College assesses carbon footprint, begins planning reduction strategies

sustainability logoMembers of the SUNY Oswego community and their campus-related activities were responsible for an estimated 31,629 tons of greenhouse gas emissions in 2007, or 4.3 metric tons per full-time equivalent student.

Those are key numbers in Oswego’s baseline inventory submitted Sept. 15 for the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment—numbers that the college has committed to reduce.

SUNY Oswego President Deborah F. Stanley signed the Climate Commitment in 2007 to develop a long-range plan to reduce and ultimately neutralize carbon emissions on campus. Jerry DeSantis, associate vice president for facilities and campus sustainability coordinator, oversees the college’s progress on living up to the agreement as well as achieving larger sustainability goals.

SUNY Oswego was in the minority of charter signatories to the agreement that filed the report by the deadline, thus meeting a significant milestone set forth in the Climate Commitment.

The next milestone will be an action plan with strategies to reduce the college’s carbon emissions, due in September 2009.

The baseline assessment of emissions, conducted at Oswego by graduate students reporting to DeSantis, rests on assumptions that vary from campus to campus. Still, initial comparisons show Oswego’s numbers in the same ballpark with comparable campuses, DeSantis said.

The online database of baseline inventories at colleges nationwide is at www.aashe.org/pcc/reports/.

Oswego and many other institutions are finding that the energy expended for transportation of students, faculty and staff to and from campus produces the most carbon emissions. While transportation accounts for just under half of all the energy expended in connection with campus activity, it is responsible for 62 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions, according to Oswego’s report.

“Commuting energy is the significant part of our greenhouse gas emissions,” DeSantis said. “It’s high for everyone . . . and it’s the one we have the least control of. These are choices that people make individually, and they’re limited by the availability of public transportation, where they live, housing availability and a lot more factors.”

DeSantis is meeting with campus committees to tackle these issues. He identified three categories of actions to include in the plan due next year, including strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; a timeline for integrating less-polluting energy sources into the college’s energy stream; and strategies to increase awareness and understanding of the issues and develop a “sustainability culture.”

The last category goes beyond the Climate Commitment to wider sustainability goals. The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education on its Web site “defines sustainability in an inclusive way, encompassing human and ecological health, social justice, secure livelihoods, and a better world for all generations.”

“The Climate Commitment is a part of the sustainability effort. Sustainability is the bigger issue here,” DeSantis said.

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(Posted: Oct 01, 2008)

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