Why Colleges Must Take Meaningful Action to Fight Climate Change

Brett Ladd
About the author : Brett Ladd

CEO, Sodexo Campus

Published on : 1/10/24
  • You might say that Gen Z’s favorite color is green. Although young people from many generations have been passionate about protecting the environment, there is now an unprecedented sense of urgency around these issues as the realities of climate change demand immediate attention. For today’s college students, climate change is a very real and pressing concern, one that makes the future feel uncertain. 

    According to a December 2021 study by Inside Higher Education, 81% of college students are worried about climate change, and 85% say it’s important for their campus to prioritize sustainability. A college’s commitment to sustainability can even impact enrollment numbers — 45% of students considered environmental sustainability in choosing where to enroll. Unfortunately, students aren’t convinced that their campus is doing enough, with only 59% of undergraduates viewing their campus as at least somewhat environmentally sustainable.

    It isn’t enough to simply tout the merits of sustainability on campus. Today’s students are savvy and can often see past buzzwords and recognize empty promises. In fact, one 2021 survey revealed that 88% of Gen Z consumers don’t trust the claims that companies make about environmentalism and social responsibility. Students are leery of “greenwashing” and want to know that their campus is truly making a difference in the fight against climate change. Catchy slogans and colorful banners about saving the world may grab people’s attention, but campuses must take meaningful action to achieve tangible results.

    Targeted Actions Make Real Impact

    The latest chapter of President to President highlights one example of how a college campus can make meaningful progress toward environmental sustainability. In “Reducing Energy Consumption as Step One to Building a Sustainability Movement,” Sam Houston State University President Alisa White, Ph.D., describes how her campus embarked on a journey to identify the most effective ways to become more sustainable. One of the biggest opportunities her team uncovered was building management. They began by analyzing the energy usage of a five-story, nearly 150,000-square-foot building on campus. After completing maintenance on mechanical systems, optimizing schedules and installing occupancy controls, the team achieved a significant reduction in energy usage. Improving the management of only one building reduced the campus’s carbon emissions by 745 tons a year.

    Campus Solutions that Reduce Carbon Emissions

    If that sort of impact can be achieved by optimizing a single building, the potential to reduce carbon emissions through the optimization of multiple buildings and even entire campuses is immense. Sodexo is committed to helping colleges and universities make changes that will shrink their carbon footprint and help them achieve greater long-term sustainability through an Integrated Facilities Management approach, which holistically addresses every element of operations on campus.

    Buildings aren’t the only major elements of a college’s carbon footprint, though. One of the biggest drivers of greenhouse gas emissions can be found in the dining hall. Meat consumption (especially beef) is a substantial contributor to climate change. Cows release a high level of methane gas, which is up to 34 times more potent than carbon dioxide and has a greater effect on climate change. In addition, beef requires 20 times more land and emits 20 times more greenhouse gas than legumes per unit of protein consumed. Encouraging students to opt for plant-based ingredients is an easy way to make a meaningful impact. To accelerate this progress, Sodexo has committed to ensuring that 50% of planned menus on college campuses are plant-based by 2025.

    Turning the Tide on Climate Change

    Climate change is here, and it requires swift, meaningful action to reverse its effects. College campuses have an opportunity to lead the fight, but only if they take bold steps. I’m proud of the work Sodexo does with our partner campuses to create a better tomorrow for students, and I’m optimistic that, together, we can and will win this battle.