A Student’s Account of Visiting the White House

Student Body President Andrew Cho and sustainability@BU Intern Lindsey Chew at the White House.

Student Body President Andrew Cho and sustainability@BU Intern Lindsey Chew at the White House.

Article written by Lindsey Chew, a senior in Questrom School of Business.

On November 19th, Boston University was one of the first campuses to join 218 colleges and universities in signing the American Campuses Act on Climate Pledge. I am incredibly proud of Boston University for taking the lead on climate action in our greater Boston community and beyond, by setting goals to reduce the University’s carbon footprint and engage our community in immediate solutions.

The launch of The White House’s Campuses Act On Climate Pledge came just weeks before the once-in-a-generation global climate negotiations at the 21st Conference of the Parties in Paris (COP21), also in parallel with the American Businesses Act on Climate Pledge, and BU’s signature puts the people power of thousands of students, faculty and administration behind a strong global commitment in Paris, demonstrating the University’s international climate leadership and dedication to creating a better, safer, healthier world for students, and for our future.

Highlights from the pledge include reducing the University’s carbon emissions and energy consumption, preparing campus infrastructure for climate change, and further engaging with our greater Boston community and our peer institutions in higher education.

In celebration of Boston University’s leadership, Student Body President Andrew Cho and I were invited to represent Boston University at The White House, joining White House and Department of State officials, university presidents, businesses, and other college students for a private roundtable discussion on campus leadership.

Leaders from The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) who were hosting the event also recognized our individual student leadership on clean energy, congratulating our #CleanEnergyU social media campaign that has gained over 23 million impressions, becoming top trending on Earth Day 2015. Andrew and I, along with Sue Hall, CEO of Climate Neutral Business Network who has been co-designing the #CleanEnergyU dialogues with us this past year, had the unique privilege of jump-starting the Day of Action at The White House. An hour before the in-person event, we leveraged the social media savvy and expansive clean energy leadership network developed this past year to facilitate a #CleanEnergyU Twitter dialogue in tandem with the communications team at Environmental Defense Fund on their #DefendOurFuture campaign, and White House CEQ leaders using #ActOnClimate. In just one hour, #CleanEnergyU was top trending on Twitter, proving the power of student voices to generate global awareness and subsequent action, to share ideas from across the nation and send them directly to The White House.

The energy was incredible, as this dialogue created a virtual space for students around the world to propel their voices to Washington, D.C. and the universities’ Act On Climate Day of Action. Simultaneously, on campus sustainability@BU hosted an hour-long event at BU Central where students and staff were prompted with questions and then tweeted their own coments and questions on COP21 and clean energy through photos and post-it note messages. The event also incorporated a campus viewing party, live-streaming an interview between EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and YouTube star Emily Graslie, which took place just before the roundtable discussion at The White House.

Through the online dialogue, students called for education on sustainable development goals, and productive COP21 outcomes, tying climate change closely with social justice and respect for future generations, homelessness, accessibility, and inclusion. We brought these ideas and questions to the roundtable discussion, where we shared our universities’ climate milestones and brainstormed ways to maximize our collective impact.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, who called on students to energize their communities with education and awareness efforts, particularly inspired me. I appreciated her emphasis on immediate solutions and moving past climate change as a political issue. Her message emphasized inclusivity of both Democrats and Republicans, and commitment to setting robust climate goals across the nation.

The roundtable discussion culminated with a question posed to all – what next steps do we need to take, together? The room was brimming with insights, from students in particular, to start a cross-collegiate sustainability student coalition, to leverage The White House’s convening power to set university goals, to create more opportunities for celebration to motivate further climate progress, and to celebrate COP21 in Paris as a platform to spur even more collaboration in the future.

Boston University’s commitment to this important national pledge has opened many doors for increased university collaboration, and has significantly impacted my own career trajectory as a graduating senior hoping to further clean energy progress through global communications. Opportunities such as our participation at The White House are accessible because leaders at Boston University make it a priority to mentor students and empower us with the tools and knowledge necessary for making change, at BU, in our Boston community and beyond.

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