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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Univ. aims for carbon neutrality by 2050

Published: September 25, 2009
Section: Front Page

<i>GRAPHIC BY Alex Schneider/The Hoot</i>

GRAPHIC BY Alex Schneider/The Hoot

The university unveiled its new climate action plan to ultimately achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 last week as part of its declared commitment to reducing Brandeis’ greenhouse gas emissions in both the short and long term.

The new plan emphasizes both energy efficiency and changes in student behavior through education. It makes numerous proposals for the future with the ultimate goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.

“We want to emphasize that this is a working document,” said University Sustainability Coordinator Janna Cohen-Rosenthal ’03, noting that many of the proposals are still in the early stages.

The plan emphasizes continuing the energy conservation and efficiency programs that were enacted in the last two years, including switching to more efficient lighting, replacing and improving ventilation systems, and setting restrictions on building temperatures. In total, these actions have cut Brandeis’ greenhouse gas emissions by ten percent since 2005; if continued, the plan estimates that emissions will be further reduced by another ten percent by 2015.

Educating students about what they can do to reduce Brandeis’ carbon footprint is also a top priority. The Eco-Reps program, which began last year, will continue, but it will now focus more on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

A new “Green Room Certification” program will be introduced this semester, allowing students to gain green certification for their dorm room. Further outreach events and contests will also be held to encourage student activism. If behavioral change indeed occurs as a result, the plan postulates that a further five percent drop in greenhouse gas emissions could occur by 2015; however, this change is solely dependent on student actions.

President of Students for Environmental Action (SEA) Matt Schmidt ’11 said he has faith that students will be receptive to the report and will curb their actions accordingly.

“Students at Brandeis are generally receptive to sustainability, and I believe they will be excited by the scope and goals of this plan,” he said.

The plan also examines the feasibility of generating renewable energy on-campus. The university is actively considering installing solar photovoltaic (PV) panels in the near future as part of a power purchasing agreement in which a third party would own the PVs, with Brandeis renting the energy produced.

The university may also use a grant it received to study wind speeds on campus, though it would first need clearance from reluctant officials in Waltham to construct a meteorological tower.

In the long-term, the plan considers cogeneration, in which the extraneous heat produced by electricity generation is reused; this would result in high initial capital costs, but would eliminate some fuel costs. At the moment, however, the university intends to focus solely on the present energy efficiency policies in place.

The university also plans to invest in renewable energy credits (RECs), in which the university would pay for renewable energy that would be used elsewhere. In essence, the university would be supporting renewable energy off-site, a popular alternative for schools seeking to make an environmental impact. Brandeis used RECs for 15 percent of its energy usage in fiscal year 2008, but there are tentative plans to begin using them again in 2016.

The plan also proposes various changes in on-campus transportation, as transport-related emissions account for over 17 percent of the campus’ carbon footprint. The DeisBikes and ZipCar programs begun last year are part of the university’s effort to mitigate this situation, with both proving initially successful.

The plan raises the possibility of increasing parking fees and restricting parking to juniors and seniors as part of an effort to encourage students to commute or use public transit. Cohen-Rosenthal stressed that, if students who commute used public transit or carpooled one day per school week, the university would be able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 15% further by 2015.

Brandeis commissioned the plan as part of its commitment to the American Colleges and Universities Presidents’ Climate Commitment, which the university signed in 2007. This climate action plan satisfies the Climate Commitment’s stipulation that each university draft an “institutional action plan for becoming climate neutral.”

This plan, however, is just one step in a process that will take over 40 years—as Cohen-Rosenthal said, “it’s something that we’ll be working on for years.”

“[Over 40] years is plenty of time to arrive at this goal if we commit to taking the action necessary,” said Schmidt ’11. “As a leading academic institution and a bastion of progressive leadership, it would be a shame if we cannot make the hard decisions and achieve this goal.”