In plan, WU aims to cut emissions

| News Editor

Washington University has released a draft of its sustainable operations plan, bringing the school close to imposing sweeping guidelines for reducing the campus’s environmental impact.

Among the key goals of the plan, which aims to create a more sustainable campus, are reductions in carbon emissions and the number of single-occupancy cars coming to campus. Administrators will hold a series of forums to gather feedback before finalizing the plan.

Assistant Vice Chancellor for Sustainability Matthew Malten and Executive Vice Chancellor for Administration Henry Webber contributed to the draft plan.

“Assuming that the final plan is similar to the draft plan, I think you would see a continual evolution toward a more sustainable campus,” Webber said. “This is an ambitious plan, and it’s a plan that recognizes that we’ve already made a good bit of progress. There are challenges and it will take a long-term commitment.”

Webber believes that the changes will happen over time. He brought up the University’s gradual implementation of recycling programs—going from no recycling to making changes toward the new single stream program—as a model for how the changes will be made.

“So far the comments on the draft plan have been very positive and very helpful,” Webber said. “The vast majority of people have responded positively to the thrust of the plan.”

According to Webber, one of the main challenges will be meeting goals that require action by outside entities.

“We control, as an institution, some of the key levers; some of them we don’t control,” Webber said. “We can have a large impact on our consumption of electricity, but we don’t produce electricity.”

Webber mentioned that power companies must soon begin producing 15 percent of their output from renewable sources. According to Webber, those companies will have to meet their own requirements to achieve the emissions goals.

Metro will also play an important role in transportation.

Malten said that many of the measures already have elements in various stages of implementation on campus.

“Students will start to notice more changes,” Malten said. “Some will be a little more subtle than others. One of the key components within the plan is we’re really trying to make our efforts and performance really transparent.”

The strategic plan has several areas that will directly impact students, such as several points aimed at food service on campus.

“This is going to be hard work and it’s going to require our focus and hard work for multiple years and it’s going to require that everybody within the campus community play a part,” Malten said.

Malten said that it is going to be a challenge to coordinate campus projects, as meeting the goals will require renovations of several older campus buildings.

Some parts of the plan do have set target dates for completion.  For example, the goal for 2012 is to have reduced the number of students arriving in sole-occupant cars by 10 percent. The plan also calls for reducing carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 without purchasing carbon offsets. Information provided with the plan said that the reasons for not purchasing offsets were that it is difficult to track their validity, the money may not be used appropriately and the money might go to projects that would be completed anyway.

Peter Murrey, president of Green Action, believes the University will be able to set more ambitious goals for itself in years to come and is excited to see how the current goals are implemented.

“That’s the timescale in which our University works,” Murrey said. “Would I like to see it implemented faster? Yes, but we have to work with the current structure, and that’s just a fact of how our University works. It’s slow.”

Murrey said that the choice about carbon offsets shows that the University has carefully considered how to make the plan effective.

“We’re seeking to make actual improvements here instead of outsourcing the emissions somewhere else,” Murrey said.

Webber noted that some of the goals are likely to face challenges because the University does not have control over all aspects.  For example, there is no facility in the area that can process organic waste.

“I think that’s kind of a cop-out,” Murrey said. “If there are no facilities, we are a leading institution. Why don’t we create one and become an innovator?”

Murrey said that his organization wants to become as involved as possible, and encouraged students to read and respond to the plan.

Murrey also noted that he would like to see the University become carbon neutral by 2050, if not before, as a long-term goal.

“Ultimately, our University needs to become carbon neutral,” Murrey said. “We still have not signed on to the Presidents’ Climate Commitment, which so many universities and all of our peer institutions have done.”

The plan will be reviewed regularly as well. It is to be reviewed and updated in 2012 and again in 2016.

“This is not something that we think we have all the answers to today, and it’s not something that we think the goals that are appropriate today will remain appropriate several years from now,” Malten said. “We know that technology is going to certainly change. We’re going to be able to continue to do more and more and improve our performance.”

Webber said that those who want to comment on the plan should attend one of the forums or e-mail comments to [email protected]

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