Under pending regulations long sought by investors and environmentalists alike, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) may soon require publicly traded companies to disclose their climate risks and greenhouse gas emissions. Many businesses, especially small and medium sized businesses, are woefully unprepared for these changes. Being able to understand the science of greenhouse gas (GHG) measurement and reporting and develop feasible, realistic climate action plans is fast becoming a workforce development priority. Keenly aware of this need, colleagues Dr. Allison Leach, Jennifer Andrews, and Dr. Fiona Wilson at the University of New Hampshire Sustainability Institute saw both a responsibility and an opportunity. “It’s no secret that the world is, literally, on fire,” laments Dr. Wilson. “The evidence of the climate crisis is clear and the time for action is now. As a public university committed to the public good, we believe we have an important role to play.”
Dr. Wilson and her colleagues approached the Henry David Thoreau Foundation for support in launching the UNH Carbon Clinic, which helps students gain expertise and experience in sought-after environmental reporting skills by working in teams to complete carbon footprint analyses for regional businesses, nonprofits, and communities. The Clinic leverages the UNH Sustainability Institute’s 20+ years of expertise and investment in climate leadership. It uses the Sustainability Indicator Management and Analysis Platform (SIMAP), an online platform launched by UNH in 2017 and used by more than 500 universities and other organizations worldwide, to understand, communicate, and manage their carbon and nitrogen footprints. The Carbon Clinic is designed to extend the established and successful B Impact Clinic model (also funded by the Henry David Thoreau Foundation) to the pursuit of greenhouse gas emissions reductions.
More fundamentally, the Clinic provides students who yearn to make an impact on their future world with the expertise to do so. “This generation of students,” observes Dr. Leach, “are hugely motivated to be part of the solution to climate change, and are hungry for opportunities to be involved in learning the tangible skills to be change makers. They are looking for a new kind of education, one that is more hands-on and that has visible near-term impact. The Carbon Clinic responds to this need.”
Students are the heart of the Carbon Clinic. After training in the science of GHG emissions measurement and reporting, including hands-on practice using UNH’s SIMAP tool, students work in small teams that are matched with a company, NGO, or municipality. The students act as the relationship and project managers, aggregate the data, and analyze. Their analysis allows them to highlight the most material sources of GHG emissions for their client organization and develop a feasible plan for reducing GHGs. The Clinic is already having an impact. For example, two former clients are already installing solar panels to reduce their carbon footprint.
Jenn Andrews recognizes that for the students in the Carbon Clinic, their work is about more than just honing marketable skills and raising career prospects. It’s personal. “We love to see how by learning the technical skills of GHG measurement, students are able to take their passion around addressing the climate crisis and turn it into concrete, meaningful action,” says Andrews. “Students of this generation are passionate about making a difference, but knowing how to make that difference concrete is often challenging. We are excited to see how students’ passions deepen as a result of learning the skills of carbon accounting, but also how their specific confidence as agents of change also grows.”