Sustainability efforts show moderate success
The University reduced its carbon footprint by approximately 8 percent from last year and used 10 percent less energy overall than fiscal year 2015, University President Ronald Liebowitz wrote in a Nov. 1 email to the campus community.
This is the first time the University has reduced its carbon footprint since it signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment — an effort aimed at neutralizing greenhouse gas emissions and accelerating climate research at higher education institutions — in 2007. Though Liebowitz noted that these new figures have not yet been fully confirmed — and will likely not be fully confirmed for over a year — he wrote that he is “confident we have taken an important first step.”
“This is a meaningful milestone,” Liebowitz wrote. “We have begun to respond to the urgent call of climate change, facing our responsibility to the global community to reduce our emissions and joining the leaders of the world who are acting on the Paris Agreement.”
Brandeis has achieved its reductions in large part through the implementation of the practices outlined in the University’s new Energy Conservation and Management Policy, Liebowitz wrote.
The policy was developed by the 2015 to 2016 President’s Task Force on Campus Sustainability, formed in Oct. 2015 when the University received news that its carbon footprint had increased rather than decreased since it issued its first Climate Action Plan in 2009.
According to the new CAP, the University’s short-term goals include reducing emissions by 10 percent by fiscal year 2018 and by 15 percent by fiscal year 2020.
The University now uses 25 to 30 percent more energy per square foot than comparable campuses in its climate zone, according to Sustainable Brandeis, the University’s online database on its sustainability efforts and progress. “These facts, combined with the inextricable link between climate change and social justice, amount to a call to action for our community to greatly improve our approach to energy management,” the website says.
“Reducing electricity use during peak times results in environmental gains as well as financial savings,” it continues. “In New England, electricity demand during very hot days necessitates the operation of older, oil- and coal-fired power plants, leading to an increase in air pollution and some of the most carbon-intense days for the electric grid.”
Brandeis’ buildings use more energy than peer universities largely because of their advanced age. According to the CAP, over 60 percent of campus buildings were constructed between 1951 and 1975 — “before energy efficiency was an important consideration in building design.” Since facilities maintenance budgets are at approximately one fourth of the 30 to 40 million dollars per year that would be required to maintain building envelopes and mechanical systems and catch up on deferred maintenance, energy efficiency in buildings is severely low.
Due to the heavy impact of peak electricity use on campus sustainability — approximately 87 percent of Brandeis’s total emissions are due to building energy usage, according to the CAP — student efforts are crucial in keeping University progress going, as much of the conservation happens in dorms and classrooms on an honor system-basis.
“I know we can count on you to remain a critical part of our efforts,” Liebowitz wrote in his email, citing the success of the University’s “Turn It Off” days. “Turn It Off” is a program that asks students to turn off unnecessary lights and computers and tolerate higher temperatures across the campus during peak electric demand days.
According to Sustainable Brandeis, “the collective effort of our Turn It Off campaign resulted in a 20 percent decrease in our peak electric demand over 2014 for the second year in a row.”
“The Turn It Off campaign demonstrates that individual conservation actions do add up to meaningful results,” the website reads. “Since the university’s year-round electricity rates are partially based on our demand during summer’s hottest days, the success of our campaigns will result in significant savings in our electric bill in [fiscal year 2017] and beyond.”
The University’s progress in sustainability is nothing new for Liebowitz: during his presidency at Middlebury College, he oversaw a 50 percent reduction in Middlebury’s carbon footprint. “I hope this first step forward at Brandeis will ultimately lead us to equally impressive results,” he wrote.