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W&L Completes Climate Action Plan

Washington and Lee University has submitted its climate action plan (CAP) with a goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 to the American Colleges and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment.

W&L President Kenneth P. Ruscio is one of 667 signatories to the Presidents’ Climate Commitment.

“We are making progress in our efforts toward meeting our commitment of a sustainable campus,” said Ruscio, who designated sustainability as one of five major institutional goals for 2009-10. “The plan that we have submitted is realistic but still challenging. We are fulfilling our institutional mission, articulated in our motto, to be “not unmindful of the future.”

W&L’s CAP focuses on four broad areas:

  • Education, both as part of the formal curriculum and as a supplement to classroom instruction. Currently, about 30 percent of Washington and Lee’s undergraduates enroll in credit-bearing classes that address issues related to sustainability. The percentage of students in such courses has steadily increased in recent years. At the same time, the University Sustainability Committee leads educational efforts on day-to-day practices for all members of the University community.
  • Communication to keep all constituencies informed of sustainability initiatives.
  • Assessment to provide consistent, clear and accurate tracking of the University’s actions and progress.
  • Implementation of energy-saving solutions. As the CAP report notes, many University buildings that were designed and constructed”when our consciousness about sustainability and energy management was not as high and when technologies were less sophisticated.” At the same time, the University has developed and initiated several energy-conservation measures that provide options for energy savings “at many different scales and levels of investment.”

The timeline of the Climate Action Plan sets short, intermediate and long-term goals. Each phase includes a comprehensive educational program, plus upgrades to the physical plant, all designed to improve efficiency and reduce consumption. The currently established goals on the timeline:

  • 2011 – Reduce annual utilities cost by $1 million annually over the next four years. This will be achieved through continued reduction of BTUs per square foot throughout all facilities on campus and primarily through implementation of specific projects with a return on investment of three years or less.
  • 2013 – Reduce BTUs per square foot by 25 percent. This will be achieved primarily through energy-saving projects with a return on investment of five years or less through increased efficiency of HVAC equipment, lighting and plumbing systems.
  • 2020 – Reduce greenhouse production 20 per cent. This will be achieved through adding more-efficient HVAC equipment, reducing the amount of space to be heated and cooled, decreasing reliance on fossil fuels, increasing reliance on renewable energy sources such as solar hot-water generation, and encouraging members of the community to be mindful of how their actions affect the environment.
  • 2050 – Achieve carbon neutrality. This will require the implementation of technologies not yet fully developed (including photovoltaic [PV], co-generation, and 100 percent renewable resources to replace natural gas consumption) and the purchase of electricity produced by others using non-renewable resources.

The plan takes into account the return on investment that various projects will provide. Projects that pay for themselves quickly will receive priority, while others with longer payback periods will be the subject of careful financial planning. A number of projects may be packaged together to generate the shortest payback period.

William Hamilton, professor of biology and chair of the University Sustainability Committee, emphasized the essential role that members of the community play in achieving the goal.

“We intend to develop and cultivate a culture of sustainability on the campus so that students, faculty and staff share in the responsibility of reducing our carbon footprint,” said Hamilton.

“The plan that we have produced is designed to be fluid and flexible,” Hamilton added. “We now have a baseline from which we will move forward, but we are well aware that the pace of change in this area means we may shift course as new technologies or opportunities emerge. The key is that we have firmly stated the commitment to become carbon neutral by 2050, and that will remain a constant.”

The American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment is an effort to address “global climate disruption undertaken by a network of colleges and universities that have made institutional commitments to eliminate net greenhouse gas emissions from specified campus operations, and to promote the research and educational efforts of higher education to equip society to re-stabilize the earth’s climate.” The effort began in 2006