Campus Climate Literacy

Engaging students, staff, and faculty in new ways, both on and off campus...

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Campus Climate Literacy is an Innovation goal in the Cornell Climate Action Plan(CAP).

Work to ensure that climate literacy and sustainability are part of the curriculum and educational experience at Cornell.

Goal: Build climate literacy in the campus community through curricular and extra-curricular programs for students and professional development programs for faculty and staff.

Climate literacy is understanding how human society influences the climate and how the climate influences human society – and it is fundamental to meaningful climate action on campus and in the world beyond. This Key Action involves the development and implementation of educational programs for students, faculty, and staff to be integrated with freshman orientation, undergraduate club leadership development, residential life, and professional development trainings.

In 2007, CALS Communications Professor Katherine McCommas began surveying students and staff on their attitudes, behaviors, and knowledge relating to climate change. Her research determined that an overwhelming majority of undergraduate students, almost 85%, agree or strongly agree that global warming is a serious problem. A similar majority of students recognized the processes contributing to global warming and believe that human activities, especially the emission of greenhouse gases, contribute to global warming. The full report is available at A separate series of surveys were administered in 2010 and 2012 that focused more on knowledge and attitudes related to energy conservation actions. The full report is available at Follow-up surveys of Cornell students and employees will be necessary to determine the ongoing success of campus climate literacy initiatives.

Currently Cornell offers more than 40 courses that cover the science and implications of climate change from various departments on campus. The Climate Change Minor administered by the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences is available to undergraduate students from any college at Cornell. A new website ( for students lists climate change courses, student initiatives, and programs.

The EcoReps program was launched in 2012 to help engage students in campus sustainability efforts through educational programs and positive role modeling. Over 60 students serve as EcoReps – or sustainable living peer educators – during freshman orientation and in freshman residence halls on North Campus. The majority of EcoReps also participate in a 3-credit service learning capstone course that focuses on sustainable living concepts, peer education methods, social marketing strategies, and the psychology of behavior change.

Looking beyond the classroom, Cornell students, faculty, and staff are applying the principles of sustainability to solve real-world problems. These efforts directly benefit the Cornell community, as well as people in communities around the globe. Recent examples of experiential learning both on and off-campus include:

  • Energy Corps efforts to replace incandescent light bulbs across campus with more efficient LED and CFL bulbs are projected to yield $245,539 in savings over the next seven years.
  • CU Compost Club is currently conducting a fundraising campaign to install a compost bin to serve residents of Collegetown.
  • Sustainability Internship Program students have tackled projects throughout Tompkins County to address energy planning, wood smoke assessment, waste reduction, greening operations, and wetlands development, among others.
  • Cornell University Sustainable Design’s (CUSD) Schoolhouse South Africa project is an award-winning design-build project focusing on resilient design and collaboration.
  • Cornell faculty and students are creating sustainable micro-energy systems for cooperative agriculture projects on Hawai`i Island.
  • Educational videos by Cornell staff, faculty, and students are helping to share climate change information and inspiring action. View recent video projects at the following links:
    Professional Climate Action Plan Educational Video
    Student-made Climate Action Plan Video
    Over 30 climate change educational videos by faculty

For a more comprehensive list of Cornell’s sustainability outreach programs, visit: erms=sustainability&FormAction=Search&SearchTermsChanged=Y.

Next Steps

  • Charge a committee to assess the content of existing courses related to climate change, current learning outcomes and determine what coordination should occur among existing courses and what new courses should be offered. Options to consider include a freshman writing course and a four-year seminar series with capstone activity.
  • A new seminar series on climate change will be available in the Spring of 2016, coordinated by the Cornell Institute for Climate Change and Agriculture, the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, and Dr. Peter Hess, Biological and Environmental Engineering. It will be open to the Cornell community and is a requirement for students in the climate change minor.
  • Promote the Climate Change Minor and advocate for expansion of sustainability-related courses with the support of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education.
  • Target outreach to incoming freshmen at orientation and throughout the year to inform them about climate issues and publicize opportunities to take action through the EcoReps class and the Environmental Collaborative.
  • Provide leadership development training for staff and graduate students in college buildings through the Green Ambassadors, Green Office Certification, and Green Lab Certification programs. In 2014, these programs were expanded university-wide.
  • Develop and implement climate change and climate action staff development trainings related to the recent inclusion of sustainability as an overarching principle in Cornell's "Skill for Success" matrix.
  • Develop tools and strategies to assess the climate literacy of incoming freshmen, graduating seniors, and university staff.
  • Evaluate the success of education programs and make ongoing adjustments as needed.


Secure support from senior administration and ongoing funding for current campus climate literacy programs, including “Think Big, Live Green,” EcoReps, student leadership development, and Green Offices and Labs.