UC recently celebrated the signing of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment at a ceremony on campus. The Climate Commitment is an agreement among academic leaders to combat global warming and reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases (visit www.presidentsclimatecommitment.org).
Over the next decade UC hopes to cut net carbon emissions to zero. The first step of that process is to measure the greenhouse gas emissions from the entire campus over the course of a year. The results will be publicly reported, and the process will repeat annually.
"(The Climate Commitment) is more than just CO2 emissions, and it's more than just climate change," says Eric Maurer, professor of biological sciences and director of the Center for Environmental Studies. "It's changing the way the university does business."
Maurer has the heavy task of helping UC measure its net emissions over the next year.
"We want to account for all emissions of CO2," he says.
This includes other greenhouse gases like methane, which are converted into CO2 equivalents in order to achieve a single number for UC emissions.
While Maurer is surprised and delighted by the university's move toward sustainability, he's concerned that net emissions might never reach the zero mark in part because of extraneous factors, such as the emissions produced from student and faculty commutes.
UC must also develop a long-term climate plan during the next two years. The plan will include progress milestones and a target date for zero emissions.
Mary Beth McGrew, associate vice president of campus planning and design, is determined to take UC to zero. She's in charge of implementing the plan and putting together the organizational infrastructure across the campus that will reduce the university's carbon footprint.
People must change the way they think, according to McGrew. She'd like to see the plan place sustainability in the crux of the curriculum.
"Changing our behavior is equally as important as technology," she says.
Two or more "tangible actions" must also be completed in tandem with the long-term climate commitment. These actions can be selected from seven options, such as a green building policy, green power production or purchasing, climate friendly investing and providing public transportation. Because UC already boasts four LEED-certified buildings and provides public transportation for students and faculty, the choices were obvious.
The Climate Commitment Kickoff also gave UC a chance to showcase the multitude of vigorous "green" people and enterprises alive on campus, such as the Solar Decathlon project, the Center for Environmental Studies and the Center for Sustainable Urban Engineering, a trans-disciplinary research facility that studies how urban infrastructure and environmental policies affect the long-term health and wealth of cities (visit www.eng.uc.edu/sue).
Daniel Oerther, professor and director of the Center for Sustainable Urban Engineering, believes that the social aspect of sustainability, like remembering to turn off lights when you exit a room, is just as important as technology.
"Sustainability is about a change in how we behave and what we choose," Oerther says.
He relates the issue of sustainability with the economic principle of the "Tragedy of the Commons."
"When you have shared resources, each person tends to overuse them," he says. "If it was your own resource, you'd be a little more judicious about it."
Saving energy resources is often as simple as turning off a light switch when you exit a room or unplugging an appliance when it's not in use.
"It's things that we don't think about that could make ... a big difference," Maurer says.
The Center for Sustainable Urban Engineering is campaigning to construct a sustainable residence hall that would teach its residents how to apply such principles of sustainability and conservation to their everyday lives.
Conservation is a high priority. In the coming months and years UC will be marketing a campaign for conservation throughout the campus. Ads will appear on monitors in the Tangeman University Center to the airwaves of Bearcast, the student radio station. Contests sponsored by the university, such as the UC Housing Conservation Challenge, will also help spread the word. ©