Sept. 16, 2008

Campus going greener than expected, with new goal of reducing carbon emissions by one-third by 2010

For the first time Cornell has calculated how much carbon it emits. The inventory reveals that the university expects to reduce its central utilities emissions by almost one-third by 2010 -- far exceeding its goal of being 7 percent below 1990 carbon emission levels by 2012.

The greenhouse gas inventory includes data on combustion-related gases, purchased electricity, commuting and institution-funded air travel.

Administrators also announced Sept. 15 that Cornell will receive $425,000 from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to help develop its Climate Action Plan (CAP). The plan will provide a time frame and strategies for meeting the university's pledge to the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (APUPCC) to emit zero carbon by 2050. Cornell President David Skorton signed the commitment in February 2007, along with 500 other universities and colleges.

"Cornell is one of a hundred institutions that will be [creating a climate plan] for the first time," said Stan Wrzeski, a sustainable design consultant who works for Affiliated Engineers, a sustainable design consulting firm based in Madison, Wis., hired by Cornell to help develop the CAP. "If someone is looking for a precedent, there isn't one."

In fact, Cornell's plan should serve as a model for other institutions in the future to help them speed up their own sustainability efforts, said Dean Koyanagi, Cornell's sustainability coordinator.

The President's Climate Commitment Implementation Committee is currently working with Affiliated Engineers and other internal and external consultants to brainstorm ideas to further reduce carbon emissions. The groups plan to whittle these ideas into a CAP draft plan by June 2009, for final submission to the APUPCC by Sept. 15, 2009.

Cornell has invested in many programs and energy-efficient designs to bring about carbon emission reduction. Without such investments in the Lake Source Cooling project, the Combined Heat and Power Plant, and building efficiency measures, "our carbon footprint would be much higher," said Koyanagi.

Cornell will target energy reduction in such sectors as central utilities, development and building, energy efficiency and conservation, fuel choices, transportation mitigation and carbon offsets (where users pay a "tax" for carbon emissions that are then invested into carbon-cutting ventures) and renewable resources.

"If we put in front of people these challenges that are very ambitious, people will meet them most of the time," said Steve Beyers, services team leader for Cornell's Environmental Compliance and Sustainability. He noted that before Cornell's $162 million Weill Hall was built, a green design workshop helped architects see ways to combine sustainable building practices without interfering with the functions of the cutting-edge research facility. Weill Hall is under review for "gold" green-building certification by the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.

In 2007, the Cornell Board of Trustees passed a resolution requiring that building projects over $5 million meet LEED silver standards. "Now, for every other building we are constructing, gold looks to be within reach," said Beyers.