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Calculating the Carbon Footprint

Posted in NEWS on Friday, March 27th, 2009

[Originally published by Vanderbilt Student Communications on March 27, 2009]

Vanderbilt University plans to make a green statement on Earth Day when officials announce the carbon footprint.

The university is following the example set by Nashville, which released its greenhouse emissions data in February. The announcement by the city is a part of a two-year nationwide trend for cities and universities, according to Nashville Business Journal. Mayor Karl Dean said the city is establishing a baseline from which to gauge improvements in decreasing emissions.

Vanderbilt’s initiative was actually begun in 2006, according to senior Brent Fitzgerald, president of Students Promoting Environmental Awareness and Responsibility.

“While various groups of students, faculty and staff have proposed the idea of calculating our carbon footprint in the past, the real catalyst for change was in December 2006 when the Faculty Senate agreed to pursue an environmental commitment statement,” he said.

Since then, Vanderbilt has experienced an extensive increase in efforts toward sustainability. In Vanderbilt’s 2009 Green Report Card, a yearly index compiling various dimensions of university sustainability, student involvement received a score of B. The report credited the student action as an “impetus behind many sustainability initiatives on campus” and applauded the internship and work-study positions the university offers toward this end.

Several student-run organizations on campus have  to endeavors to reduce emissions. Derek Riley, leader of the Vanderbilt Biodiesel Initiative, said the project has been working to reduce carbon vehicle emissions and has grown in numbers over the past few years.

Even with these initiatives, the university received just a C+ in the 2009 report issued by the Sustainable Endowments Institute.

According to Andrea George, director of the Sustainability and Environmental Management Offi ce, the score focused on the transparency and investments of Vanderbilt’s endowment and shareholder engagement. Because Vanderbilt is a private institution, it does not publicize endowment information and so received failing scores in these areas.

“Vanderbilt’s sustainability program has been focused on making meaningful environmental improvements that make sense for our university, not on what would make us ‘look good,’” said George.

The operational measures were considerably higher, and investment priorities, food and recycling all received A’s in the report.

The primary way to improve the university’s carbon footprint is through energy consumption in university buildings, a task George said Campus Planning, Plant Operations and VUMC Plant Services are working toward, according to university spokesmen.

“As far as Plant Operations is concerned, we have undertaken an aggressive water conservation program, composting, lighting and electrical retrofi ts, use of green cleaning products and equipment, recycled material in our purchases of paper and other goods, and an expanded recycling program,” said Assistant Vice Chancellor for Plant Operations Mark Petty.

In fact, The Commons opened several LEED certified buildings. But
with construction on hold due to fi nancial constraints, efforts have been focused on improving efficiency in some of Vanderbilt’s older facilities.

According to George, the strategy has been extremely effective. The Owen School of Management reduced energy consumption by 15 percent last year simply by replacing its lighting infrastructure.

The greenhouse gas calculation will be made using the Clean AI — Cool Planet Campus Carbon Calculator, according to a recent press release. The calculator is the most widely used by universities and uses data from the years 2005 to 2007 to determine emissions.

The figure takes account of several greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere measured in metric tons of carbon dioxide. The sum of the volume of all gases is the carbon footprint calculation.

Faculty members hope calculating the footprint will give the Vanderbilt community a standard to improve future efforts.

“Sustainable behaviors and investments to improve the energy effi ciency of our campus have now become an important way to reduce not only our environmental impact but also Vanderbilt’s long-term expenses,” George said.

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