When Jim Brenneman, president, signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, Goshen College joined 175 other academic institutions in an effort to reduce their carbon emissions.
This year, Goshen College intends to uphold its commitment by reevaluating its climate action plan, which was established
Part of the agreement involved the establishment of the ecological stewardship committee on campus, which would develop plans for long-term campus sustainability. The committee has four sub-groups: advancement, audit, analysis and awareness. Each group covers a different side of their mission. The committee is comprised of students, faculty, administrators and staff from across campus.
For GC, reaching carbon neutrality requires that every carbon emission is accounted for and compensated by an equal amount of renewable energy. As much as possible, GC strives to reduce carbon emissions, yet it is not possible for an institution to reach a point where they do not emit any CO2.
Part of the commitment that Brenneman signed involved developing and keeping the climate action plan. According to Glenn Gilbert, utilities manager, the 2009 plan is now up for review.
“It’s time to assess our progress and set new goals,”
Initially, GC did not establish a date to reach total carbon neutrality. It did not seem feasible when the Climate Action Plan was first developed. Gilbert remembers being skeptical that GC would ever achieve carbon neutrality. At that point, they focused on reducing natural gas and electricity use to shrink GC’s carbon footprint.
The overarching climate action plan involves working on three basic ways to achieve carbon neutrality: use less, find alternative forms of energy and purchase ways to offset
The third part of the plan is the most complex. According to Gilbert, some say that it is not even worth working on. It involves accounting for all the CO2 emitted into the atmosphere, and purchasing renewable energy credits to make up for it.
Gilbert said, “For every kilowatt-hour of electricity we use, we pay a premium for a kilowatt-hour of electricity produced
In order to ensure accountability, a third party makes sure that all the money GC pays goes directly to
At this point, GC purchases offset 100-percent of electricity consumed. It’s cheap, comparatively, with costs between $7,000 and $9,000 per year. Forty-five-percent of our carbon footprint is electricity use, and with the purchase of offsets, it’s all
off the table.
The commitment that Brenneman signed requires that at least 15-percent of institutional electricity consumption be purchased from
According to Gilbert, GC’s electricity consumption last year was the same as it was in the early 1990’s, even though campus has grown significantly to include buildings such as the Music Center and the Rec-Fit Center since then.
But simply reducing energy consumption will not solve the whole problem.
“We will never get to zero emissions with conservation alone,” Gilbert said.
Some of our carbon footprint will never grow smaller. For instance, 11-percent of GC’s carbon emissions go to Study-Service Term transportation and travel, and the college is not about to get rid of SST. The President’s climate commitment requires that “all greenhouse gas emissions generated by air travel paid for by our institution”
Gilbert believes GC has only made modest improvements with renewable energy, such as the solar panels at the Rec-Fit center, installed by a physics class a few years ago.
Further possibilities for renewable energy will remain in consideration. That’s one of the reasons the climate action plan needs review.
Gilbert said, “In the next five years, we need to ask ‘What should our strategy be?’”
One change that the ecological stewardship committee may facilitate in the near future is increased use of outdoor LED lighting, especially in parking lots. As well, they may explore further use of solar power at different locations on campus.
Saving electricity is one concrete way to reduce GC’s carbon footprint.
Gilbert has been working to help people turn off lights since before the committee was founded.
The math is simple. If 800 people saved electricity every day by turning off one or two lights, within a year GC would save around $20,000.
In the early 2000’s, Gilbert hired several students during the summer to put up stickers on light switches in public buildings across campus.
But according to Gilbert, more cultural changes are necessary in order to make headway toward carbon neutrality. For instance, students might have to ask themselves if it is necessary to have a refrigerator in their dorm room, to leave lights on all day or to turn the heat up to 70 degrees all winter.
“It’s about changing attitudes,” Gilbert said.
That’s not to completely discount concrete ideas for conservation and sustainability. In fact, as head of the ecological stewardship committee, Gilbert has seen a variety of ideas come from students.
For instance, there’s the native landscaping project outside Newcomer Center and the recycling initiative sponsored by the environmental club, EcoPax. Meanwhile, students recently developed a means to convert food oil from the dining hall
Many of these ideas come from classes or clubs, and it is part of the mission of the ecological stewardship committee to help make these ideas happen.
The committee generally asks students to develop a business model for their ideas by providing realistic details such as cost, learning benefits and
If students can make a convincing case for an idea, they will receive practical and financial help from the committee.
The benefits to taking on the climate action plan have been widespread, beyond just effective energy saving.
Gilbert said, “Since we’ve taken on the plan, we now factor in the environment into every decision we make.”
The ecological stewardship committee has leveraged decisions from vehicle purchasing to curriculum development, in order to achieve their goals.
Ideas to help GC reach its goal of carbon neutrality may not be cheap, but according to Gilbert, the end product is more valuable despite how large that investment may be.
“There is no single solution to the environmental crisis,” Gilbert said. “It’s a matter of continuing evaluation of our progress and renewing our goals.”
And the committee’s goals appear to be clear: “We remain committed to the idea of sustainability.”