Changemakers at sustainability@BU: Interns Help Make BU a Leader in Carbon Reduction

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Changemakers at sustainability@BU: Interns Help Make BU a Leader in Carbon Reduction

Through the Chevrolet Clean Energy Campus Campaign, we are supporting 11 colleges going above and beyond to combat climate change.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014 - 11:30am

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In her keynote speech at the AASHE 2014 opening ceremony, Story of Stuff creator Annie Leonard presented a newer Story, this time about change. Leonard recognizes that change is a slow and difficult process and she suggests that change is most successful through the collaboration of several different kinds of changemakers, namely: builders, networkers, resisters, communicators, nurturers, and investigators. Each of these changemakers has a unique skill set that allows them to push forward important social and political movements.

At Boston University, a team of sustainability staff and interns embody Leonard’s vision of changemakers by bringing unique and valuable skills to the table that help them make meaningful change on campus and in the larger sustainability community. One of the most striking examples of the importance of different changemaker roles is the work that sustainability@BU intern Ryan Peters did for the Chevrolet Clean Energy Campaign. With his strong background in engineering and computing, Peters was well-suited for the roles of builder and investigator in BU’s pursuit of carbon reduction leadership.

Prior to the Clean Energy Campaign, Peters joined sustainability@BU in pursuit of his long-term goals.

“One of my biggest personal challenges since arriving at BU has been finding my voice in the broader discussion currently surrounding sustainability,” said Peters. “I had already settled on pursuing work in clean energy through my engineering education, but I didn’t want to wait four years to begin making an impact.”

When Peters started interning at sustainability@BU, his focus was spread across a range of tasks, including handling metrics, producing graphics to represent BU’s progress, and reaching out to faculty and staff to make their offices Green Office Certified. Though definitely making an impact as he’d hoped, Peters was excited for the chance to have substantial ownership over a project and eagerly accepted the Clean Energy Challenge assignment from BU’s sustainability director as a personal challenge to tackle.

Peters’ views his part in the Challenge as a “shifting role between being an interpreter and an investigator, parsing out the information we had into a format that portrayed the big picture.” BU’s energy use reduction projects were already well underway when Peters started the project, so rather than reinventing the wheel, he needed to verify BU’s progress.

“I brought the tools together with the data, filtered out the noise, and let the numbers tell the story,” said Peters, though the work itself was much harder than he lets on.

“Ryan is the only person, aside from two astrophysics and architecture professors, who actually read the campus carbon methodology in order to figure out (without prompting) how BU could sweep through its project certification,” commented Sue Hall, CEO of the Climate Neutral Business Network who assisted campuses in certifying their projects for Chevy. “As a sophomore intern, Ryan humbly said he ‘just read the manual’ methodology which answered every question he had – but only tenured professors had taken that level of initiative for their campuses!”

Peters’ leadership and strong initiative with the Chevy project allowed BU to make it through the carbon credit process smoothly and quickly and through his hard work, Peters verified BU met its 2020 carbon reduction goals 6 years early. But BU’s success in the Energy Challenge wasn’t a one-man effort. Just as Ryan Peters brought his unique skills as a builder and investigator to the table, another sustainability@BU intern Lindsey Chew used her strong networking and communication skills to spread the news of BU’s efforts across campus and across the country.

Chew worked “to raise awareness about the Chevrolet Clean Energy Campaign and the critical importance of energy reduction in decreasing our campus’ carbon footprint.” Chew developed a timeline of energy-related articles for education to share on Facebook and Twitter, created an event page for National Campus Sustainability Day, and posted photos/blurbs about the event with the hashtags #CleanEnergyU and #CleanEnergyBU. Chew’s efforts led to BU reaching over a million social media hits on material related to the event, and ultimately allowed BU to spark interest in a continuing discussion of campus responsibility for carbon reduction.

Though BU is reaching the end of the carbon credit verification process, the importance of the work that Peters and Chew put into the project will continue to serve them and their communities well into the future. BU’s sustainability director Dennis Carlberg’s trust in Ryan’s knowledge, skills, and thoroughness allowed BU to purse Chevy’s Campus Clean Energy Campaign in the first place.

“I told Ryan, ‘If we’re going to take this on, Terry [Hatfield, BU’s financial analyst for energy] and I will work with you, but you have to own it with all its details,’ and that’s exactly what he did,” said Carlberg.

On a personal level, Peters says the project “has allowed me to engage this problem grounded in real stakes with specific challenges and goals. It allowed me space to grow professionally; I was initially terrified at the idea of being solely responsible for the project, but that trust empowered me to anticipate solutions and create a final analysis I’m proud to put my name on.” In a broader context, Peters believes that the Chevy project is building a broader conversation about carbon reduction and climate to engage the BU community as well as the community of universities and colleges across the country.

“So much of the recent dialog around climate change has been, fairly enough, rather gloomy – in that context, it’s been even more important to recognize positive change and use it to help generate future progress,” said Peters.

Through changemakers like Ryan Peters and Lindsey Chew, universities across the country can continue to grow into leaders in energy reduction and inspire others to follow in their footsteps.


Through the Chevrolet Clean Energy Campus Campaign, we are supporting 11 colleges going above and beyond to combat climate change. During the next two weeks, we highlight several dynamic campus leaders who are taking big steps to leave a smaller footprint.

Join the trailblazers from Ball State University, Valencia CollegePortland State University, Spelman College, University of Illinois at Chicago, University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point, Boston University, Rochester Institute of Technology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Grand Valley State University, and Southern Oregon University in the drive to a clean energy future.

Follow the sustainability conversation at #CleanEnergyU and tell Chevrolet why clean energy is important to you.

Keywords: #CleanEnergyU | Environment & Climate Change | Boston University | Carbon Footprint | Chevrolet Clean Energy Campus Campaign | Chevy | Energy | GM | General Motors | Volunteerism & Community Engagement | sustainability@BU

CAMPAIGN: Chevrolet Carbon-Reduction Initiative