University reduces emissions by 3 percent

The University reduced its net carbon emissions by nearly 3 percent over one year, making headway in its long-term goal of carbon neutrality.

Through the Climate Action Plan – GW’s concrete roadmap to reach carbon neutrality by 2040 – the University has been focusing primarily on climate change and carbon emissions, Sophie Waskow, the stakeholder engagement coordinator for the Office of Sustainability, said.

The climate plan’s four-pronged strategy includes reducing energy consumption, implementing building and technology improvements, researching low-emissions power sources and reducing on and off-site greenhouse gas emissions through community partnerships.

A recent report by the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment recognized GW’s efforts as an energy innovator. Since launching a task force on sustainability in 2008, the University has made strides toward reducing emissions.

The University prevented 3,754 metric tons of pollution from entering the atmosphere from fiscal year 2008 to 2009, according to data from the Office of Sustainability. This rate is just above the average annual reduction needed to reach the University’s goal of a 40 percent emissions reduction by 2025.

The primary cause for the drop in emissions, Waskow said, was a reduction in electricity consumption. By using heating and cooling systems less often, changing light bulbs and adding occupancy sensors, the University used less electricity, gas and oil from 2008 to 2009.

“GW should be proud of the progress made towards achieving its sustainability goals,” Waskow said.

The report highlighted GW’s two LEED Gold-certified residence halls, urban green spaces, sustainibily courses offered to students and Green Campus Fund – a student-run initiative that supports the University’s campaign for efficiency and helps reinvest savings into future projects.

From 2008 to 2009, the University saved more than 7 million kilowatt hours of electricity, mainly the result of a 6 percent reduction in building energy consumption.

“The University aims to reach neutrality by reducing its emissions by at least 80 percent and using credible offsets to negate the remaining emissions,” Waskow said.

GW will also begin developing plans in 2012 for ecosystem sustainability on campus, mirroring the air and water purification provided by naturally occurring ecosystems, which can reduce the rate of species endangerment and extinction. The plans will target issues of healthy food, solid waste and landscapes.

“The information about the emissions is self-reported, and it’s probably very much in line with peer institutions,” Toni Nelson, the program director for the ACUPCC report, said.

While GW is still developing an energy-efficient appliance purchasing policy, American University has already created its own such policy, according to the ACUPCC’s reporting profiles. AU has also begun developing policies to offset emissions produced by university-paid air travel, and it purchases renewable energy certificates from wind power for the university’s total electricity use.

To build successful sustainability initiatives on GW’s campus, Nelson said targeting student communities is key.

“Most [colleges] are figuring out how to graduate students, having every student understand the difficulty of the climate challenge and being part of the solution,” she said.

Student engagement helped GW raise its Sustainable Endowments Institute grade from a D+ in 2008 to a B in 2010, Waskow said.

“Students are leading the way with initiatives, such as the Food Justice Alliance bringing honey bees to campus, and Net Impact hosting the Business Response to Climate Change Conference,” Waskow said.

In honor of Earth Month, the Office of Sustainability will host a series of events promoting sustainable practices, with a particular focus on water resources.

The Office of Sustainability will launch new goals for conserving water resources on Earth Day, April 22.

“The strategy will focus on reducing the amount of water we use, improving the quality of water we discard and minimizing use of bottled water,” Waskow said. “We have been gathering insight from experts at D.C. Water, the Potomac Riverkeeper and faculty.”

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