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SU on path to develop Climate Action Plan with goal of achieving carbon neutrality

November 11, 2008

Sara Miller
(315) 443-9038

Sara Miller

In 2007, Syracuse University became a charter signatory to the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), sponsored by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. In signing this pledge, SU became one of the largest private universities to commit to identifying its greenhouse gas output and developing a plan to reduce those emissions, working toward a goal of becoming carbon neutral.

In September 2008, as part of the ACUPCC, the University completed and published its first-ever inventory of greenhouse gas emissions. This inventory estimated the amount of carbon dioxide and five other gases that were released into the atmosphere as a result of SU's operations for the years 2001-07. The University's primary sources of greenhouse gas emissions come from building operations, heating and cooling; electricity; operation of SU's assorted fleet of vehicles; commuting of students, faculty and staff; and University-paid air travel.

Now, SU is embarking on the next critical phase of its carbon neutrality efforts, the Climate Action Plan (CAP), a required component of the ACUPCC that will set the institution's short- and long-term strategies, targets and goals for achieving carbon neutrality. The development of the CAP, to be completed by September 2009, will provide the blueprint for the University to implement carbon neutral initiatives as part of University operations.

The University's President's Climate Commitment Committee-the campus group overseeing SU's implementation of the ACUPCC-recently selected Constellation Energy's Projects and Services Group to assist in completing the CAP. The Projects and Services Group is the energy services arm of North America's largest retail and wholesale energy company, Constellation Energy. Along with Syracuse-based environmental engineering firm O'Brien & Gere, Constellation Energy's Projects and Services Group will help coordinate the different phases of the CAP and also provide the technology resources that will help SU identify, analyze and prioritize emissions reduction opportunities.

In incremental periods leading up to September 2009, the development of the CAP will involve:

  • reviewing the University's greenhouse gas inventory, completed in September;
  • conducting emissions forecasting, which looks at what happens if nothing is done to address greenhouse gas emissions on campus;
  • developing goals for the CAP;
  • identifying and prioritizing emissions reduction opportunities;
  • determining the cost effectiveness of the CAP;
  • developing a detailed outline of the CAP;
  • presenting the outline to key University stakeholders;
  • drafting the formal CAP; and
  • finalizing and launching the CAP with a corresponding awareness plan.

As the plan develops, the President's Climate Commitment Committee -- chaired by Mitchel Wallerstein, dean of the Maxwell School -- will seek input from the University community, in addition to thoughts on ways the University can galvanize carbon neutrality efforts on campus. Town hall-style meetings will be scheduled to discuss the CAP, and information will be available on campus on the progress to date.

"By providing environmental leadership at an institutional level, we are building a very clear framework for how our community can accelerate the social, economic and technological solutions to reverse global warming," says SU Chancellor and President Nancy Cantor. "The CAP is a crucial component of our institutional efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and I encourage the entire University community to contribute ideas and participate in the plan that will advance our carbon neutrality efforts."

According to Timothy Sweet, director of SU Energy and Computing Management and a member of the University's President's Climate Commitment Committee, the CAP will be a fluid plan, with built-in flexibility to adapt as newer technology becomes available that will help the University become carbon neutral. He also notes that for an institution the size of SU-with 9.6 million gross square feet of buildings-participation will be required from all areas on campus in order to reach sustainability milestones that ultimately will culminate with carbon neutrality. As part of the CAP, each milestone that the University reaches will be reported back to officials at the ACUPCC and a target date for carbon neutrality will be set. Sweet believes that with full participation from all members of the University community, the ambitious goal of becoming carbon neutral is attainable, minimizing the reliance on carbon credits.

Full information on the University's participation in the ACUPCC and updates regarding the progress of the CAP can be found at SU's Sustainability Division website (http://greenuniversecity.syr.edu/).

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