University unveils climate plan cornerstones

University administrators unveiled the proposed cornerstones of GW’s Climate Action Plan – which include a sustainability fund that provides a revolving source of funds for sustainable projects, and solar-powered water heaters – at an Earth Day celebration Thursday morning.

At the celebration – which took place at the newly opened green plaza behind Guthridge Hall – Meghan Chapple-Brown, the director of the Office of Sustainability, said a $2 million Green Campus Fund will serve as the initial funding mechanism for the plan. The CAP will serve as an outline for how the University hopes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as part of its mission to be a carbon neutral campus.

Sophie Waskow, the stakeholder engagement coordinator for the Office of Sustainability, said the full CAP will not officially be released until May 15, and declined to give examples of what will be in the formal CAP. She said, however, the Green Campus Fund will help finance key energy-saving and greenhouse-gas-reducing projects and policies.

“During the first year, the fund will prioritize energy saving projects on the Foggy Bottom campus,” Waskow said in an e-mail. “In the future, the intent is to use the Green Campus Fund to support GW’s sustainability priorities for water conservation and improving our ecosystems.”

The revolving fund will provide seed money for energy-saving and cost-reducing technologies, which means the money saved will go back into the fund to use on future projects, Waskow said. Citing that the report is not ready to be released, Waskow declined to give examples of these technologies.

“The projects in the initial year will be taken from a list of priority projects identified through the CAP process by a team of internal and external experts, students, staff and faculty,” Waskow said. Throughout the year, these teams have been meeting to brainstorm ideas that will ultimately be placed in the CAP.

In addition to the Green Campus Fund, the University announced that selected residence halls around campus will receive solar thermal hot water heaters – a water heating system that relies on solar energy, rather than emissions producing energy – Waskow said. The University has not yet decided which residence halls will receive the technology, Waskow said.

“Right now all of the water that students use in residence halls is heated through methods that produce carbon emissions,” Waskow said. “By switching to a technology that relies on renewable energy, we will be helping to achieve the carbon neutrality goals of the CAP.”

The unveiling of the initial parts of the CAP took place in the new Green Plaza behind Guthridge Hall, which University President Steven Knapp called a “model of urban sustainability.”

Although the park is not green in a literal sense, with large swaths of grass and plants missing, it is green in the way it is environmentally friendly.

The Green Plaza features runnels to collect rainwater from the brick pathways and direct it into the tree boxes; no additional water will be used to water the trees, Chapple-Brown said. A runnel is an underwater channel for capturing and holding water, so if the rain falls 4 feet away from the tree box, it will fall into the underground runnel and flow into the tree box. There is a 15,000-gallon cistern, the size of a school bus, buried under the plaza, which will capture all of the storm water that falls on the area, and will eliminate all runoff.

Because of the irrigation, the University will not have to pay sewer fees for runoff, Knapp said.

“This is the latest park in a city filled with parks that is our nation’s capital, and it is a symbol of our commitment to our community that we are providing for our neighbors, our students, our faculty, and our staff,” Knapp said. “It symbolizes our commitment to sustainability and incorporates a very wide variety of green features, all centered on capturing rainwater.”

Chapple-Brown attributed the quick implementation of environmentally friendly spaces and policies at the University to students, faculty and administrators who have a passion for the environment.

“If it weren’t for our young leaders, we probably wouldn’t see change happening as quickly as it does,” Chapple-Brown said. “Our students here at GW have that potential for leadership; not only do they have that potential, but they are demonstrating that they know how to be leaders. Change has to do with painting a picture of the future we want to be a part of, and our young people can see that future much more clearly.”

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