Jennifer Bodine: The technology and vision exist, now it’s time to act for a carbon neutral future

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) A Weber State University student walks into the lobby of the new Layton campus building on Sept. 19, 2022.

Like many parents, I’ve made my work office feel more like home with pictures of my kids placed throughout, tokens of my love for them. But there’s another reason. Alongside snapshots of my children are photos of students that I’ve had the privilege of working with during my time at Weber State University, where I serve as sustainability manager. These photos, “kids” in different ways, serve as poignant reminders that we owe our young people a healthy planet and sustainable future.

Currently, we as a nation are not doing everything we can to ensure that our children inherit a livable planet, which can be disheartening given our responsibility and the tools we have at our disposal. The solutions to turn the climate crisis around largely exist, and multiple economic studies prove it would be less expensive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions than it would be to deal with the consequences of a swiftly warming planet.

I love working with the students at WSU because they see through the excuses and demand action. And as someone charged with overseeing our vision for sustainability, I’m fortunate to work for a university that doesn’t just make hollow promises to its students, but instead leads the way by aggressively reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. It’s a goal that began in 2007 when WSU signed the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, and one that has continually evolved as we pledged to be carbon neutral by 2050.

From the outset, Weber State has backed its climate promises with actions, and we’ve demonstrated how it’s technologically and economically feasible to deploy sustainable solutions. We’re now seen as a national leader in sustainability. Other universities and businesses are looking at our model and asking, “How do we make this happen for us?”

Our team recently answered that question at the Sustainability Solutions Symposium, hosted by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities in Washington, D.C. With 15 years of success under our belt, we’re hoping others will listen and follow suit.

Throughout our climate action planning process, our vision was to eliminate emissions at the source rather than merely purchasing carbon offsets. Consequently, WSU became one of the first universities in the country to develop a detailed infrastructure transition plan, which includes a 5-point strategy to achieve carbon neutrality through energy efficiency, electrification, renewable energy sourcing and reinvestment of utility savings.

Implementing this strategy over the past 15 years has resulted in WSU cutting utility costs by 50% and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 42%, putting us a staggering 10 years ahead of our carbon neutrality goal. Our strategy utilizes existing technology and operates within existing funding constraints, making it a replicable approach for any company, organization or even household.

As a university, we know hard work often starts in the classroom, through learning. WSU has incorporated sustainability across its curriculum, with key faculty and staff sharing the knowledge and skills students need to contribute to sustainable communities and providing opportunities to engage in real-world projects. But our work extends beyond campus. Weber also works with community partners to boost sustainable practices, helping residents reduce their emissions and carbon footprints, often by utilizing the same strategies implemented on WSU campuses. The university also hosts the Intermountain Sustainability Summit, and co-hosts Utah Climate Action Week and Solve Climate by 2030 events each year.

Additionally, our energy and sustainability staff regularly teach, conduct campus tours and share best practices at conferences. Events like these are critical not only because they provide a venue for sharing great ideas, but because they remind us of our collective responsibility to turn our hope and promises into actions that will yield positive results for our young people.

When I go to work each day, I often have headlines on climate change floating through my head, along with echoes of voices like Greta Thunberg, the young climate activist who famously said, “Hope doesn’t come from words. Hope only comes from actions.”

Weber State had a vision and the confidence to stick to it, and the results are remarkable. While we’re leading the way, it’s possible — and necessary — for everyone to take part. In recent years, scientists have repeatedly warned that we need to cut our emissions in half by 2030 and be carbon neutral by 2050.

While no individual or institution can do this work alone, we can do it together. It’s time for all of us — businesses, cities, nonprofits and households — to set carbon neutral goals and take action. There’s hope in the action, but we must work collectively to tackle the climate crisis and nurture a livable planet for all.

(Jennifer Bodine)

Jennifer Bodine is the sustainability manager in Weber State University’s Energy & Sustainability Office.