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BGSU Refuses to Sign Presidential Climate Commitment

The American College and Universities President’s Climate Commitment has nearly 700 signatures nationwide, but Bowling Green State University is not one of them.

The organization currently represents 5.8 million students and holds its universities accountable for creating a seven-part action plan to reduce carbon emissions, with a long-term goal of zero greenhouse gas emissions.

Bowling Green State University is one out of four baccalaureate Ohio universities that have not signed. BGSU President Carol Cartwright has been asked twice by Gary Silverman, director of the center for environmental programs and operations, to sign the commitment. However, Silverman said Cartwright did not respond to either of his requests.

Some BGSU students attended a meeting with President Barack Obama at the 2011 Power Shift Conference in Washington D.C. Photo by Gabriel Morgan.

“The university needs to step up,” Silverman said. “We’re not doing it in comprehensive way. It’s invisible to a lot of students.”

Cartwright says she did not sign the commitment because she cannot guarantee that the university will reach the goal of zero carbon emissions in the future.

“I do not make promises that I cannot keep,” Cartwright said. “The initiative calls for a number of specific actions that simply won’t work for a university like BGSU and that we would be unable to implement.”

Cartwright did not sign the commitment while serving as university president for the main campus of Kent State University in Ohio from 1991 to 2006. However, dean of the Stark Campus of Kent State University Walter Wagnor, did sign the initiative.

Climate change is primarily the result of human activity. The majority of the United States energy comes from the combustion of fossil fuels like coal, natural gas and petroleum. According to the International Database in 2008, more than 70 percent of energy in the United States was produced through burning fossil fuels.

Cartwright’s decision not to sign the commitment could be influenced by her position on the board of directors for FirstEnergy Corp, an energy company based in Akron, Ohio. According to Morning Star, an investment and consulting firm, in 2009 Cartwright received an annual salary of $75,000. Cartwright was paid a total compensation of $ 167,141 when adding other income from stocks.

Forbes lists Cartwright’s pay as a director from 2006 through 2008. Back in 2006, her total compensation was $428,895. In 2007, it was $380,770 and in 2008, she was paid $170,403.

Cartwright was a director of Ohio Edison Co from 1992 to 1997.

Cartwright said her position as a board member did not influence her decision to sign the commitment.

“My decision to sign the commitment has nothing to do with my service as a member of the board of the FirstEnergy Corporation,” Cartwright said. “Bowling Green State University does not do business with FirstEnergy, so there is no conflict of interest.”

Cartwright also serves on the board of directors for the Davey Tree Expert Company which provides horticultural services in the US and Canada.

Silverman says it’s important that BGSU demonstrates leadership in signing the commitment, no matter how hard it may be to reduce the university’s carbon footprint.

“It’s really hard to reduce carbon footprint to zero. A lot of schools don’t want to sign something they can’t pull off,”  Silverman said. “But we haven’t even made a public commitment yet.”

Many Ohio schools are successfully reducing their carbon emissions. The College Sustainability Report, an independent organization, grades universities in the U.S and Canada that request to be evaluated on various sustainability elements. The report lists Ohio University, Ohio State, Case Western, Oberlin College, and the University of Cincinnati as receiving a grade of a B or better when graded on climate change and energy.

View Best Climate Friendly Ohio Universities in a larger map

The University of Ohio has a program that promotes ways to reduce carbon emissions on and off campus. The Green House Project  gives incentives to landlords to improve energy efficiency by reducing significant carbon emissions. A company comes to students’ apartments and houses and evaluates how large their carbon footprint is. If students make suggested changes, they will receive $500 dollars cash back, according to the university’s website.

According to the 2010 Presidential Climate Commitment Annual Report, universities that sign the climate commitment need to focus their reduction efforts in several areas, and they must start emission reduction in at least two of the following categories:

  • Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design (LEED) silver green building policy- all new construction must be environmentally friendly and meet a silver standard.
  • Colleges must have access to public transportation that is convenient for students.
  • At least 15 percent of electricity needs to be from renewable sources, such as wind and solar.
  • Schools need to have an ENERGY STAR purchasing policy implemented. ENERGY STAR  is a joint program between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy, to promote energy efficient products and practices.
  • Signatory universities are required to have endowments that will contribute to a future of sustainable initiatives and programs.
  • A Recycle Mania Waste competition is required. BGSU currently has this competition where residence halls compete with one another through-out the school year to see which one recycles most.
  • Lastly, universities must have a way of off setting emissions from air travel by planting trees to absorb some of the carbon dioxide emitted.

Next year, BGSU may see a difference in climate change recognition. Mary Ellen Mazey was recently appointed BGSU’s new president.  Mazey is coming from Auburn University, which signed the President’s Climate Commitment in July of 2010.

Silverman said students can play a big part in getting Mazey to sign the commitment.  The last petition to get  Cartwright to sign the commitment had only 46 signatures. Things could be different this time if students demand more from the university.

“The new president may be happy to do it,” Silverman said. “Letters to the new president welcoming her and encouraging her to sign would be appropriate.”

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