UConn officials have set a course for a more sustainable energy future with the University’s first-ever Climate Action Plan.
The Climate Action Plan, submitted to the governing body of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment on May 10, outlines more than 200 strategies for achieving a carbon-neutral Storrs campus by 2050. Produced by the University’s Climate Action Task Force and several workgroups comprised of staff, faculty, and student volunteers, it was approved in late March by President Michael Hogan, who called it “an outstanding road map that will serve us well for many years to come.”
“The plan is thoughtful and thorough,” Hogan said. “Of course, in challenging fiscal times we will have to be prudent in determining which aspects of the plan should be prioritized. The University will work closely with Facilities and Operations to determine the aspects of the plan that are likely to both help us make as rapid progress as possible on reducing our carbon footprint and help the institution generate more energy efficiencies.”
Although the Climate Action Plan is aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions primarily from the combustion of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas, the recent British Petroleum drilling disaster serves as a reminder of the many other environmental risks and consequences from America’s continued heavy reliance on fossil fuels to meet growing energy and transportation needs, says Richard Miller, director of the Office of Environmental Policy and co-chair of the Climate Action Task Force.
Miller says approximately 85 percent of the University’s 200,000 tons per year of greenhouse gas emissions come from building-related energy demands – heating, cooling and electricity – so energy-related action items make up a large proportion of the reduction strategies. Conservation and energy efficiency improvements are the foundation of the reduction strategies and have already begun in various locations across campus.
“By far the most significant, easiest, and least expensive greenhouse gas reductions and cost savings are achievable from energy we don’t use,” Miller says, adding that the current economic climate also helped propel the strategies forward.
“The planning process was very thorough, and workgroup members were sensitive to the economic issues,” he says. “If you look at the first years of the plan, there are things already in progress – retro-commissioning of buildings and lighting replacement projects, for instance, that will not only reduce our carbon footprint but also pay back quickly in energy cost savings.
“Workers have been through more than a dozen campus buildings with recommendations for saving money by upgrading building insulation, replacing windows, installing more efficient lighting, and adding motion sensors and occupancy-driven HVAC [heating, ventilating, and air conditioning] controls,” Miller says.
In other cases, the Climate Action Plan provided yet another reason to repair and replace utility infrastructure, such as sections of UConn’s aged, underground steam distribution system where heat and energy loss is evident at many locations across campus on any winter day.
Aside from energy-related emissions reductions, the plan also recommends reductions through more environmentally sustainable development and transportation practices on campus. For instance, the Climate Action Plan recommends following the University’s Sustainable Design & Construction Policy by building green for all construction and renovation projects, not just the larger ones that exceed the cost thresholds specified in the policy. The transportation strategies aim to decrease fuel use and vehicle miles traveled driving to or on campus, by promoting bicycling, walking, and use of the campus shuttle bus system. Beyond that, the Climate Action Plan recommends greater use of renewable fuel resources, particularly those that align with UConn’s research interests, such as biodiesel.
UConn’s new compost facility, located in the middle of a University-owned wooded parcel behind a cornfield near Spring Manor Farm, is almost ready to begin operating. Farm Services staff in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources plan to start composting manure, animal bedding, and leaves in June, and expect to compost more than 2,500 tons of agricultural waste a year. Compared with the current practice of spreading raw manure on the fields, composting will have several environmental benefits, including reduction of nutrients in storm water runoff and minimization of odors and methane emissions generated from the decomposition of raw manure. Since methane is a potent greenhouse gas, the facility is recommended under the Climate Action Plan to help reduce UConn’s carbon footprint. The resulting compost makes an excellent fertilizer, and will be used in University gardens.
The Climate Action Plan also addresses education, research, and outreach goals in order to “integrate concepts of environmental sustainability and climate-change awareness” into daily operations and educational activities. One of the first outreach projects is the “Shut the Sash” program, an initiative to convince faculty and students to consistently shut laboratory fume hoods. Left open, there is a huge loss of heat through the more than 1,000 hoods on campus.
Miller says the University’s Environmental Policy Advisory Council will annually review progress with the Climate Action Plan, and workgroups may be reconvened as needed to update the greenhouse gas mitigation strategies. He says there should be a complete review and revision of the Climate Action Plan every five to seven years.
“We’ll want to see what’s been done,” says Miller, “how it’s affecting our annual greenhouse gas emissions inventory, and adjust the Climate Action Plan accordingly.”