Expert: University’s climate plan is ‘on the right track’

Correction appended

An environmental expert said the University is on the right track with its Climate Action Plan, highlighting its emphasis on personal accountability in emissions reduction strategies as one of the most important parts of climate action planning.

Released in May, GW’s CAP – its plan to become a carbon-neutral institution – stresses the need for GW community members to reduce their own emissions-producing activities, rather than offsetting emissions by purchasing renewable energy in other areas.

The CAP has four main strategies: reducing energy consumption; implementing building and technology improvements; using the University’s labs for testing new low-emissions power sources; and partnering with a “complex system of interconnected entities” for greenhouse gas emissions reductions on and off-site.

Niles Barnes, a project coordinator at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, said personal accountability measures like the ones GW outlined in the CAP are some of “the most important parts in climate action planning.”

“If there’s not that behavior change, the technological changes are not effective,” Barnes said. “[Personal accountability] can be really effective in addition to all of the technological changes that a campus can do.”

Meghan Chapple-Brown, director of GW’s Office of Sustainability, said the University wanted to focus on personal accountability rather than just purchasing offsets because it wanted to start a “culture of change” at the University.

“There is more accountability, there’s more traceability, so we know what we’re taking care of,” Chapple-Brown said of the University’s plan. “Whereas if we do offsets, it’s hard to know how effective those offsets are. Is that forest you invested in still around, or has it been destroyed in the past five years, or will it be destroyed in the next five years?”

The CAP at American University – the only other D.C. institution that signed onto the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, which requires universities to create plans to become carbon-neutral – outlines plans to buy carbon offsets. Institutions purchase carbon offsets – which can include renewable energy sources in other areas and trees planted in forests and rainforests across the globe – to counteract the carbon they produce rather than lowering emissions themselves.

AU’s plan lays out goals toward achieving carbon neutrality 20 years ahead of GW’s 2040. In order to achieve this deadline, AU will use an “offset the rest” strategy, offsetting the emissions produced by travel. The plan also lays out ways to reduce consumption and produce renewable energy

Although American will use offsets, Chris O’Brien, director of AU’s Office of Sustainability, also stressed that reducing energy consumption through personal accountability is extremely important.

“We feel that reducing energy consumption is the most effective and desirable way of making our greenhouse gas emissions: eliminating them to begin with,” he told The Hatchet.

Emily Cahn contributed to this report.

This article was changed on June 18, 2010 to reflect the following changes.

<The Hatchet incorrectly implied that the climate action plan at American University does not stress personal accountability. The plan at AU does stress this.

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