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Aug.31, 2012
CONTACT: Gordon Ovenshine:

Climate Action Plan promotes campuswide carbon neutrality

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Slippery Rock University has created a Climate Action Plan that includes a number of actions to reduce environmental impact and encourage green-minded lifestyles. SRU's blueprint for reducing greenhouse gases provides a master plan for achieving climate neutrality in 25 years or less.

Climate neutrality means emitting no harmful greenhouse gases

"Greenhouse gases affect global warming, and there are a lot of educational people and academics who say someone is going to have to take the lead because the private sector and government certainly are not doing it," said Herb Carlson, SRU assistant vice president for construction design and management. "Subsequently, the academic community has gotten behind the concept of becoming climate neutral."

SRU's 52-page action plan provides a roadmap for climate neutrality within the framework of the American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment program. Former President Robert Smith signed the commitment on behalf of SRU in 2009.

Cheryl Norton, SRU president, approved the Climate Action Plan for submission to ACUPCC. "This Climate Action Plan is a vision for the future that will help the University achieve its goal of carbon neutrality," she said. "I am extremely proud of the work done by the President's Commission on Sustainability in developing this plan. Once again SRU is demonstrating leadership in this critical area."

"The Climate Action Plan is a critical document for Slippery Rock University because it will serve as the community's comprehensive roadmap to climate neutrality," said Julie Snow, associate professor of geography, geology and the environment and chair of SRU's Energy Conservation Committee.

"Slippery Rock University has a long history of leadership in sustainability and has implemented a tremendous number of positive institutional changes," she said. "We will continue to build on our success by following the Climate Action Plan, which has set achievable goals and prioritizes actions to achieve the lowest possible carbon emissions in the shortest amount of time."

Key strategies for reducing the carbon footprint on campus include greater infrastructure efficiency, energy portfolio diversification, sustainable transportation and infusing sustainability as a cultural norm, Carlson said.

Carlson said SRU will conduct studies of the boiler plant and energy audits of individual buildings to identify opportunities to increase efficiency. The University is increasing monitoring abilities and providing feedback to building occupants and making sure building mechanical systems are running the way they were designed.

"Building mechanical systems, like car engines, get out of tune over time and need to be tuned up," he said.

SRU plans to replace coal with biomass and utilize technologies to generate 5-10 percent of the University's electricity at the boiler plant.

"The larger things are things like converting the coal-fired boiler plant to biomass, biomass being tree trimmings and wood chippings," Carlson said. "There is a study done, and there are enough tree trimmings in this part of the world, we can get them and burn them for less than it costs to burn coal."

The University will install a large solar array and individual building projects with the goal of generating 10 percent of University's electricity, he said. Carlson said the University will further utilize geothermal technology to heat and cool campus buildings that are outside the reach of existing steam lines and indentify regional opportunities for capitalizing on the growing natural gas industry to lower emissions.

"You can buy 'green energy,' so we can buy electricity from windmills and from other sources that have no impact on the environment," Carlson said.

Sustainable transportation goals include creating an alternative transportation plan that emphasizes mass transit, walking and bicycling, trimming the University fleet of vehicles and offering incentives to carpool and use high-efficiency vehicles, Carlson said.

"People recognize that this is where the institution should go," he said.

"Reaching for 2025 and Beyond," the University's strategic plan, identifies sustainability as an institutional cornerstone. Approved by cabinet in 2010, the plan paves the way for continued implementation of sustainability into the fabric of the University and argues that education can lead to behavioral change for generations to come.

Carlson said SRU will enhance student and community engagement by using the University as a living laboratory and targeting behavioral change. Other goals include the creation of more student groups that incorporate sustainability, increasing initiatives in dining halls and adopting a zero waste philosophy that targets waste diversion strategies in purchasing, recycling, donation and composting.

"Sustainability should be incorporated into our way of life - in the academic community, in the way we conduct the facilities. All of that has been established in the strategic plan," Carlson said.

Additional mechanisms for achieving neutrality include continuing to purchase 25 percent green power and increasing the percentage over time to neutralize purchased electricity emissions and investing in emission reducing projects either locally or regionally.

Carlson said SRU's President's Commission on Sustainability would form sub-committees to put strategies into action. The commission will also develop a structure for determining priorities and making educational connections.

SRU has made many sustainability gains, including the recent achievement of a Silver ranking from The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS). SRU moved from a Bronze to Silver ranking because of is many sustainability gains and better reporting of activities, Carlson said.

"We have the Sustainable Enterprise Accelerator and the Robert A. Macoskey Center for Sustainable Systems Education and Research," Carlson said. "We do Recycle Mania. We've got Earth Day, Campus Sustainability Day and a whole variety of things a whole lot of people do that fall under the umbrella of sustainability."

John Golden, instructor of business and director of the Sustainable Enterprise Accelerator, said the Climate Action Plan shows SRU's leadership in sustainability.

"If you look at the Climate Action Plan, it really lays a foundation to bring together all areas of sustainability on our campus," he said. "It is our mission statement for sustainability - where we are and we are going."

The Sustainable Enterprise Accelerator promotes economic development through student learning opportunities and assists aspiring and established entrepreneurs in the development of business plans.

Golden said the department of business introduced a new major and minor in sustainable management this fall, reinforcing commitment to greening.

"It's a triple bottom line - we're about people, planet and profit," Golden said. "The Climate Action Plan represents that three-pronged approach."

SRU's greening leadership has been recognized nationally. The Princeton Review included SRU in its "Guide to 286 Green Colleges" that have shown an above average commitment to sustainability. Undergraduates have stepped up by creating a Green Fund for environmental projects and launching initiatives promoting environmental awareness.

Another initiative with widespread application is the SRU Energy Pledge, which asks students, faculty and staff to take small steps to reduce consumption. "They are real simple things such as instead of taking an elevator, use the stairs," Carlson said. "Recycling comes into this."

Earlier this year, SRU completed construction of a baghouse for the coal-fired boiler plant. The pollution control system reduces coal emissions and greenhouse gases. The system reduces particulates from the exhaust that comes from the boilers. The University has also installed energy-saving lights in the residence halls.

The Climate Action plan is SRU's "master plan for us to become climate neutral in 25 years. There are ongoing reports associated with it, and it is subject to change as technology changes and as economic conditions change," Carlson said. "But we might even be able to do it sooner than 25 years."

Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.