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Charting AU's Carbon Neutrality Progress

Costa Rica

MFA Film & Electronic Media student Nick Zachar documents the AU research team in Costa Rica.

American University’s plan for carbon neutrality is among the most ambitious in the country. According to Chris O’Brien, director of the Office of Sustainability, AU will achieve the green goal by 2020.

Released May 14, 2010, AU’s plan came two years after President Neil Kerwin signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. The initiative began in 2006 when 12 presidents gathered at Arizona State University to commit to carbon neutrality and research around climate change.

Graduate students from AU's School of Communication, School of International Service, Kogod School of Business, and School of Public Affairs, recently participated in a team research project addressing AU's commitment to achieve carbon neutrality by 2020.

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In an attempt to mitigate carbon emissions from students’ study abroad travel and faculty/staff commuting to campus, AU has invested in the Costa Rican government’s “Payment for Environmental Services” program, which pays landholders to protect rainforests in biodiversity hotspots and vulnerable watersheds.

Led by O'Brien, Dr. Ken Conca (SIS), and Professor Larry Engel (SOC), the team traveled to Costa Rica to assess the program’s environmental and social impacts, along with the overall effectiveness of AU's payments for these ecosystem services.

SOC Film and Media Arts master’s students Jazmin Garcia and Nick Zachar, also joined the group in Cost Rica. The two aspiring filmmakers documented the students as they interviewed government officials, local organizations, and landowners.

The interdisciplinary research project will work to provide AU with a recommendation on whether to continue the current project in Costa Rica or to look for alternatives going forward.

“As an institution of higher education in the nation’s capital, it’s incumbent upon us to lead climate change mitigation strategies,” O’Brien said. “We’re training the next generation of leaders, and it’s critical our students understand the problems and be a part of the solution.”