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Colgate targets 2019 bicentennial for carbon neutrality

By Barbara Brooks on September 16, 2011
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Colgate today set an ambitious target date to become carbon neutral by 2019, the university’s 200th anniversary. In so doing, President Jeffrey Herbst again confirmed the high priority of sustainability practices on campus.

That aggressive target date will be attained through the implementation of 27 proposed on-campus mitigation projects, each outlined in Colgate’s Sustainability and Climate Action Plan, submitted to the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC).

For purposes of the ACUPCC, climate neutrality is defined as having no net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, to be achieved by minimizing GHG emissions as much as possible, and using carbon offsets or other measures to mitigate the remaining emissions.

“Our aggressive time frame makes sense in terms of good global citizenship as well as Colgate’s academic mission,” said Herbst, “and it is also fiscally responsible.”

Of the plan’s $8.1 million one-time implementation cost, $7.3 million is earmarked for a future, necessary upgrade of Colgate’s aging heating plant that will ultimately eliminate consumption of fuel oil #6 on campus and lower the university’s annual heating expenditures.

The innovative plan also includes several low-cost, high-impact strategies that encourage behavior changes in offices and residence halls. It suggests the purchase of electric and hybrid-electric vehicles, potential use of wind and solar power, adaptive computer power management, on-site composting, and the purchase of carbon offsets from Patagonia Sur, as recently announced.

climate action
Many of the ideas in the plan were investigated by Colgate faculty, students, and staff, particularly through the committees and subcommittees of the university’s Sustainability Council.

Carbon-reduction strategies were researched in courses such as “Community-based Study of Environmental Issues” and “Global Change and You.” In addition, 10 groups involving more than 100 students actively promote sustainable practices on campus. The Green Thumbs, for example, promotes local and sustainable agriculture and maintains Colgate’s community vegetable garden.

John Pumilio, Colgate’s sustainability coordinator, organized the yearlong planning effort, which followed the compilation of a comprehensive university-wide inventory of greenhouse gas emissions, and involved dozens of stakeholders.

“The plan spans many years and it must remain a living document — open to new ideas, technologies, and opportunities,” said Pumilio. “Throughout the implementation phase, we will incorporate collective knowledge and insights from our diverse, scholarly, and multidisciplinary community.”

Colgate has made significant progress toward climate neutrality since signing the ACUPCC Commitment in January 2009. In 2010, the university reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 17% and saved nearly $300,000, mainly through conservation and efficiency projects such as reduced use of fuel oil, electricity, and paper.

As a result of these and other efforts, Colgate received the 2011 Climate Leadership Award from Second Nature, whose mission is to support college and university leaders make “healthy, just, and sustainable living the foundation of all learning and practice in higher education.”

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