Colleges Go Carbon Neutral

Photo: Carbon Neutral on Campus: Climate Action Plans Aim for Sustainable Campuses

The spirit of college is often embedded in a university's colors, and while pigments vary from campus to campus, college officials across the country hope to some day have one color in common -- a sustainable green.

Just recently, Duke University joined more than 600 universities in releasing its Climate Action Plan, a comprehensive blueprint that includes a target date and interim milestones for achieving carbon neutrality.

Duke's efforts are part of the American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment, an effort to address global warming formed in December 2006 by the presidents of 12 universities.

(That same year the term "carbon neutral" was the Oxford American Dictionary's word of the year. Oxford wrote that it "involves calculating your total climate-damaging carbon emissions, reducing them where possible, and then balancing your remaining emissions, often by purchasing a carbon offset: paying to plant new trees or investing in 'green' technologies such as solar and wind power.")

Duke Plans to Reduce Emissions by Almost Half

Duke has set its goal for 2024, the 100th anniversary of James B. Duke's Indenture of Trust that established the institution.

The 2007 Greenhouse Gas inventory showed that three-quarters of the university's emissions from that year came from electrical energy usage and the campus steam plant, with the remaining from transportation, including air travel and its bus system. The university's CAP projected Duke's greenhouse gas emissions would rise by 28 percent over the next 40 years if it followed a "business as usual" model.

With its CAP, Duke aims to reach climate neutrality first by cutting its emissions levels by 45 percent through energy efficiency and reduction. Recommendations include replacing several buses with hybrid versions, discontinuing the use of coal and an increased use of teleconferencing as an alternative to employee air travel. Duke also plans to expand programs that support students with interest in the environment.

After the university reduces its emissions to that level, it will mitigate the remaining 55 percent by investing in regional carbon offset programs, such as capturing methane gas from hog farms in eastern North Carolina, according to the CAP.

"Tackling the complex problem of climate change here at Duke not only benefits this institution but society as a whole," said Tavey Capps, director of environmental sustainability.

Committing to Carbon Neutrality on Campus

Fahmida Ahmed, manager of sustainability programs at Stanford University, said universities should have a short-term focus of being able to prove that their initiatives will reduce emissions.

"Making a commitment is important," Ahmed said. "But knowing how to get there is infinitely more important."

CAPs vary according to the size of the institution, financial resources and current energy consumption.

Syracuse University, which released its plan two months ago although it signed on in 2007, hopes to reach carbon neutrality by 2040.

Tim Sweet, Syracuse's director of energy and computing management, said the school designed its plan in a "fiscally responsible manner" to reduce emissions while maintaining a net positive cash flow. Syracuse plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 40 percent by 2030 and will achieve carbon neutrality in the remaining 10 years.

"I'm very comfortable with that number," Sweet said. "We're probably going to meet or beat that date."

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