It’s 2050, and we stopped climate change—but not without changing minds and behavior, too

Navigating social disruption is the bulk of my work—and very likely a major component of the work some of you do on your campus, too.


Oh, NPR, you fantastic thought-provoking machine, you! You did it again!

I was encouraged to listen to a segment on NPR called “It’s 2050 and this is how we stopped climate change,” a quasi-fantasy of how we will have solved one of the toughest challenges of our time. And it got me thinking.

At GreenerU, we spend so much time supporting the vision, goals, and strategies of sustainability strategic plans, most of which contain goals to reach carbon neutrality by 2050 or sooner. We also spend a significant amount of time in the bellies of buildings of higher education institutions installing efficient equipment or preparing buildings for future decarbonization.

It was nice to jump into the future and get a sense of what the world looks like because of all the hard work that took place…and to feel that GreenerU will have played a small role by supporting education institutions to lead this effort.

But what really stuck out to me was how we did it—how we stopped climate change. “The hardest part of this journey wasn’t finding technical solutions,” says Stanford’s co-director of the Precourt Institute for Energy Sally Benson in the imaginary scenario. “They all existed, even back in 2019. The hardest part was navigating the social disruption.”

That stuck out because navigating social disruption is the bulk of my work—and very likely a major component of the work some of you do on your campus, too.

Many of my colleagues at GreenerU understand and install technical solutions—those same technical solutions Sally Benson said “existed, even back in 2019”—at the schools where we work. Some of our highest-impact work, in terms of reducing carbon emissions, is in lab buildings. The technical solutions are easy compared to the required focus of navigating the disruption of those working in those important spaces—where people are, in some cases, literally finding cures for cancer.

It goes beyond labs, though. Navigating social disruption reaches all the way up to the leadership and board members of these schools to choose to invest in the technology that is available to them. To think about investment in different ways. To realize that to reach their carbon neutrality goals, to have deep-energy efficiency programs, they need to think beyond quick financial paybacks. They need to embrace the importance of their role in creating sustainable and resilient campuses—not only for their students but for their host communities and the future generations they will serve.

This navigation of social disruption is tough. It takes preparation and engagement and listening and conflict and resolutions. It takes a willingness on all our parts to dive in and commit to making changes, and to reimagine the role educational institutions will play—or as the NPR piece had us imagine, did play—in this changing world.

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