Leading the Charge for a Healthier Planet

Sustainability at AU

As the first university in the country to achieve carbon neutrality, AU is blazing a trail to a more sustainable future.

AU, which reached a net-zero carbon footprint in 2018—two years ahead of the target date—is also the first urban campus and research institution to meet the guidelines established by Second Nature, the Boston-based nonprofit that’s spearheading sustainability efforts in higher education. In 2020, on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, AU took another critical step to combat global warming by divesting from fossil fuels in its public endowment portfolio.

AU's commitment to sustainability permeates every aspect of campus life and unites students, faculty, and staff in a common mission to preserve our environment.

"I'm so excited to be part of a team and part of a community that has changed the way that we do things on campus in all aspects—the way we think about purchasing in offices, the way we teach our classes, the way we build our buildings. All of those things have come together to lead us to this accomplishment," says Megan Litke, director of AU's sustainability programs.

The university took a three-pronged approach to meet its environmental goals: reducing overall emissions, using renewable energy, and offsetting the small remainder of its carbon footprint. Half of AU’s electricity is now generated by 2,500 solar panels across campus and 243,000 panels on a solar farm in North Carolina. Ten LEED-certified buildings feature energy and water efficiencies, including green roofs and sunshades that cool buildings naturally. AU offsets emissions that cannot be replaced with renewable energy by supporting a project in Kenya that provides families with efficient cookstoves and balancing emissions from study abroad programs, among other initiatives.

Student engagement is a driving force in AU's sustainability efforts and is crucial to its ongoing success. Eighty-five percent of students commute by bus, bike, Metro, or on foot, and the entire fleet of AU shuttle buses runs on biodiesel.

Sustainability is more than just a mission; it's part of the university's DNA as a changemaker, says AU president Sylvia M. Burwell. "We want to share our experience beyond the AU community and become a model for sustainability.”

Learn more about sustainability at AU at www.american.edu/about/sustainability.

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