Strategic Communication to Achieve Carbon Neutrality within the University of California

Principal Investigator(s): 

Dave Auston, Roger Bales, Fonna Forman, Lisa Leombruni

Many actions will be necessary for the University of California to meet its goal of carbon neutrality by 2025 – from implementing physical measures on the campuses to purchasing carbon offsets.

For these actions to be successful, there must be support for them from students, faculty, staff, and administrators on all UC campuses. To this end, UC Santa Barbara’s Institute for Energy Efficiency and NCEAS co-facilitated a working group to develop a research-based communication and engagement strategy that is inclusive and aligns with the values and priorities of the UC community.

Download their full report

Download the research brief


The report presents the group’s findings on the potential barriers to implementing actions proposed under the Carbon Neutrality Initiative and proposes communication- and engagement-related strategies to overcome those barriers.

Key Findings

  1. Potential champions of the Carbon Neutrality Initiative need concrete and actionable information about measures to achieve carbon neutrality, including the pros and cons of each.
  2. Administrative leaders are expected to take the first steps and to facilitate, but not mandate. The campus communities want to have a voice.
  3. Significant tradeoffs that may compromise teaching, research, or patient care – such as inefficiencies, inconveniences, and diversion of resources – are viewed by many as unacceptable.
  4. Local solutions are highly valued, including on-campus energy efficiency and renewable energy. Market-based mechanisms, such as offsets, are viewed with skepticism, especially if they divert resources from on-campus measures.
  5. Decision-making needs to weigh organizational, psychological, and sociocultural considerations together with economic and technical factors to develop carbon solutions that foster engagement from the UC community.

Key Opportunities

  1. Students, faculty and staff were generally supportive of sustainability initiatives and thought UC should exert leadership. Even though they did not feel they knew enough about the initiative or what next steps to take, they want to help make changes.
  2. Many staff are already invested in achieving the carbon neutrality goal and only need stronger engagement on the part of campus leaders and the community, additional administrative support, or resources to help them advance toward the goal.
  3. Linking carbon neutrality to themes such as social justice, health, responsibility, or leadership can be effective in tapping into what matters most to audiences on some campuses.

Recommendations for Moving Forward

  1. Create a campus-based, system-wide “collaboratory” to provide applied-research and education opportunities that align the Carbon Neutrality Initiative with the university mission of research, teaching, and public service. Actively engage faculty, staff and students so as to motivate broader involvement in carbon reduction solutions.
  2. Develop information-rich communication resources that give champions of the Carbon Neutrality Initiative a big-picture view of potential solutions and empower them to share ideas and engage others in creating solutions.

Download the report Appendices

More information for Project Participants

Citation: R. Bales, S. Rebich-Hespanha, L. Leombruni, H. Hodges, A. Heeren, H. Gelbach, N. Van Leuvan, J. Christensen. 2018. Strategic Communication to Achieve Carbon Neutrality within the University of California, Report of the UC TomKat Carbon Neutrality Project. DOI: 10.6071/H87D2S8W

This project was made possible by a gift from the TomKat Foundation and supplemental funding from the University of California Office of the President.
 

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