Image source: University of Vermont
Not to be Debbie-Downer this Monday morning, but the Christian Science Monitor reports that colleges and universities, not unlike countries that made climate commitments, are having a hard time meeting those goals. Don't get us wrong, colleges big and small have made huge strides compared to where they were five or ten years ago in reducing their carbon footprints. According to their climate commitments, though, their work has only just begun.Over 580 college and university campus presidents across the US have all agreed to create an inventory of their carbon footprint and within two years set a date to make their campus carbon neutral. As this program is still relatively new, all campuses are still in the quantifying stage. Carbon footprint estimates were due this fall to the ACUPCC (American College and University President's Climate Commitments) program, but actually getting these numbers has proven to be more difficult than thought. Only 190 out of 580 colleges that made commitments have turned in any data. After the low-hanging fruit, like turning out lights and setting up recycling bins, colleges have to start asking the tough questions and getting into budgets in order to achieve bigger and bigger savings. Quantifying the footprint of multiple campuses, classrooms, operations, travel, purchasing, basically every aspect of campus life is, not surprisingly, taking longer than expected and its up to college faculty and often the Campus Sustainability Coordinator to figure it out.
The upside is that some colleges, like the University of Vermont, were not only able to quantify data, but they have data going far enough back to show that while the school is expanding, their footprint is down to below 1990 levels. One thing UVM staff noted as helpful was taking back control of when students can be in buildings, turning on heating and lights. By making a "curfew" for some buildings they were able to reign in some of those expenses.
Increased commuting also helped to lower the carbon footprint, but also meant a loss in revenue as fewer cars on campus meant fewer parking permits and fees. Also, putting capital and budget requests together during planning helps because many of the items needed to lower carbon footprints will take several years to see a return on investment. It can be hard to justify a big-ticket item unless you are looking several years down the road.
The folks at AASHE and others overseeing the climate commitments all agree that they are not too worried about the delay in reporting, as this is still new for most campuses and the plans are broad, and multi-year in scope and implementation. For more information on greening college campuses, check out AASHE.
More on Greening College Campuses
12 Colleges Chosen to Fight Climate Change
Green College Rankings Now Available From the Princeton Review
TH Interview: Richard Levin, President of Yale University
University Presidents Promote Higher Education Climate Commitment