Since there are no currently active contests, we have switched Climate CoLab to read-only mode.
Learn more at
Skip navigation
Share via:


Environmental faculty would make public their household greenhouse gas emissions profile and aim towards a given emissions target.



In this proposal, faculty would be required to post information related to their own household greenhouse gas emissions.  The faculty, along with senior staff, would aim for a personal emissions target that is lower than the American average.  The target would apply to activities supported by readily available data such as utility bills, odometer readings, air miles and diet. Currently, residential and commercial building consumption and personal mobility, and diet add up to 11-12 metric tons carbon dioxide equivalent per American.  A valuable target would be at a level considerably lower, 5, 6, 7 metric tons carbon dioxide equivalent for example.

The benefits of the emissions transparency and target would be manifold.  The process would set a good example for students whose emissions are typically much lower than that of the faculty who are teaching them how to address the problems of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.  Secondly, these practices should lesson the cognitive dissonance of faculty.  The cognitive dissonance theory suggests that individuals whose actions contradict their objectives will seek to rationalize the contradiction, but not necessarily correct the inconsistancy (Festinger, 1962).  Climate communicator George Marshall (2014) suggests this dissonance is commonplace among our environmental leaders. "In other areas, inconsistent beaviour by decision makers is utterly relevant, the racial prejudice of judges, the tax evasion by politicians...because we know intuitively that an internal conflict may undermind their judgement."  Faculty with improved breadth of knowledge of their personal greenhouse gas emissions are in a better position to understand the opportunities and challenges of reducing emissions.  



Is this proposal for a practice or a project?


What actions do you propose?

This proposal would entail an institutional commitment to require environmental staff to demonstrate that they are worthy of the role of educator and that their greenhouse gas emisisons are well below the American average.  Gradually, all faculty and senior staff, not just environmental educators, would face a target.  In cooperating with goals, educators would share their utility bills,, air travel miles, and vehicle miles traveled/fuel efficiency.  Though more demanding of data, faculty could also submit a simple statement of poundage of meat consumed from ruminant animals. The utility and other information could be scanned and posted on staff websites along with other biographical information typically found on faculty sites including CVs and publication lists.

   The target could be posed in carbon dioxide equivalent units from activities that can be easily assessed.  About half of American greenhouse gas emissions (about 11 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per person) fall into this category of being directly attributable to household activities.  If we consider that the mean American emissions from all and everything are twenty metric tons, a reasonable target could be well below 11 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.  The target cold be compatible with a middle-class lifestyle but assume a compact home, a disciplined approach to personal mobility and restraint in beef/ruminant consumption.  An emissions level of 5, 6, or 7 tons related to personal activities represents a dramatic improvement upon the average American emissions profile.

   A phased approach would give faculty a certain period of time, say two years, to bring their household greenhouse gas emissions down to a certain level.  Consequences for failing to do so may be limited by contractual constraints, but at the least the greenhouse gas emissions of a given individual would be available along with other data that makes up a person's professional profile and reputation.  

  In this proposal, the institution would collect such data from all staff and compile the average faculty/staff carbon footprint, which would be available to current and prospective students.  A student choosing an environmental studies department or choosing a particular class would have a picture of the average carbon footprint for a given department and individual faculty footprints. 

  These requirements would undoubtedly elicit some resistance.  Some faculty would conclude that the requirement is too demanding but the process would certainly inspire soul-searching about the self and the purpose of environmental education. Some may argue that a lower emissions lifestyle is for others -- perhaps for students -- and not for the faculty to take on.  But some faculty would see the basic logic of the goal and align their own sense of integrity with a tangible target. 

Who will take these actions?

University staff and senior administrators would be implementing these practices.

Where will these actions be taken?

Since this is an MIT sponsored contest, I suggest that MIT be an early adapter and take on an emissions target for faculty, starting with the following departments: architecture and planning, earth and atmospheric sciences, TPP, management, enviornmental engineering, and others working on some aspect of the climate change problem.

In addition, specify the country or countries where these actions will be taken.

United States

Country 2

No country selected

Country 3

No country selected

Country 4

No country selected

Country 5

No country selected


What impact will these actions have on greenhouse gas emissions and/or adapting to climate change?

The emissions reduction would depend upon the goals that are set and would have clearer implications for a change in emissions than would a goal that was based entirely on technological change or fuel switching.

What are other key benefits?

Environmental faculty seems like a good place to start in developing individualized targets.  Hopefully, such targets would eventually be adopted by many other professional and political leaders in America.


What are the proposal’s projected costs?

Typically a lifestye of lower consumption translates into lower costs.


The proposal aims to help move American culture in the direction of a personal, household greenhouse gas emissions.  To be realized, It does not depend on technological advancement and could be taken on in the short-term.

About the author(s)

The author has 20 years experience in the climate field following her MIT degree in 1989 (course 11).  She has worked for NCAR, the University of East Anglia and the Stockholm Environment Institute, among others. She is the author of a forthcoming book (University of Nebraska Press, 2018) on the subject of a cultural approach to reducing American greenhouse gas emissions.  She lives in Washington DC.

Related Proposals




Festinger, L. 1962. Cognitive Dissonance. Scientific American Vol. 207 (4): 93-106.

Marshall, G. 2014.  Don't Even Think About It. New York: Bloomsbury. p. 262.