UMD Meets Climate Action Goal of Reducing Greenhouse Gases by 25 Percent

UMD Meets Climate Action Goal of Reducing Greenhouse Gases by 25 Percent

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The University of Maryland has achieved a significant milestone on its path to carbon neutrality by 2050. As highlighted in a just released annual Campus Sustainability Progress Report, the university met its Climate Action Plan target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by more than 25 percent in 2015.  The next milestone will be a 50 percent reduction by 2020. 

Key factors that contributed to the university’s carbon footprint reduction:

  • Increased investments in renewable energy as a source of electricity. In 2015, 76 percent of purchased electricity was produced by wind and solar power;
  • Implementation of energy conservation projects to slow the growth of demand for energy due to new construction and increased use of technology;
  • Single occupancy vehicle use decreased with more students living on campus or near campus and/or choosing green commuting alternatives like taking Shuttle-UM and biking;
  • Waste diversion from landfills through recycling and composting efforts increased and the selection of a landfill that captures methane instead of letting it release to the atmosphere.

“The university reached a difficult milestone last year by achieving a 25 percent reduction in its greenhouse gas emissions,” said Scott Lupin. Director, Office of Sustainability. It has required continuous self-evaluation of our policies and projects and a great deal of team-work. This is the combination we will need to achieve the 2020 goal.”

Energy conservation is a key area that the university is focused on to reduce its carbon footprint.  In 2014, President Wallace Loh announced the President’s Energy Initiatives, aimed at increasing the energy efficiency of all campus buildings and ensuring that by 2020 all purchased electricity comes from renewable energy sources. Projects such as the upgraded building controls for the HVAC Systems at Marie Mount Hall have made an immediate impact in reducing electricity consumption. The Department of Engineering and Energy in Facilities Management and the Department of Environmental Safety, Sustainability and Risk rolled out energy implementation guidelines to campus in an effort to communicate energy efficiency strategies. 

“Conservation is not always about high dollar investments," said Mary Ann Ibeziako, Director, Department of Engineering and Energy.  "We can all make an impact, starting today. Often times, our daily decisions can make a much bigger difference than we realize. For instance, relying on natural light whenever possible or ensuring that lights are switched off and computers are powered down at the end of the day."

Transportation is also an area where carbon emissions have declined.  The Shuttle-UM system continues to thrive and ridership has grown from about 1.5 million riders in 2005 to close to 3.5 million riders in 2015.  With increased campus bike infrastructure and the new mBike sharing program, more students are choosing to ride their bicycles to campus. Additionally, more on campus or near campus housing options have made it easier for students to access campus without needing a car. The average fuel efficiency of vehicles brought to campus by students has also been increasing. Overall, commuting emissions from faculty, staff and student-owned vehicles were 21 percent lower in 2015 than they were in 2008.  The Department of Transportation Services continues to look for ways to encourage the campus community to select green commuting options.

“As a campus, we have come a long way in reducing carbon emissions associated with transportation but we still have a lot of work to do,” said David Allen, Executive Director, Department of Transportation Services. “DOTS is looking forward to improving existing sustainable transportation programs and introducing new ones to the campus to help meet our 2020 goals.”

While the university has maintained strong institutional and individual recycling rates, one of the biggest impacts made recently was in its selection of landfill facilities.  In 2013, Building and Landscape Maintenance’s Office of Solid Waste and Recycling rebid the university’s waste disposal contract and stipulated that the disposal site should collect and combust landfill gas.  As a result, the waste material goes to a landfill that collects the methane for use in an electrical generator. Because of these efforts, UMD’s solid waste emissions are now only 6 percent of what they were in 2005.

“Contracting with a disposal site that has the ability to capture the methane gas for use in generating electricity was a win-win scenario,” said Bill Guididas, Coordinator of Administrative Services, Building and Landscape Maintenance.  “We were able to reduce our tip fee for solid waste disposal and support our goal for carbon neutrality.”

The Progress Report also showcases the university’s continued excellence in the areas of education and sustainable behavior change. Additional highlights from the report include:

  • The university co-hosted an international Climate Action 2016 forum and summit led by the School of Public Policy;
  • The Green Office Program celebrated its 5-year anniversary of changing office behaviors;
  • By using bottle filling stations around campus, the university community prevented the purchase and disposal of almost 3 million plastic water bottles.
  • The University System of Maryland announced that it will stop investing the university’s endowment directly in the top 100 public coal, oil and gas companies.

While the university was able to achieve its 25 percent carbon emissions reduction target by the end of 2015, the next Climate Action Plan (CAP) goal of reducing emissions 50 percent by 2020 will be a difficult challenge. Areas for campus improvement include sustainable water use, maintaining strong energy conservation performance, and finding ways to offset air travel. The Office of Sustainability in partnership with the Environmental Finance Center (EFC) and the University Sustainability Council are working on revising the Climate Action Plan with a new set of implementation strategies to help provide a more detailed and direct path to reach carbon neutrality in 2050. 

In addition to highlighting campus actions and achievements, the Campus Sustainability Progress Report provides the University Sustainability Council and the campus community with data that allows for future planning around sustainability issues.

To view the Campus Sustainability Progress Report:  http://go.umd.edu/progress2016

November 16, 2016


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