Reflections from a college president on the role campuses can make on climate change

Frank Sesno and Planet Forward bid a very fond farewell to retiring GW President Steven Knapp. School of Media and Public Affairs Director Sesno interviewed Knapp to discuss one of his legacies at GW — sustainability — which also happens to be a topic Sesno holds close to his heart as founder of Planet Forward.

On Earth Day 2008, Knapp signed the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment, where the university committed to reducing its carbon footprint and measuring greenhouse gas emissions. In 2010 GW released an official Climate Action Plan, setting its goal of being carbon neutral by 2040, and during Knapp's tenure the university has remained on track to reach that goal.

Knapp said the most important act of sustainability that he has done is to “develop the leadership capacities of the students to be in this for the long haul.” Students have wide-ranging interests on sustainability, which GW then fosters and cultivates the students to be able to go in the free market and work with any person, corporation, or government. One way that this has been done is through establishing sustainability as a minor which allows students "to see how everything is connected.”

The president also worked with corporations and governments to reduce their carbon output, and become more sustainable. A major collaboration that was done under Knapp's tenure is the Capital Solar Partnership with American University and George Washington Hospital. These corporations created four solar farms that allow GW and the other partners to obtain half of their energy usage from solar. The energy from these farms is enough to power 9,000 homes — the equivalent of taking 18,000 cars off the road, and 85,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.  

GW also has become a trusted advisor to the Washington, D.C., local government on how it should handle their run-off, by spreading what was done on GW campus to the surrounding area. These partnerships were done by both President Knapp, and the Board of Trustees, which put sustainability first on campus. 

Most recently, Knapp signed on the university's behalf the "We Are Still In" declaration in response to the United States' withdrawal from the Paris Accord, along with what has grown to more than 300 colleges and universities, impressing that the university and its students, faculty and staff remain committed to the goals it committed to in 2008.

How do you move the Planet Forward? Tweet us @planet_forward or contribute to the conversation with your own story.