University publishes inaugural greenhouse gas inventory

February 8, 2012

The University has published its first greenhouse gas inventory. The full report provides a brief background on climate change as well as a comprehensive review of the results of the University's first greenhouse gas emissions inventory. A first step in the University's comprehensive sustainability planning was to understand our greenhouse gas emissions. Our robust, transparent method tracks and quantifies our impact to compare data across years and against peer institutions, to help understand our greenhouse gas emissions and develop targeted sustainability programs, and to monitor these programs for cost effectiveness and environmental benefit.

The greenhouse gas inventory was developed in close collaboration with a cross-section of students, faculty, academic personnel, and staff. It covers fiscal years 2006–2009 (July 2005–June 2009), providing four years of complete data. As student interns, Ignacio Tagtachian, SB'11, and Jake Edie, MPP'10, spent a year collecting data on everything from electricity and natural gas usage and solid waste to commuting miles and refrigerants used in laboratories across campus. Staff from across the University were invaluable in this effort, providing assistance in identifying the most reliable and accurate sources of data.

The inventory includes the entire Hyde Park campus and the Gleacher Center, focusing on facilities where the University can make the greatest impact on future emissions. "Unlike most of our peer institutions, the University chose to include data from its hospitals and related operations," says Sustainability Director Ilsa Flanagan. "Taking into account both our climate and the inclusion of these spaces, our greenhouse gas emissions are quite comparable to our peers."

Utilizing Clean Air-Cool Planet, the standard greenhouse gas calculator used in higher education, the inventory quantifies the University's climate impact, providing a baseline against which to measure reductions and serving as a guide to inform the creation of the University's climate plan. "Our major finding is that more than three quarters of the University's emissions come from our buildings," notes Tagtachian, now a Sustainability Fellow in the Office of Sustainability. "This tells us that it's vitally important to conduct energy efficiency upgrades and to design our new buildings to be as sustainable and efficient as possible." The inventory also revealed that laboratories are some of the most energy-intensive spaces on campus. As a result, the Office of Sustainability is currently developing a pilot "Green Labs" program to address the environmental impact of laboratory operations.

The greenhouse gas inventory underwent extensive internal and external review. According to Flanagan, "we benefited from the expertise of professors specializing in climate science as well as an experienced consulting firm, which provided an independent review of the process and results. Although the review process extended the time between data collection and publishing, it contributed to a robust inventory that includes a broader set of data points than most of our peers."

"It was a long and painstaking process to collect and analyze the data," adds Tagtachian. "Understanding the scope and sources of our emissions is an important step in sustainability planning. I am excited that we now know where we are and can focus on where to go from here."

The inventory is updated annually and will be reported every three years. The Office of Sustainability has drafted a climate plan and is currently working with students, faculty, and staff on the Sustainability Council to refine the plan and set emission reduction goals for the University.