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Climate plan to focus on low cost projects

One hundred years after Duke got its name, the University hopes to be carbon neutral.

The Climate Action Plan outlines strategies to tackle the biggest campus contributors to carbon output: emissions, energy and transportation. Duke aims for a 45 percent reduction in carbon emissions on campus by 2024 said Tavey Capps, Duke’s environmental sustainability coordinator.

If Duke accomplishes this goal, it will become carbon neutral.

“I think we’ve put together a very strong and aggressive plan,” said Bill Chameides, dean of the Nicholas School of the Environment and co-chair of the Campus Sustainability Committee. “I’m very, very proud and optimistic about the one we’ve put together.”

The current economic climate will force administrators to focus on implementing less costly green initiatives in the near future. Because the plan will change and 2024 is still far off, administrators said they do not know how much it will cost for Duke to achieve carbon neutrality.

“We’ll look for partners to help invest, but we’re not going to have any big expenditures any time soon,” said Executive Vice President Tallman Trask, another CSC co-chair.

The University’s most recent CAP initiative—renovating the East Campus Steam Plant to use natural gas instead of coal—will be completed in 2010. The $20 to $25 million project, which will reduce the plant’s emissions by as much as 85 percent, will be Duke’s most expensive green venture in the near future, Capps said.

In addition, 10 hybrid buses will replace part of the current fleet. Three have already been ordered and are scheduled to arrive in 18 months, Trask said.

The University will now focus on cheaper projects that promote the plan’s goal, such as incentives for Duke employees to use alternate transportation, Capps said.

Strategies include giving vouchers to employees who carpool and working with regional transportation services including the Durham Area Transit Authority and the Triangle Transit Authority to create routes that better serve the Duke community. Capps said employees would be encouraged to try “little things” to reduce their carbon footprints.

“It’s not that they have to bike to campus 365 days a year. But they can bike to campus one or two days a week,” she said.

Educating students, faculty and other community members is a priority, and including environmental education in the curriculum is a low-cost measure. The plan suggests including environmental citizenship, literacy and sustainability as a Mode of Inquiry.

Freshman Ari Ruffer, a Duke Student Government academic affairs senator, presented a resolution to endorse the Climate Action Plan to DSG at last week. It passed unanimously.

Ruffer said he hopes to set up meetings between students and members of the sustainability committee to define environmental literacy—what Duke students need to know about the environment before graduating.

Ruffer said he felt many students were not exposed to the University’s environmental knowledge resources.

“The most important thing is environmental literacy and implementing it into the curriculum, and DSG plans to have a role in that process,” Ruffer said.

The University also hopes to work with communities in North Carolina on sustainable projects, including a project on hog waste that involved collaborations among the Pratt School of Engineering, the Fuqua School of Business and the Nicholas School. In the project, methane gas from swine waste would be captured and converted at three hog farms in the state.

 The Climate Action Plan sets goals for the University alone—it does not include the health system.

Capps said other universities did not include their medical campuses in their plans because those campuses have different growth patterns, adding that Duke wanted its plan to be similar to those of peer institutions so Duke could gain a clearer idea of its progress.

Capps said the medical center would benefit from energy-reducing changes made elsewhere on campus.

The health system is undergoing major changes, and Chameides said he suspected it could not make a long-term commitment to carbon neutrality now.

On campus, the plan outlines projects that will be initiated in the coming years.

Because existing buildings have the greatest environmental impact, Duke will decide this year which are “energy hogs” and would benefit most from renovations to decrease energy consumption, Capps said. New buildings must have at least a silver level Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification from the United States Green Buildings Council. Thirteen campus projects are already LEED certified.

Capps added that the University hopes to reduce energy consumption in existing buildings 15 percent by 2030.

“We tried to be conservative in some of the reduction goals and hope to exceed them over time,” she said.  

Capps said the plan is likely to see alterations in the future, as new technologies and climate legislation emerge.

“This is really a way to look out and set a goal for ourselves, but we’re going to change it over time,” she said.

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