Energy plan aims for emissions at 1990 levels

| Contributing Reporter

A plan outlining Washington University’s aspirations for reducing energy use has largely been met with skepticism on campus.

The “Energy Reduction Committee Report” describes the University’s findings regarding past energy use and specifically defines its goals for future reduction set forth in the “Strategic Plan for Environmentally Sustainable Operations.”

The committee was formed by Chancellor Mark Wrighton last year to detail a process that would help reduce University greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, as well as evaluate how economically and efficiently energy infrastructure is used.

They found that by using cost-effective energy efficiency projects and calculating the total of 30-year costs of all new buildings, the University will be able to most effectively save both money and energy.

Such recommended projects include metering to charge specific departments for their energy use, adding LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental and Design) certifications, ensuring that thermostats reflect outdoor temperatures and comfort and guaranteeing that space is used in a manner that keeps energy efficiency in mind.

The committee also wants to keep the rest of the University community involved in these changes and improvements by educating them about the effect their individual choices can have on the University’s energy usage.

According to the report, Washington University spends approximately $24 million a year, or $65,000 a day, on energy on both the Danforth and Medical campuses. By budgeting $46.6 million more towards energy efficiency projects, the University estimates savings of $5.8 million a year. The committee concluded it is worthwhile to put in higher costs now for the overall future of energy reduction.

On campus, the report was received with some skepticism as to the nature of the true motivation behind these energy-reduction recommendations.

“Primarily, it’s economic incentive,” Matt Blum, president of Green Action, said. “The University wants to paint a picture of themselves as environmentally friendly.”

Blum believes that University administrators are looking solely at energy-reduction solutions that are easy and will significantly reduce cost.

Students not as involved in green student groups are also doubtful of the University’s employment of environmentally friendly procedures as well.

“By being progressive in this area, the University can gain public support as well as save money,” freshman Adam Bruns said. “The University is clearly driven by money.”

With regard to the extent of the environmentally friendly measures outlined, Blum says it isn’t enough.

“They tend to stay away from more ambitious measures,” Blum said. “At the top, the University is conservative.”

But Washington University’s student body are not the only skeptics. Dr. Joshua Lockyer, a postdoctoral fellow in environmental studies, also believes that more could be done by the University and that the plan focuses far more on economic savings than on environmental action.

“More and more universities are run like corporations,” Lockyer said. “There are plenty of things that can be done, whether they seem economically attractive to the university or not.”

And while it would seem that the LEED certification of various buildings on campus would qualify the University as environmentally friendly, both Blum and Lockyer suggest that it is another form of sustainability in appearance only.

“They throw in some frills to get extra points,” said Blum, describing the nature of the University’s LEED certifications.

“It’s fashionable to be environmental,” Lockyer said.

Blum and Lockyer both agree that stronger measures must be taken for true environmental growth on campus.

Blum hopes that with continuing social pressure to be environmentally friendly, the University will be more ambitious with its environmental action in the future.

The committee will continue to work on the University’s energy reduction and continue to revise the report biannually.

With additional reporting by Lauren Olens.

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening as Washington University returns to campus.

Subscribe