students who studied how ecologically efficient CSUN’s buildings are and identified ways to make them more so.

Mechanical engineering students showcase their senior design project, a “tree” that powers portable electronics via solar panels. Campus funding paid for the building of eight units based on the prototype.

Wider Impact

President Harrison and the university are thoughtfully engaging campus and community members through the Campus-­Community Climate Leadership Task Force (CCCLTF). The Task Force is charged with developing solutions to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change. The CCCLTF also assists with climate action and resilience planning that supports both campus and community goals and facilitates joint action.

CSUN student volunteers are eager to clean up the streets surrounding the CSUN campus at Matadors Day of Service.

Faculty, student leaders, coordinators, and student interns work for the three Neighborhood Councils that comprise the city of Northridge and their planning organization, Northridge Vision. In projects and programs with these community groups, representatives of CSUN will inject climate and sustainability know-­how and extend the University’s expertise to the wider Northridge community.

 The Climate Leadership Awards Program was created to identify American higher education institutions taking the lead on climate change communication and engagement. Solution Generation, a program of ecoAmerica, partnered with the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities to deliver the 2016 award to California State University, Northridge.

We would like to acknowledge and thank the following participants, receiving Honorable Mention: San Antonio College, University of Central Florida, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, Moraine Valley Community College, William Paterson University, Barry University, California State University East Bay, University of Wisconsin-Parkside, Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents, Truckee Meadows Community College, University of Puerto Rico, The University of the Incarnate Word, Saint Peter’s University: The Jesuit University of New Jersey, UCLA, Florida Atlantic University, and UC Santa Cruz.

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