University works to reduce carbon footprint

February 20 2008

Sustainability part of University Presidents Climate Commitment

Since 1990, the Indiana State University campus has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent and diverted more than 28 million pounds of trash from landfills.

It is a record that is the envy of many colleges and universities, according to Gary Kent, a retired Indiana University administrator who has worked with Indiana State to help assess its progress in reducing ISU’s impact on global warming and develop a plan for doing even more.

The university conducted a “Sustainability Forum” Wednesday(Feb. 20) to review the steps it has taken so far to reduce its “carbon footprint” and discuss ways to reduce emissions even further.

“Sustainability” means reorganizing life support systems - including agriculture, transportation and energy production - so that life on Earth can be sustained indefinitely. Reducing the carbon footprint - the effect of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane - is a key element of sustainability.

Launch of a sustainability plan is “the continuation of a journey you have been on for at least two decades,” said Kent. “This institution runs really outstanding programs. You’re a leader in the Terre Haute community and in the Wabash Valley.”

During the time Indiana State has reduced emissions, such notable universities as Harvard and Yale have seen their greenhouse emissions increase, Kent noted.

In September 2007, ISU President Lloyd W. Benjamin III signed the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment that establishes a goal of an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050 and an ultimate goal to eliminate all greenhouse gases.

“This is something the entire campus, and eventually the community, needs to take exceedingly seriously. I was pleased to be able to sign the letter which committed our institution to take this on,” Benjamin told more than 60 ISU administrators, faculty and staff who took part in the forum in Hulman Memorial Student Union.

“I regret and lament at times that our country has not provided some of the leadership it should and in some cases is not even following strong global movements to address the effects of fossil fuel and other forms of environmental degradation that are going to seriously impact our lives and the lives of our children and grandchildren,” Benjamin added.

The Presidents Climate Commitment recognizes the scientific consensus that global warming is real and is largely being caused by humans and that greenhouse gases must be reduced or eliminated.

Indiana State’s reduction in greenhouse emissions has resulted from a variety of initiatives by the office of facilities management, including energy conservation and energy-efficient construction in new buildings and renovations - which together have resulted in a savings of nearly $7 million in electricity costs since 1990 - as well as replacing a coal-fired, steam-generating plant with a natural gas plant and an ambitious recycling program.

In recent decades the university also has closed much of the campus to vehicles, added greenspaces, and planted more than 3,000 trees. Tree farms have also been established on university properties to produce locally-grown trees rather than add to the carbon footprint by transporting new and replacement trees from out of state, according to Kevin Runion, associate vice president for facilities management.

New initiatives in the works include the establishment of a community garden on university-owned property. The garden will be a joint venture by facilities management and the Center for Public Service and Community Engagement.

Sustainability efforts also have extended to the classroom. More than two dozen faculty members have incorporated the theme into their courses, according to Robert English, associate vice president for academic affairs, and Nancy Rogers, director of ISU’s Center for Public Service and Community Engagement.

Educating students is vitally important for ensuring global sustainability, Kent said.

“It is not only important that you practice what you preach, but it’s also important that you preach what you practice,” he said. “It’s even more important that students leave here with a set of values.”

As enviable as Indiana State’s accomplishments have been, much work remains in the effort to achieve a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse emissions by mid-century, Jim Jensen, direct of operational services with ISU Facilities Management, said.

"The entire university - faculty, staff and students - will be called upon to work together to help secure our environmental future,” said Jensen, who serves as the university’s interim sustainability coordinator.

As part of the Presidents Climate Commitment, Benjamin will appoint a Sustainability Council to oversee the development of a campus sustainability plan. Working groups will be formed in nine areas: academics, student activities, built environment, energy and climate change, food, transportation, procurement, resource use and recycling and community outreach and engagement. Working group reports are due November 30. The university’s final sustainability report and action plan will be due in September 2009.

For more information about sustainability at Indiana State University, visit www1.indstate.edu/facilities/sustainability/index.html.

Information about the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment is at www.presidentsclimatecommitment.org/html/commitment.php .

Photo: Plant means less greenhouse gas A natural-gas fired steam generating plant, which replaced a coal-fired plant in 2001, has helped Indiana State University reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Contact: Jim Jensen, director of operational services and interim sustainability coordinator, ISU Facilities Management, 812-237-8194 or jjensen2@isugw.indstate.edu

Writer: Dave Taylor, media relations director, ISU Communications and Marketing, 812-237-3743 or dave.taylor@indstate.edu

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Story Highlights

Since 1990, the Indiana State University campus has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent and diverted more than 28 million pounds of trash from landfills. The university conducted a "Sustainability Forum" to review the steps it has taken so far to reduce its "carbon footprint" and discuss ways to reduce emissions even further.

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