Every day students meander to class, leaving their footprints on campus sidewalks. There is another type of footprint they perhaps do not think about: their carbon footprint. The administration has been taking steps toward reducing the university’s net carbon emissions but has yet to sign the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC).
The ACUPCC requires institutions who sign the commitment to achieve not just a reduction in carbon emissions but full carbon neutrality (net zero carbon emissions) by a set date which can vary by institution, according to Director of Sustainability and Energy Conservation Yvette Kline.
The ACUPCC is a document signed by over 600 institutions of higher education, including The Ohio State University (OSU) and Ohio University (OU). It acknowledges the negative effects of global warming and focuses on the actions individual colleges and universities can take to reduce global emission of greenhouse gases. Miami has not signed the document
From 2008 to 2012, Miami University’s net carbon emissions have decreased 13 percent, from approximately 157,000 metric ton equivalent of carbon dioxide to 137,000 metric ton equivalent, according to Kline.
Most of these carbon emissions come from utilities, including steam generation and electricity. Although they have decreased over time, they still constitute 85 percent of Miami’s total emissions, according to Miami’s 2012 carbon footprint report.
Projections in the report show a slow decrease in the carbon footprint over time, forecasting emissions around 125,000 metric ton equivalent of carbon dioxide by 2030.
Miami’s Sustainability Commitments and Goals mentioned that the university is in pursuit of carbon neutrality, yet has not set a date for desired success.
“Our thrust has been on energy conservation,” Kline said. “The big difference with the Presidents’ Climate Commitment is that they have to set a date whereby they would be climate neutral, but it is not something that we’ve stuck a date on. We’ve stuck a date on interim goals.”
Director of the Institute for Environment and Sustainability Tom Crist said although projections show Miami will still be far from carbon neutrality by 2030, they do not include unknown variables that may affect future carbon emissions.
“One of the things that is not in that projection is things that are a little harder to predict,” Crist said. “For example, if other energy sources like [solar] technology become cheaper, it will be easier to invest more in those sources, but right now at their current prices the projections don’t include [them] as a significant source of energy.”
President David Hodge said he would sign the ACUPCC if he felt as if Miami could set definitive goals and timelines for achieving carbon neutrality. However, currently that would require using university funds to purchase carbon offsets.
“I think the tipping point would be when I felt that we actually could construct a realistic plan and I don’t believe we can to be carbon neutral without doing things as I described before [see the Tuesday, Oct. 15 article on sustainability],” Hodge said. “And I would have to feel that the political statement was both necessary and appropriate. My goal is to get the most efficient and fastest way to reducing our carbon footprint and improving our sustainability.”
OU President Roderick McDavis said he signed the document to portray OU as an advocate for the reduction of greenhouse gas emission.
“As an early supporter of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, I sought to boldly position Ohio University as an advocate for greenhouse gas emission reduction,” McDavid said. “I signed the commitment because the environment and sustainability are critically important to our region of the state. The benefits of being associated with the commitment far outweighed any challenges.”
Hodge said Miami plans to abandon coal as an energy source no later than 2025 in order to, at which time it will be completely replaced by natural gas, a more eco-friendly alternative. This goal is reflected in the 2012 carbon footprint report, which also lays out Miami’s plan to switch from using a steam plant to a cogeneration plant. This would produce both steam and electricity, reducing the amount of electricity Miami would need to purchase.
The report also states that natural gas prices have declined to the point that natural gas is a more cost-effective energy source than coal.
According to the report, Miami emits 26 percent more metric ton equivalent of carbon dioxide than peer institutions OU and Indiana State University.
Kathryn Lovda is a graduate student who worked on the 2012 report. She said transportation could have an impact on Miami’s comparatively higher emission per student.
“I think this could maybe be because of transportation, specifically commuting,” Lovda said. “If students used alternative modes of transportation that could benefit the environment, that would help to lower their carbon footprint.”
Miami does reduce some of its carbon emissions through composting and recycling. Offsets reduce the total carbon footprint by 0.5 percent, according to the report.
However, not all offsets are accounted for in the report, according to Lovda.
“I think that the problem is with the offsets, there’s a lot of restrictions when we used the carbon calculator,” Lovda said. “So for example, recycling we could use because that was done on campus, but we couldn’t use composting because it is not done on campus. We outsource our food scraps.”
Lovda said although Miami has not signed the ACUPCC, its sustainability goals match up with the commitment.
“I know that our sustainability commitments and goals run parallel to the goals in the ACUPCC,” Lovda said.
Hodge said the ultimate vision for sustainability at Miami is becoming more efficient.
“There’s no question that we’re going to continue on our pathway to becoming a much more energy efficient university,” Hodge said.
Miami’s Green Team and one campus-wide carbon offset activity: recycling; fall launch of single-stream recycling: