CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University has joined a growing number of universities around the United States in an initiative to make its campus “climate neutral” by establishing policies to limit greenhouse gas emissions and reduce its energy usage.
OSU President Ed Ray this week signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment pledge.
“This is a commitment that we take quite seriously,” Ray said. “We have on our faculty international leaders in research and education on climate change and its impacts, so we have a sense of responsibility as an institution to become leaders in the operational aspects of sustainability as well.
“We have made some important strides already,” Ray added, “but we can do more.”
The commitment requires OSU to launch a two-year planning process to outline its path toward becoming “climate neutral,” which essentially means that the university will either emit no greenhouse gases, or it will offset its emissions through energy credits and other methods, said Brandon Trelstad, OSU’s campus sustainability coordinator. The most likely solutions, according to Trelstad, will come through a combination of conservation, offsets, and local renewable energy sources.
Part of the planning process will be to determine a realistic date in the future by which this may be accomplished, Trelstad added, and establishing goals for achieving and tracking progress.
“There are a number of interim steps the university can take toward increasing our sustainability, from construction guidelines to travel and purchasing policies,” Trelstad said. “Part of the planning process will be to solicit ideas from students, faculty and staff, and then determine how these might best fit in with the university’s goals and missions.”
The planning process will be led by a university-wide Sustainability Council, which already is in place.
OSU’s primary energy consumption sources are through its antiquated heating plant and electricity usage. Construction is just beginning on a new energy center for the university, which will reduce the amount of energy used to heat and power the campus by an estimated 38 percent, Trelstad pointed out. Much of the university’s electricity originates in Utah from coal-fired power plants.
“By making electricity on campus and efficiently using natural gas, we’ll reduce our global warming gases extensively,” Trelstad said. “The Energy Center also will be configured to easily transition to renewable fuels – like biodiesel, and perhaps someday, even biomass – when these fuels become more financially competitive.”
Trelstad said that OSU’s participation in the Presidents Climate Commitment positions the university to deal with potential future taxes on carbon emissions.
OSU is engaged in several other energy-reducing projects:
- A project in Bexell Hall, home of the College of Business, will reduce the amount of energy consumed by lighting by approximately 50 percent. Lighting typically represents about 25 percent of the energy used in an office building. Bexell also is implementing new computer use policies and practices that could contribute to a goal of reducing energy use in the building by 50 percent.
- The university is exploring new software products that would reduce the energy used by campus computers. The idea, Trelstad said, is to adjust the power settings on individual computers to match the needs of users.
- OSU has a successful sustainability audit program for campus buildings that not only looks at energy consumption, but water and paper use, and even office furniture.
- The university also is conducting an audit of its outdoor lighting to make sure that lighting is safe for pedestrians at night, but that lights don’t come on too early – especially since the change to daylight savings.
- Recent campus buildings have been constructed in a more environmentally sustainable manner, exemplified by the 153,000-square-foot Kelley Engineering Center. Designed to be extremely energy efficient, and constructed using sustainable materials and techniques, it received a “Gold” LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.
“Oregon State also has been recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency as a ‘Best Workplace for Commuters’ because we have great support for a variety of alternative transportation modes,” Trelstad said. “Since transportation has an obvious and significant impact on global warming, this is important to us as a university – and we’ve been a leader in this area for a long time.”
OSU’s faculty are actively involved in a number of research efforts related to sustainability, including the development of wave energy, passively safe nuclear power, biofuels and other new forms of energy under the Sun Grant initiative; and incorporating these and other new findings into sustainability education throughout the curriculum.
More information on the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment program is available online at: http://www.presidentsclimatecommitment.org/index.php. Information on OSU’s efforts on sustainability is available at: http://oregonstate.edu/sustainability/