Claire Lecornu: November's Sustainability Champion
Claire is a junior who is double majoring in Math and Philosophy, Politics, Economics, and Law (PPEL). Currently, she is the Climate Action Plan intern in the Office for Sustainability, which means she is responsible for calculating the University's annual greenhouse gas emissions and writing up a summary of the progress the school has made each year towards reaching its carbon reduction goals.
Describe your involvement with the Climate Action Plan. What is the process for gathering information for the greenhouse gas inventory?
In 2007, President Ayers committed the University to being carbon neutral by 2050, with an interim reduction target of 30% by 2020. In order to monitor our progress towards those goals, we have to know how much greenhouse gas emissions we're creating each year to determine how much further we have to go. Being able to track our emissions allows us to see what areas we have made significant improvements in and what areas we still need to work a lot harder on.
Calculating our annual emissions is a big job and we rely on collaboration with several key people. We work closely with George Souleret in facilities to gather data on energy usage and Jean Hines in Accounts Payable for data on University travel. We also have to determine emissions caused by faculty, staff, and students commuting to and from campus, so for that we send out a survey to gather data on travel trends. Some of the calculations rely on estimates, but for the most part, the calculations are pretty accurate. With this data we can then write up our update to our Climate Action Plan. The CAP breaks down emission factors into five main categories. Then we write about the progress we've made towards some of our previously iterated goals in each of the categories and present new solutions for further progress.
While working with Environment America over the summer, what did you do and what was the most important thing you learned?
While interning with Environment America in DC this past summer, I did a lot of media work which I never realized was such a critical part of the work environmental non-profits do. I helped organize press events around certain events during the summer, like when we delivered to the EPA nearly 5 million public comments asking them to ban neonicotinoids, a bee-killing pesticide. We worked with our other coalition members to rally congressmen to vote a particular way on bills that could affect the environment.
The most important thing I learned this summer was probably that it takes a lot of people, a lot of hard work, and often many years before progressive legislation that protects the environment finally gets passed, but when it does, it's typically a big win that is hard to be reversed. When lobbying a congress as gridlocked as ours currently is, it's critical to not give up hope because the work we're doing is so important -- literally life-saving -- and will lead to a much better future than the one we're currently headed for.
How will studying abroad next semester expand your understanding of sustainability?
I'm so excited to get to study abroad in the Netherlands next year since the nation has been such a huge leader for developing sustainable solutions. While our cities are very car-centered, the Netherlands has been a champion of bicycling for decades now. Nearly anywhere you might want to go on a regular basis can be quickly reached by bike on one of the many safe and nicely-paved bike paths. I think that getting away from our addiction to driving in the US is a necessary step to us achieving a more sustainable nation.
While I'm studying abroad, I hope to learn about many more of the innovative ways that the Netherlands is working to address climate change so that I can return with new ideas and inspiration for what we can do back at home.
What is one way students can get involved in sustainability on campus?
The number one thing students can do to help sustainability on campus is to not only practice sustainability but to educate their peers about how to be sustainable as well. I have somewhat forced sustainability on all of my friends, and while they may hate me for it at the moment when I'm nagging "Did you recycle that?" or "Do you really need a bag?", they eventually recognize that these small steps can make a huge difference, especially since the behaviors we adapt in college are so formative to the rest of our lives. If a student really wants to get involved in educating their peers, URSA is a perfect way to do that.
How do you foresee sustainability influencing your career after your time at UR?
While I haven't quite figured out yet what I want to do after I graduate, I do know that I want to somehow incorporate sustainability. My most recent career plans are to work for a city government doing urban planning where I could work on developing cities in a way that is more sustainable, like greening transit methods and instating goals for renewable energy use. My ultimate passion is policy, so I would love to find a way to work on developing sustainable policies for cities, and then hopefully expand my work nationwide.