Eleven years ago, Harvard University set a goal to reduce their greenhouse emissions by 30 percent. Through an aggressive and ambitious 10-year program, Harvard did it. In fact, in some areas Harvard exceeded their goal and attained a 40 percent reduction. Now, Harvard is reaching beyond the boundaries of its campus and seeking ways to further reduce their carbon footprint. To this end, Harvard students Michael Maruca and Vik Bakshi recently paid a visit to Chugach’s headquarters to learn more about the recent Bering River Coal Field (BRCF) coal rights sale and carbon transaction.

Josie Hickel, Chugach’s Senior Vice President of Energy and Resources, and Dave Phillips, Senior Lands Manager, met with the students to offer the expertise and knowledge they gained during the BRCF transaction.

Intrigued by the agreement between Chugach, New Forests, The Nature Conservancy and the Native Land Conservancy Trust, the Harvard representatives sought guidance on how to structure similar arrangements and diversify Harvard’s future emission goals.

“Instead of purchasing RECs (Renewable Energy Certificates) off the shelf, the University would like to be more hands on and develop a project that extends beyond carbon offset, Maruca said. For the Harvard classmates, the appeal of the BRCF project was the economic and financial benefits for Chugach’s shareholders and the region as a whole.

The students’ inquiries touched on village corporations, regional corporations, land claims and property rights, and how all of these entities and legalities weave together to benefit the economy of Alaska, and how future carbon projects could further improve the quality of life for Alaskans. Jobs, sustainability and economic development were at the forefront of Harvard’s interest in the BRCF transaction and how to craft endeavors that align with this model.

Collaboration at the local, regional and international levels is a critical component of Harvard’s future climate action strategy. The University’s existing partnerships with local governments and business leaders in Massachusetts provide a strong example of how working together on common challenges can help lead to more effective results. The BRCF deal falls well within Harvard’s methodology and the way they like to conduct business.

“Using our campus as a test bed for climate action provides our students with experience and knowledge that prepares them to be more effective leaders when they leave Harvard,” said Heather Henriksen, Director of Harvard’s Office for Sustainability. “The University’s growing research and innovation initiatives are poised to give students and faculty the opportunity to work together to reimagine existing systems and pilot promising, new solutions.”

Like Harvard’s students and leadership, Josie Hickel reflected on the broader implications of the BRCF venture and how this historic agreement reflects the company’s culture. “The BRCF exemplifies Chugach’s core behaviors,” Hickel said. “Retiring the coal rights was the right thing to do. It was right for the company and right for the shareholders. It will ensure the region’s environment remains viable for subsistence for generations and generations to come, while creating long-term economic stability as well.”

The Bering River Coal Field is situated on the eastern edge of Alaska’s Copper River Delta – the largest contiguous wetlands on the Pacific Coast of North America and one of the world’s most productive wild salmon fisheries. The Copper River Delta ecosystem encompasses glaciers, rivers, rainforest and ocean, constituting critical habitat for a vast range of wildlife. “This land sits like a jewel in the ancestral homelands of the Chugach shareholders,” Josie Hickel asserted. “It’s our mission and duty to leave it better than we found it.”

Hickel stated the most rewarding element of the exchange with the Harvard students was awareness. “People are paying attention,” she said. “They want to become more informed and learn ways to lower their footprint, to find different way to protect the environment. Small or large, they’re trying to find a way to do their part.”

Learn more about Harvard’s success with curbing carbon on campus.

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