ACUPCC (Part II): Develop a Climate Action Plan to drive energy conservation projects

The scale and speed of global warming and its adverse impacts on human health and the environment has prompted a number of U.S. colleges and universities to sign the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) – an agreement to eliminate net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from specified campus operations and promote sustainability research and education.

Signatories of the ACUPCC are committed to reduce global GHG emissions 80% by mid-century to avert the worst impacts of global warming and to reestablish stable climatic conditions. In addition to developing a comprehensive inventory of all GHG emissions, signatories are also required to develop a Climate Action Plan (CAP) outlining strategies and progress towards achieving climate neutrality (read Part I in this series to learn more about developing a GHG inventory).


Within two years of signing the commitment, the CAP should be completed, in addition to outlining a final target date and interim milestones for achieving climate neutrality. Under the terms of the Commitment, all Scope 1 and 2 emissions, as well as those specific Scope 3 emissions must be eliminated and/or neutralized:

Scope 1: Direct Emissions - emissions that are physically produced on campus (e.g. on-campus power production, campus vehicle fleets, refrigerant leaks). These sources are “owned or directly controlled” by your institution.

Scope 2: Indirect Emissions - emissions associated with purchased utilities required for campus operation. They are indirect emissions resulting from activities that take place within the organizational boundaries of the institution, but that occur at sources owned or controlled by another entity.

Scope 3: Other Indirect Emissions - emissions from sources that are not owned or controlled by the campus, but that are central to campus operations or activities (e.g. non-fleet transportation, employee/student commuting, air travel paid for by your institution).

Many colleges and universities utilize the CAP as a strategic planning tool to drive energy conservation projects and guide in the reduction of GHG emissions. Often the CAP can be successfully incorporated into a more holistic sustainability plan. A comprehensive CAP should:
  • Explain how your institution intends to achieve climate neutrality by its target date and outline specific strategies and conservation projectsto mitigate emissions. Oftentimes, institutions are better served by hiring an independent energy consultant to streamline the process and facilitate the data collectionenergy auditsemission calculations,reporting and project implementation to meet emission reduction targets. 
  • Describe planned actions to make climate neutrality and sustainability a part of the curriculum and/or other educational experience for all students.
  • Describe actions to expand research and community engagement to support efforts toward the achievement of GHG reductions for the institution and/or the community and society.
  • Outline mechanisms for tracking progress on goals and actions.


The CAP should identify the largest sources of global warming pollutants, areas of greatest opportunity for GHG emissions abatement, and incorporate a comprehensive list of potential energy conservation measures for avoiding or reducing GHG emissions from each of the sources included in the GHG inventory.

The emissions-reduction and savings potential of various projects should be carefully considered in order to reap maximum emissions reductions and return on investment. An energy consulting firm well-versed in energyfacilities infrastructureengineering, and data management can help assess the viability and return on investment of each project and serve as owner’s representative to guide implementation. Various criteria should be considered when evaluating mitigation options:
  • Potential to avoid or reduce GHG emissions.
  • Flexibility as a step towards future emissions-reduction measures.
  • Return on investment or financial impact (Life Cycle Analysis and Financial Risk Management analysis may be more appropriate than simple payback and ROI calculations). 
  • Potential to create positive and/or negative social and environmental side-effects.
  • Relationship to other potential measures and opportunities for synergistic measures.
  • Potential to be scaled upward if successful.
  • Potential to involve students and faculty.
Careful analysis of the emissions reduction and energy conservation measures will enable signatories to envision possible courses of action and establish targets that are in line with the commitment to achieve climate neutrality. Once the measures have been evaluated and prioritized, early actions can be implemented. Oftentimes, energy conservation projects such as lighting retrofits, insulation, and HVAC upgrades can yield significant savings, relatively short pay-back periods and substantial emissions reductions.