University pledges fewer carbon emissions

After being labeled one of the least eco-friendly college campuses in the nation last fall by the Sierra Club and in the wake of a report released last month on its greenhouse gas emissions, the University has pledged to come up with a plan by May 2010 to drastically reduce its carbon footprint.

The report, published through the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment – an initiative to lower greenhouse gas emissions taken by more than 500 universities across the country – said that GW emits nearly 130,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. That number equals the annual usage of around 25,000 passenger automobiles, said Cathy Milbourn, a spokeswoman for the Environmental Protection Agency.

According to the report, GW emits 5.2 metric tons of carbon dioxide per full-time student. New York University emits 5 metric tons of carbon dioxide per student and Northeastern University in Boston, Mass. emits 2.9 metric tons of carbon dioxide per student, according to ACUPCC reports for those schools. Boston University, an urban school GW is often compared with, did not participate in the commitment.

While other universities like NYU have already begun the process of becoming carbon neutral by beginning to buy carbon offsets and renewable energy certificates, Meghan Chapple-Brown, director of GW’s Office of Sustainability, said GW has yet to come up with a concrete plan to achieve carbon neutrality.

Purchasing carbon offsets means that after reducing carbon emissions by a certain amount, a company would offset the rest of the carbon they could not reduce by planting trees or supporting renewable energy sources, said Arnold Reitze, a professor emeritus of environmental law at the GW Law School.

A Renewable Energy Certificate is proof that a company purchased their energy from a renewable source, like wind or solar power, Reitze added.

“In terms of where that process is at, we have completed the greenhouse gas inventory this year and over the next year we will be creating a plan to become carbon neutral,” Chapple-Brown said. “So offsets and RECs may be a part of that, but there will be a lot of things around building efficiently, reducing our energy usage in our buildings in terms of heating, ventilation air systems and through our water usage. Those will be the main ways we will reduce our footprint.”

So far, Chapple-Brown said the University has built a green roof on the 1957 E Street building and is planning on building two more green roofs on campus. One of those green roofs will be located on the Square 54 property across from the GW Hospital. The second, Chapple-Brown said, will be a green courtyard in the new residence hall at 2135 F Street.

The courtyard will catch rainwater to irrigate the courtyard’s plants and reduce runoff, a major cause of global warming, Chapple-Brown said.

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