Thanks to a number of sustainability efforts, the University of Denver has reached the first of its carbon-reduction milestones six years ahead of schedule. Along the way, it has shaved more than $850,000 from annual operating expenses, says Chad King, the University’s sustainability coordinator.
Since 2006, King says, DU has shrunk its carbon footprint by 27 percent, even as campus square footage has grown by 8.7 percent. (The University’s carbon footprint includes everything from the fossil fuels enlisted to heat, cool and light buildings to the air miles traveled for study abroad and the fertilizer used for greens and gardens.)
DU’s dramatic drop in carbon emissions, realized in fall 2014, comes well in advance of the 2020 target date established by an ambitious sustainability plan that seeks to minimize the University’s contribution to global warming. The plan calls for the University to achieve carbon neutrality — or zero net emissions — by 2050.
The University’s carbon-reduction goals were developed when it signed on to the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) in 2007. Currently 684 college and universities have signed the commitment, which obliges signatories to pursue climate neutrality.
To realize this ambitious goal, most institutions — DU included — find they must adopt new technologies, conserve resources and even purchase what are known as offsets. Much of DU’s effort is coordinated out of the Center for Sustainability, with the vision and help of the student-, staff- and faculty-led Sustainability Council.
DU’s impressive net emission reduction — from 76,647 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e) in 2006 to 55,955 metric tons in 2014 — results from a number of strategies, particularly refitting old buildings and equipping new ones with the latest in energy-efficient technology.
“The largest part of our footprint is our purchased utilities,” King says. As a result, utilities represent the greatest arena for cost- and carbon cutting.
The new Anderson Academic Commons, once the Penrose Library, provides a case in point, King adds, noting that it uses state-of-the-art technology in heating, lighting and cooling.
“It’s been using about half the energy it used before it was renovated,” King says of the Academic Commons. In fact, the number of kilowatt hours expended is down despite the fact that square footage increased substantially and a greater number of students and faculty members are working at the facility, plugging an ever-expanding array of electronic devices into workstations. What’s more, the new café has introduced several heavy-duty appliances to the building.
The University also realized significant carbon reductions through “offsets,” a term that describes the financial support of new or additional renewable energy sources, free of carbon emissions, earning credits against the release of greenhouse gases on campus.
Still other reductions came from the partial shift to a more efficient fleet; recycling and composting (which makes better use of resources, provides new materials, and reduces landfill size and the emissions from those landfills); and greater use of public transit and bicycles for commuting.
Efforts to reduce usage of certain products also contributed to DU’s success in the fight against global warming. For example, King says, between 2006 and 2014, paper purchases were down more than 123 tons — thanks, in part, to a greater reliance on email marketing, desktop printers that use both sides of a page, and information campaigns urging email recipients to electronically save rather than physically file correspondence.
These moves not only serve the environment, they befriend the University’s budget, King explains. To cite just one example, the University’s carbon-cutting moves mean it is now saving $850,000 a year on utilities.
As significant as this progress is, the University still has a long way to go to achieve carbon neutrality. That won’t happen without advances in technology or the help of sustainability-minded individuals.
“The moral of this story,” King says, “is that it’s a lot of effort across the board.”