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June 01, 2017

How universities can contribute to reducing carbon emissions

Many universities want to reduce their carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. But that’s not so easy, given that a range of factors determine carbon emissions, including mobility, waste, and energy consumption. Even cows appear to have a negative effect on the greenhouse effect. So, gaining insight into CO2 emissions is extremely important. How can universities collate and analyze the available information to make measurable improvements?

Article - A Simplistic Sustainability Truth

Sustainability means many different things to many different people. However, at the heart of its definition there is a simple truth: if we make less environmentally harmful choices, all of us benefit.

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The issue of sustainability has been high on the agenda of educational institutions for years. That’s why the government, colleges, and universities have joined forces to reduce carbon dioxide emissions significantly before 2020. Universities also hope to increase enrollment by taking on a greener image in this way.

Charting CO2 emissions

The question is what should be done to reduce carbon emissions. Often the challenge lies in choosing just the right projects that will contribute most to the objective. Naturally, the results of these projects also have to be monitored and assessed. A wide range of factors must be considered. For instance, the energy consumption for each type of university building can vary enormously. A lecture hall uses relatively little energy, for example, while the consumption of a research laboratory is relatively high.

This diversity makes it difficult for universities to benchmark because different types of buildings can’t easily be compared. So how then can they decide on the right CO2 approach? To start, it makes sense to calculate the total “footprint” of all the factors that contribute to CO2 emissions. What doesn’t help is that this information is often collected in different places, or even that it isn’t tracked at all. It simply becomes impossible to come up with a reliable overall figure. Yet this calculation is really needed to choose the right approach to reduce carbon emissions. An IWMS offers a solution for measuring and monitoring energy consumption, CO2 emissions, and their related costs in a structured way.

Three important pillars

There are three specific pillars on which universities should concentrate for reducing emissions:

  1. Operational management – Among other things, operational management helps make buildings more sustainable and contributes to reducing energy consumption. Being able to meet a specific energy label or achieve a hallmark are important motivators here.
  1. Waste – For example, reducing waste by tightening up the arrangements with suppliers such as the caterer or the campus shops. One example is installing (free) drinking water fountains so that plastic water bottles no longer need to be sold.
  1. Mobility – Around half of the carbon emissions related to universities are attributable to transport. Consider for instance the students who travel to the university, or researchers attending conferences. Major wins can be achieved here.

And as for reducing carbon emissions from cows? Research has shown that changing the composition of cattle feed can reduce emissions. Here (agriculture-related) universities can also play a role. Because it’s not just by reducing their own CO2 emissions, but also by conducting scientific research, that universities make a significant contribution to reducing worldwide greenhouse gases.

Mark van der Sangen
Key Account Manager Planon Netherlands