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College Submits Plan to Gain Climate Neutrality By 2020

With the ever-increasing threat of climate change fueled by emissions increases, environmental damage, and low use of renewable energy, St. Mary’s submitted a Climate Action Plan on Jan. 12 to achieve climate neutrality by 2020, continuing the College’s fight for campus sustainability.

Submitted to the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, the Climate Action Plan is a 26-page document detailing the College’s current carbon footprint (or total greenhouse gas emissions), current methods of reducing that footprint, and further actions to be taken in the next decade to balance energy use and consumption and become more energy efficient.

The College is one of 362 higher education institutions that have submitted the plan, which includes 22 institutions from the State of Maryland.

“Students care a lot about us being a green school,” said Sustainability Fellow Lisa Neu,‘10, “even if they don’t think about it every day.”

One of the major goals detailed in the Action Plan is to promote energy efficiency on campus, enough for at least a 15 percent increase in energy efficiency by 2020.

One approach to this goal has been to replace older, more wasteful energy sources (such as the Crescent Townhouses HVAC units) with more energy-efficient ones rather than repairing them when damaged.

“By tacking on a small fee to the repair costs, we can get the renewable product that will be more beneficial in the long run,” said Luke Mowbray, the Facilities Planner and Sustainability Coordinator at St. Mary’s.

Other methods, including Neu’s outreach programs promoting energy conservation, the use of energy-efficient light bulbs on campus, and a modified summer work-week of four days, 10 hours per day as opposed to five days, eight hours per day, are also being implemented.

Becoming more energy efficient will be a more feasible method of reducing climate change on campus than funding renewable energy.

While the Action Plan promotes a five percent increase in renewable energy on campus by 2020, the high costs of solar panels and irregular winds for wind power make such methods more difficult than becoming more energy efficient.

“The sort we use is energy efficiency rather than renewable energy,” said Mowbray. “In terms of cost, we’re doing what we can do.”

This also applies to the College approaching climate neutral rather than zero-emissions status, which would be a significantly more costly and less feasible option for St. Mary’s.

By lowering the College’s carbon footprint, increasing energy efficiency, and investing in off-site renewable energy resources, St. Mary’s hopes to offset its contribution to climate change by 80 percent by 2020 as opposed to its current 60 percent.

The Climate Action Plan does not mark the first approach of St. Mary’s towards climate neutrality. In 2008, one year after being recognized as part of the EPA Green Power Partnership, the College received a grant from the State of Maryland for a pilot program promoting green building construction.

With the help of the student body, which voted to tax itself to promote its construction, Andrew J. Goodpaster Hall became the first green building on campus, receiving a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver Certification for energy-conservative productivity.

Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum are LEED’s point-based certification levels, awarded for promoting green methods during a building’s construction and operation.

Goodpaster itself saves 300,000 gallons of water annually compared to a non-green building of similar size, and uses 30 to 40 percent less energy.

The College’s Strategic Plan also promotes green construction, as all future facilities will be green buildings. This includes the Anne Arundel Hall Replacement Project, currently in its planning stages to rebuild Anne Arundel Hall as a LEED Gold-certified building by Winter 2015.

“The Administration has been extremely supportive of this [climate-neutral] objective,” said Mowbray.

One of the many groups on campus promoting the College’s climate neutrality goal is the St. Mary’s River Project, a group of student, faculty, and community volunteers promoting environmental awareness in St. Mary’s County schools.

“Even though we don’t directly use the phrase ‘carbon neutrality’ in our lessons,” said junior and SMRP president Jon Barkley, “the kids learn that by planting trees (which help take up excess carbon dioxide), conserving land, and following the 3 R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle), they can have a positive effect on our planet’s future.”

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