Big Plan, Smaller Footprint

Illustration by Laura Coyle

Emory's sustainability leaders see the future campus through green-tinted glasses.

In December, two committees appointed by President James Wagner unveiled a Climate Action Plan to reduce the university’s environmental footprint with specific steps and targets during the next three decades. More than a year in the making, the plan paints a dramatically different picture of Emory by 2050—and we bet you can guess what the dominant color is.

A Climate Action Plan (CAP) Committee, made up of faculty, staff, and students, and a Carbon Reduction Task Force from Campus Services spent much of last year studying the university’s current energy use, analyzing the plans and goals of other institutions, and hosting more than twenty public forums to educate and get feedback from the community. The CAP takes a comprehensive approach, recommending emission reduction strategies in a number of areas—including sustainable building and construction, energy, transportation, waste management, food, procurement, academic programs, and individual action.

“The Climate Action Plan builds on a strong base of institutional support and grassroots action,” says Ciannat Howett 87C, director of the Office of Sustainability Initiatives. “Increased awareness of the institutional and individual behavior changes that help to reduce atmospheric carbon and the connection to ethical living, ecological citizenship, and intergenerational equity are the most important contributions to the Climate Action Plan.”

To hit the targets, each academic and operational area of the university will appoint a leadership committee to develop and implement a strategy that makes sense for that unit. Suggestions from the CAP committee for area leaders range from relatively easy to dramatic: adopt building temperature turndowns for evenings and weekends, develop sustainable purchasing policies, implement a “paperless office” protocol, offer incentives for flexible work arrangements to reduce commuting, develop incentives for reduced air and car travel through teleconferencing, follow sustainable catering and “green event” guidelines—or, if you’re more ambitious, construct a LEED Gold building or become a “zero-waste” unit with a comprehensive composting and recycling program.

More than half of Emory’s greenhouse gas emission—55 percent—is due to electricity use. The second-largest source is natural gas at 15 percent, with faculty and staff commuting a close third. In other words, buildings and vehicles will continue to receive the most targeted attention, and the CAP makes a number of specific recommendations related to construction practices, retrofitting existing structures, and reducing both the volume of travel and its impact.

The Climate Action Plan

2005 (the baseline year) to 2012

  • Office of Sustainability Initiatives founded; first director, Ciannat Howett 87C, appointed
  • 20 percent energy use reduction per square foot
  • 1,595 Emory community members have taken the Sustainability Pledge
  • 18 LEED-certified buildings
  • 19 percent of total Emory Dining food purchases during 2010 to 2011 were locally grown, significantly reducing transportation impact
  • A weekly farmers’ market launched on campus, offering fresh, local items
  • Nearly 300 academic courses include a sustainability focus
  • Alternative transportation has increased, with the Cliff shuttle system carrying 240,000 passengers a month and reported bike riding increasing by 800 percent

By 2015

  • Grow more trees; remove invasive species from all university forests and develop long-term restoration plan
  • Reduce average campus energy use by 25 percent per square foot
  • Reduce Emory’s total waste stream by 65 percent, including recycling 100 percent of electronics waste and road construction materials, and composting, recycling, or reusing at least 95 percent of food waste, animal bedding, and building construction materials
  • Procure 75 percent of ingredients from local or sustainably grown sources

By 2020

  • 20 percent reduction in total emissions; 35 percent per square foot
  • Reduce petroleum consumption by 30 percent in vehicle fleet
  • Study biodiesel in backup generators

By 2036

  • 36 percent reduction in total emissions; 50 percent per square foot

By 2050

  • 50 percent reduction in total emissions; 85 percent per square foot (Georgia Power has announced a goal of 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050; Emory’s success is linked to this goal)
  • All existing parking structures and flat roofs, when scheduled to be replaced, become green, cool, and/or solar roofs
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