Faculty Senate approves resolution urging acceleration of sustainability goals

Nov. 5, 2020, 11:26 p.m.

The Faculty Senate approved a new sustainability resolution at its Thursday meeting. The resolution, presented by civil and environmental engineering professor Jeffrey Koseff M.S. ’78 Ph.D. ’83 and earth systems professor Noah Diffenbaugh ’97 M.S. ’97, calls on faculty and staff to take personal responsibility for reducing carbon footprints and sets proposed target dates for the University’s transition to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.

The resolution acknowledges the Stanford Board of Trustees Statement and June resolution committing Stanford to the 2015 Paris Agreement and the March Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU)/Undergraduate Senate/Graduate Student Council (GSC) resolution for divestment from fossil fuel companies. It also affirms that the divestment from fossil fuel investments is one of many actions required to achieve the sustainability goals. 

In the resolution, emissions are separated into three categories: scopes one, two and three. Scope one emissions include all direct emissions of an organization from owned or controlled sources, according to Koseff. Scope two encompasses indirect emissions, and scope three includes all other emissions from sources that an organization does not own or control (such as business travels, employee commuting or investments). 

The resolution urges Stanford to revise its target date to transition to net-zero or lower gas emissions in its endowment to no later than 2040 and in its operations to no later than 2030 for scopes one and two and 2040 for scope three. It also calls for Stanford to refocus its energy sector investment portfolio to prioritize non-emitting technologies by only investing in companies that are committed to the goals of the Paris Agreement.

“The resolution that we present today is an attempt, albeit one that is not perfect, to speak in the voice that is representative of the sentiments on climate change and sustainability of the academic council of the University,” Koseff said. “It acknowledges that our needed actions as a university community and a university are far broader and deeper than just Stanford’s investment portfolio.”

He added that the resolution is meant to find common ground on the threat of climate change and the social, racial and environmental resource inequities that follow. 

Diffenbaugh emphasized that the resolution is built around the Board of Trustees’ resolution, which commits Stanford to the goals of the Paris Agreement. The timelines for scopes one, two and three are an addition to the original resolution.

“The reality is that if institutions like Stanford reach the global goals at the same time as they’re laid out in the Paris Agreement, then the world will reach those goals much later,” he said.

During the discussion, philosophy professor and former Provost John Etchemendy expressed concern that the Senate would not consider the trade-offs of the resolution.

“Looking at one side, this all looks great,” he said. However, he urged senators to consider the potential financial impact it could have on the University. 

President Marc Tessier-Lavigne said that it is possible to reach net-zero emissions in the short term, but there would be a “cost-benefit issue.” He said that as future technology improves and becomes cheaper, the University should make the move to drive emissions down to zero when it could appropriately balance the sense of urgency and the cost of that drive. However, he added that this timeframe has yet to be determined, though he hopes that it is by 2030 if not sooner. 

“The administration is completely aligned with the idea of getting there as soon as possible, being mindful of the fact that the last 5-10% becomes increasingly expensive,” Tessier-Lavigne said. “There is full alignment in intent, full alignment in aspiration, but not a clear path today.” 

Management science and engineering professor Ramesh Johari noted the distinction between aspiration and policy during the discussion, particularly in regard to the Senate’s rejection of a resolution calling for divestment passed by both the ASSU and the GSC.  

“Part of the disappointment that I believe was felt certainly among students and even among others in the community is that we were not able to commit to the aspiration, and I think those kinds of commitments are important to the community,” Johari said.

During Tuesday’s Steering Committee administrative session, the Faculty Senate also approved a request from the Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education and Stanford Introductory Studies to postpone by one year (in response to COVID-19) the implementation of a frosh two-course requirement and review of the first-year course requirements. 

This article has been corrected to accurately reflect the endorsements of the sustainability resolution. The Daily regrets this error.

Contact Lyanne Pineda at lyannepineda ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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