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Action on Climate Change

Friday, November 5, 2021

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Dear Tulane Community:

Our location in one of the world’s most environmentally significant and sensitive regions gives us a unique perspective on one of the most pressing issues of our time – the earth’s rapidly changing climate.

Rising sea levels, eroding coastlines and severe weather threats remind us of the urgency to undertake meaningful action to combat the causes and impacts of climate change. As residents of an energy-producing state, we also recognize the effect that efforts to reduce our carbon footprint could have on the livelihoods of thousands of families as well as on our state’s economy. We are convinced, however, that through proper stewardship, innovation and an unwavering commitment to the common good, we can mount a rigorous defense against climate change and help Louisiana become a leader in clean energy, conservation, sustainability and economic growth.

Research and Education

As a leading academic institution, Tulane breakthroughs, discoveries and operations can play a vital role in addressing the causes and impact of climate change. This is why we have made major investments in expanding our environmental and energy studies programs, including supporting research to protect and restore our coastlands, combat the effects of sea-level rise and subsidence and develop alternative fuels and energy-saving technologies.

A multi-faceted and complex problem such as climate change requires a multi-disciplined approach. Numerous schools, departments and centers at Tulane are engaged in this critical undertaking, including the Department of River-Coastal Science and Engineering, the School of Science and Engineering’s newest academic department. We have also established the River and Coastal Center on the banks of the Mississippi River to serve as a strategically located think tank for scientists, government officials and business partners to collaborate and innovate on coastal restoration, sustainability and resilience. To meet the energy and sustainability needs of the future, the Tulane Energy Institute prepares students, businesses and government officials to lead the transition to cleaner energy-producing systems. Members of the Tulane Energy Institute are also part of the Governor’s Task Force for Climate Initiatives.

Our Center for Applied Environmental Public Health, which was recently ranked No. 1 in the nation, educates public health professionals in advancing policies and programs that reduce chemical and other environmental exposures in air, water, soil and food. Our Center for Environmental Law pursues interdisciplinary collaborations focused on environmental issues. It is also home to the Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law & Policy, which works closely with the recently established ByWater Institute. The Center for Environmental Law specializes in providing law and policy analysis to decision-makers and the public to ensure our ecosystems are maintained for future generations. The School of Science and Engineering also recently received a share of a $35 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to find new ways to decarbonize the processes that convert organic material into fuel.

University Operations

Tulane continues to align its operations to address the climate crisis. In 2008, we joined the Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitment, through which we pledged to measure the impact of university operations on climate change and develop a strategy to reduce our carbon footprint. In 2015 we adopted the Climate Action Plan with the goal of realizing a 30% emission reduction by 2025 and achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. Tulane also participates in a collaborative of more than 25 leading U.S. research institutions that share best practices in achieving carbon neutrality.

Since adopting the Climate Action Plan, Tulane has grown in every way – from the size of our student population to the number of faculty and staff, as well as through new and expanded facilities uptown, downtown and on the Northshore. Over the past two years, this growth was coupled with energy-intensive activities related to COVID-19, such as increased ventilation in buildings and the installation of temporary structures, which were less energy-efficient than our permanent buildings. These factors impacted our ability to reduce our overall level of greenhouse emissions as much as we had planned. However, we made significant progress and beat our targets in reducing per capita emissions. Greenhouse gas emissions per student decreased 31 percent between 2007 and 2020.  Emissions per square foot of building space also decreased by 18 percent during the same period, and our overall greenhouse gas emissions were reduced by 7 percent.
 
As we emerge from the global pandemic, we are redoubling our efforts to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This includes major projects to improve the efficiency and resiliency of our main power plant as well as the system that distributes chilled water to our campuses. We are also working on large-scale lighting retrofits and significant energy upgrades at our Northshore campus. We are replacing diesel-operated shuttle buses with electric-powered ones and making additional physical improvements and efficiencies on all campuses, including investing in solar power production. As a result of these and other initiatives, we are committed to achieving, and exceeding, our 2025 goals.  

Our Investment Strategy

While remaining consistent with our goal of generating income to support the university, including its ability to provide scholarship funding and financial aid, Tulane encourages the companies in which it is invested to support the development of new industries and technologies that will further the goal of a carbon-neutral economy. Like most other universities, we believe such an investment strategy is more effective than divestment. Stimulating innovation at Tulane and throughout industries creates a better path to environmental sustainability while achieving the long-term investment objectives of our endowment. Through these efforts, we plan to set our endowment investments on a path to net-zero greenhouse emissions by 2050 and to be at the forefront of how to prudently prioritize environmental sustainability within the broader context of environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing.

Promoting environmental sustainability and confronting climate change is a daunting challenge. We must marshal the knowledge of experts from across the widest array of fields, including our own faculty, as well as the commitment of students and staff from every corner of our institution. This is a unique strength of Tulane. We are currently assembling such a stakeholder group that will meet regularly with university leaders to be apprised of our latest efforts and provide feedback and direction on our next steps.

While the task ahead of us is formidable, Tulane, as a leading research institution on the front lines of climate disruption, is uniquely suited to address and help solve this global challenge.

 

Michael A. Fitts, President
Robin Forman, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost
Patrick Norton, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer

Signature of Mike Fitts