New Energy for Campuses: Energy Saving Policies for Colleges and Universities

Our country is dependent on an old, outmoded, fossil-fuel energy system that is simultaneously speeding environmental degradation and making us less secure. There is a better way. The Apollo Alliance has a plan to improve national security by reducing dependence on oil from unstable and undemocratic governments through investments in a resilient energy system, and by supporting new renewable distributed generation.

The Apollo Alliance plan will also revitalize the economy, expanding markets for American technology, investing in workers, and improving competitiveness and productivity, even as it protects consumers and the environment.


College and university campuses are uniquely placed to affect America’s energy future. The higher education sector is a $317 billion industry that educates and employs millions of people, maintains thousands of buildings and owns millions of acres of land. It spends billions of dollars on fuel, energy and infrastructure. And the footprint of higher education is widening — enrollment between 2000 and 2013 is expected to increase by 23%. If every one of the 4000 campuses in the U.S. used 100% clean energy, it would nearly quadruple the current renewable electricity demand in the U.S.

Campuses can set an example for their communities and the nation by implementing alternative energy, energy efficiency and environmental sustainability projects on campus to demonstrate their feasibility and cost effectiveness. They are centers of intellectual power, capable of leading experiments on new technologies, and using these projects as teaching tools and research opportunities to better the education of the next generation of voters, consumers, politicians, and business leaders — people who will be making energy decisions for years to come. Academia has traditionally been at the forefront of cultural and technological change, and campuses once again can be the catalyst that drives this county into sustainable energy independence.

And yet, few campuses have taken real, concrete steps to move toward a cleaner energy future. Only about 80 campuses in America purchase clean energy and most campuses have only implemented small scale, if worthy, clean energy projects. Only a handful of campuses have developed comprehensive plans, with targets and timetables, for substantially reducing greenhouse gas emissions and achieving energy independence. To strengthen existing campus plans and initiate them on the thousands of relatively disengaged campuses, a coalition of 30 leading environmental and social justice organizations has launched the Campus Climate Challenge ( The Challenge is a U.S. and Canada-wide, long-term project aimed at making campuses energy independent and dramatically cutting their global warming pollution. By consolidating hundreds of initiatives into a unified structure, the Challenge allows campuses to share ideas, best practices and resources to collaborate in ways never before possible.

The Apollo Alliance and the Campus Climate Challenge recommend that all campuses institute six basic reforms, the details of which are outlined in this document.

These reforms are:

• Upgrade to Efficiency: Replace inefficient appliances and upgrade inefficient buildings.
• Build Better: All new buildings should be high performance and energy efficient.
• Move to Clean Power: Buy or generate electricity from renewable resources.
• Expand Transportation Alternatives: Make it easy to get around on less fuel.
• Implement Green Purchasing: Buy products that use less energy, last longer, and are better for the environment.
• Institutionalize Conservation: Create a culture of conservation on campus.

Beyond just setting an example in efficiency, conservation, and renewable energy, colleges and universities should also make their efforts models of job creation and innovative financing. Most colleges and universities have existing standards for labor quality; however, campuses should review their labor polices to ensure that campus work is done by responsible employers.

The efforts to make colleges and universities models of a new energy policy should be carried out with an eye to the future. The reforms that will have the greatest impact are those that can be institutionalized — not short term or one-time projects. Instead of building one demonstration green building, campuses should institute a high performance building policy or establish a revolving loan fund that couples projects that save money (like energy efficiency retrofits) with those that have a longer payback time (like alternative energy generation). Institutionalizing good energy policy ensures that the impact will persist long after any individual student, faculty or staff person has left campus.

While achieving energy independence may at first seem daunting, this publication aims to make it a reality by highlighting the incredible number of ways to begin. As David Orr says, “No institutions in modern society are better equipped to catalyze the necessary transition to a sustainable world than universities. They have access to the leaders of tomorrow and the leaders of today. They have buying and investment power. They are widely respected. Consequentially what they do matters to the wider public.”


Want to keep up to date with all our latest news and information?
Subscribe to receive FREE TIPS, all new Radio/Podcast Episodes and Videos that will help you start Dropping your Energy Bill!
Enter your email below to join a world of new knowledge and savings!