l-r; Deniz Gungor, Mailin Struck, Eliot Forster-Benson, Caroline Foley and Keegan Campanelli. Photo submitted

NASHVILLE, TN — Students at Vanderbilt University launched a campaign yesterday urging the university to generate 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources. This effort is part of a national campaign in which students are leading more than 50 campaigns in 15 states this year with the support of Environment America.

The nationwide initiative will include educational forums, petition drives and direct engagement with administration officials to press for 100 percent renewable energy on campuses. In support of these efforts, more than 950 faculty and campus leaders nationwide have signed a statement that calls for higher education to make a clear commitment to achieve 100 percent renewable energy for all operations.

“As students, we have the most to lose from climate change and air pollution — this is an issue we can all get behind regardless of background or beliefs,” said Nathan Iyer, a senior who helped organize the launch event. “Climate change is a massive issue that requires massive change— it’s sometimes hard to know what you can meaningfully do. We were able to get way more signatures than expected and actually ran out of petitioning paper at one point. We saw incredible amounts of support.”

“Thankfully our bitter rival, the 100 percent coal movement, was not out in numbers today,” said Iyer.

“Students are movement makers. From fighting for civil rights to fighting against climate change, students have organized and mobilized for decades to create the world we want to live in,” said Bronte Payne, Environment America’s 100 Percent Renewable Campuses Campaign Director with Environment America. “By shifting to 100 percent renewable energy, colleges and universities can play a leadership role by speeding up the clean energy transition that all Americans want and need – and the cleaner, healthier future that it will bring.”

Vanderbilt has been taking steps towards 100 percent renewable energy, including the installation of a solar heating array on the top of their tennis center, and are considering proposals for more ambitious projects that could include renewable energy. Recently implemented composting and recycling initiatives, along with the Green Fund — a one hundred-thousand-dollar fund for student sustainability projects — have demonstrated the university’s support for environmental stewardship.

This initiative comes on the heels of significant momentum for the national 100 Percent Renewable Campuses campaign during the past year. This fall, the University of California system announced a shift to using only renewable sources for its electricity by 2025. Starting June of this year, its 10 campuses will also require all new buildings to run on non-fossil fuel power.

Elsewhere, Boston University, which has the largest student body of any university in Massachusetts, announced plans to purchase wind energy to meet 100 percent of the campus’ electricity consumption. Earlier this month, Brown University finalized agreements to purchase enough solar and wind energy to meet all of its electricity needs. In addition, the University of Richmond, Cornell University and Colorado State University have all made commitments to using 100 percent renewable sources.

“We were amazed with the turnout we received yesterday and the excitement generated on campus,” said Keegan Campanelli, a junior at Vanderbilt and the president of Students Promoting Environmental Awareness and Responsibility (SPEAR). “We received almost 1400 signatures in a single day in support of Vanderbilt transitioning 100 percent of their energy to renewable sources. This is at a campus with only around 6800 undergrads.”

“The Vanderbilt Student Body is composed of passionate individuals that have the capacity to harness their energy and make a real change in this community,” said Campanelli. “We believe that educating them on the perils of climate change, presenting available corrective measures, and calling for action will result in a real, meaningful change on this campus. This is a special opportunity for all of us to come together to become a university that values sustainability.”

“By joining forces with motivated and active students, we can emphasize the importance and urgency of using 100 percent renewable energy,” Payne said. “Once we get college administrations on board, we can repower our campuses with 100 percent renewable energy, then with those shining examples, move on to communities across the country.”