University committed to climate neutrality

Greg Doyle

The University cemented its commitment to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by becoming a signatory of the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment in 2007. 

As part of that commitment, the President’s Environmental Sustainability Committee created and submitted its Climate Action Plan for the University. The CAP outlines the steps universities must take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and achieve climate neutrality. The CAP institutes target dates and interim milestones for the affiliated universities to reach along the way.

The American College and University President’s Climate Commitment defines climate neutrality as having “no net greenhouse gas emissions, within a minimum scope of boundaries.” It includes greenhouse gas emissions other than carbon dioxide.

The elements that comprise the President’s Climate Commitment include establishing an institutional structure to oversee compliance –– including the creation and implementation of the CAP, measuring greenhouse gas emissions, implementing tangible actions defined by the ACUPCC, creating a Climate Action Plan and reporting progress to be evaluated by the ACUPCC.

According to the ACUPCC, an institutional structure can take the form of committees, task forces or an appointed body of representatives to develop and implement a climate action plan within the University.

 “Members of the PESC were involved in preparing the CAP,” said John Olson, chair of the President’s Environmental Sustainability Committee, and professor and assistant chair of the biology department. “This involvement will continue as we now move forward to implement the CAP. I developed several subcommittees to facilitate that implementation and also to promote sustainability on campus in general.”

Tangible actions include several efforts that are apparent to anyone on campus, such as new, sustainable construction–– such as Driscoll Hall and the new Law School –– as well as renovations of existing buildings such as Fedigan Hall; encouragement for students, faculty and staff to utilize public transportation; adoption of Green Purchasing Policy; and minimizing waste in dining services and enhancing recycling efforts.

“Among the steps to mitigate emissions that we will focus on initially is reducing emissions associated with campus mechanical and electrical systems,” Olson said. “We also are exploring ways to increase the production of energy from renewable, climate-neutral sources such as solar. We will continue to assess ways to achieve our goals of further reducing and then offsetting our remaining GHG emissions.”

According to the Climate Action Plan, the University intends to reach climate neutrality by the year 2050. 

To determine what the final date would be, the PESC referenced other schools that also are signatories on the President’s Climate Commitment. Although it seems far away, the path to absolute climate neutrality is dotted with smaller objectives to reach along the way.

“We were informed in part by a benchmarking study of our peer institutions and others in the area,” Olson said. “We wanted to be realistic, but at the same time keep our eyes on the prize. There are milestones and we are committed to reducing our emissions by 24 percent by 2025. That may not sound like much but must be viewed with the understanding that this will be despite growth on campus associated with the Campus Master Plan, including new dorms and other buildings.”

According to Olson, the Climate Action Plan must be both clear and definite in its goals. It must be able to adapt with time and new innovations in technology that will undoubtedly occur throughout the process.

“Father Peter signed the President’s Climate Commitment in fall 2007,” Olson said. “The actual Climate Action Plan began in late 2008 and has involved several steps, including a Greenhouse Gas Emissions inventory and preparation of the actual document. We met the deadline — with approved extension — of submitting by Jan. 15, 2010. The President’s Environmental Sustainability Committee has been involved in preparation of the CAP, with significant input from Bob Morro in Facilities Management and an outside consulting firm, the Stone House Group.”

According to Olson, the University is committed to providing the ACUPCC with regular updates.

“Undoubtedly, we will make changes as we adapt to new technologies and what I hope will be new favorable incentives to renewable energy sources,” Olson said. “Hopefully, we will be able to achieve climate neutrality sooner.”

Olson is preparing a presentation for the Villanova community in the coming months to further explain the University’s official commitment to a more sustainable future.