In my two years as a Sustainability Intern with the Office of Environmental Policy, I have been placed in a very interesting role. I have compiled the three greenhouse gas emission inventories for the Storrs campus from 2009 up though last year, 2011. This task has proven to be something I can look back on and be proud of and something that I think the University can also look back on and be proud of.
History and Purpose
The greenhouse gas inventory documents all the sources of emissions from the University that contribute to global warming, such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and many others. The University has voluntarily tracking this information to some degree since 2003 although thorough inventories did not begin until 2007.
In 2008, then President Michael Hogan made the University a signatory of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (PCC) at the request of large student support. The PCC is a pledge by institutions of higher education to reach a goal of climate neutrality by the year 2050. Signatories must have submitted an outline of how they would reduce their emissions to the 2050 target in a document known as a Climate Action Plan in order to become a part of the PCC. Additionally, participating institutions must provide annual greenhouse gas inventories and biannual progress updates.
In general our largest source of emissions each year has been from on campus stationary sources such as the cogeneration plant (which supplies most of the Storrs campus with electricity and steam), boilers (to produce additional steam for heating), chillers (which produce chilled water for cooling buildings), and generators (for emergency power). In fact, going back to 2001, this source of emissions has never accounted for less than 75% of the total campus emissions.
This indicates that decreasing the demand for electricty, steam, and chilled water on campus is worthwhile strategy for reducing the amount of emissions generated each year.
The University of Connecticut has gone to great lengths to make its buildings significantly more energy efficient over the last few years. Some of the energy-saving initiatives have included replacement of lighting fixtures and bulbs, the annual EcoMadness energy conservation competition, and the sustainable design and construction guidelines.
The above graph shows that over time UConn has been able to produce less greenhouse gas emissions on a per student basis over the years. This is especially amazing considering that the student population at UConn has grown by nearly 40% over that time and campus building space has grown by just over 30%. One key to this success has included the construction of the cogeneration system in the central utility plant, which provides UConn with electricity and steam in a more efficient manner than the grid can. Another has been the University’s policy requiring major construction and renovation projects since 2008 to meet a minimum LEED Silver rating, such as the Burton-Schenkman football training complex.
The University also has small emission contributions from other categories like transportation, fertilizer application, and refrigerants (which are actually incredibly potent greenhouse gases). Some of the emissions are offset by the UConn forest and its new composting operation.
Form 2007 to 2010, the overall emissions dropped by about 6,000 MT eCO2 per year, which is the equivalent of taking about 120 passenger cars off the road each of those years. This is a 3% annual decline.
This is a promising trend considering the fact that the number of full-time students increased 6% over those three years, part-time students by 10%, and summer students by 68%. Although there was a significant drop in building space from 2007 to 2008, building space increased from 2008 to 2010 increased by 3.5%.
Summing It All Up
Working on the greenhouse gas inventory has been immensely rewarding. I personally worked on the greenhouse gas inventories as far back as 2008 and I was the primary intern who worked on the 2009-2011 inventories. Not only am I proud to see my work produce these useful metrics for evaluating our steps towards sustainability, but I am also proud to have been a part of something that connects so much of the University together.
For each inventory I had to contact tens of people for information on a huge variety of sources. I received data from sources involved in generating power on campus as well as sources involved in generating compost (which now includes the agricultural compost facility, the floriculture program, many of the campus dining halls, the Spring Valley Farm living and learning community, and the EcoGarden student group). There is just something incredibly exciting to take bits and pieces from so many staff and faculty members and then have the opportunity to show them how their contribution to campus sustainability fits in at our annual spring Environmental Policy Advisory Council (EPAC) meeting.
I am excited that in less than one month I can honestly tell them that our University has reduced its emissions by 9% in three years, even as campus and the student body grew. And most exciting is that the 2011 inventory is nearing completion and it is so far promising our largest reduction to date.
Even when I felt things were not working in favor of sustainability on campus, I could still look at the inventory and know that the University has made and is still making a great and concerted effort to reducing our environmental footprint — and I would hope everyone can see this as well. (We did after all finish 16th in the Sierra Club Cool Schools survey last year, in part thanks to our third best overall score of 9.5/10 in energy efficiency — so even if we accidentally leave a few lights on, rest assured that we’ve done our best to make them “waste” as little energy as possible.)
So ultimately I would remind everyone, as an outgoing intern and as a graduating senior, that you must not let good be the enemy of perfection; take time to appreciate your progress every so often. But likewise, do not rest on your laurels, especially when you have shown in the past just how much you can accomplish.
Chris Berthiaume is a senior in Environmental Engineering and a second year intern with the OEP. His major projects have included the greenhouse gas inventory, updating the website, social media engagement, and the assisting with the 2012 EocHusky 5k.