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Climate commitment plan progresses

The grass may really be a little greener at USF.

According to a two-month progress report, USF has succeeded in planting the seeds of sustainability after joining a growing list of environmentally committed higher education institutions around the nation.

President Judy Genshaft signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) during the Going Green Tampa Bay Expo at the Sun Dome in April.

The progress report posted on the ACUPCC Web site states that the University has established a Campus Sustainability Steering Committee composed of 30 members. Faculty, staff, students, alumni and community members are identified as stakeholders in the process of implementing environmental sustainability on campus.

“Several subcommittees are in the process of being created and these will look into distinct issues such as waste recycling, food, landscaping, water, energy, etc. We intend to ensure a good student representation on these subcommittees,” said committee member and Chair of the Department of Geography Robert Brinkmann.

USF has also identified five tangible short-term goals that could reduce greenhouse gases while a more comprehensive plan is developed. These include purchasing ENERGY STAR certified products in all areas for which such ratings exist, offsetting all greenhouse gas emissions caused by USF-paid air travel, promoting public transportation, supporting eco-friendly shareholder proposals at companies with USF investments and adopting at least three waste-reduction measures.

Noticeably, the University has not mandated that all new campus construction follow the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver standard, a popular standard for energy-efficient buildings. Brinkmann, however, said that such a measure requires careful policy and budgetary planning and that not selecting it as one of the short-term goals does not rule out its implementation in the future.

Brinkmann said the tremendous student support and presence of many volunteer organizations across campus are major assets in the quest to make USF more sustainable. However, he also said that all work pertaining to sustainability is thus far being done voluntarily and he strongly advocated the hiring of paid sustainability staff on campus.

The ACUPCC, which places equal emphasis on short-and long-term actions, prescribes a general scheme of implementation with several specific deadlines. Creating institutional implementation structures and choosing two or more of the seven tangible, short-term actions to reduce greenhouse gases is the first step in fulfilling the commitment. USF reached this milestone under the leadership of Linda Whiteford, associate vice president for Academic Affairs and Strategic Initiatives. Sustainability is one of several strategic initiatives she oversees.

Signatories are also required to complete a comprehensive inventory of all greenhouse gases with annual updates and create a long-term plan for achieving climate neutrality, including target dates, interim goals and ways of tracking progress. Institutions must make all such progress reports, action plans and inventories publicly available.

Recycling, water conservation and reuse, and energy conservation are other major areas for potential improvement, said Daniel Yeh, assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

“There are a number of buildings on campus that can be made energy-efficient through upgrading their mechanical systems, and this can potentially save the University a lot of money,” Yeh said.

“This climate commitment undertaken by USF is part of a nationwide trend of campuses getting certified based on their sustainability efforts, with a big focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” Brinkmann said.

Brinkmann also said that the availability of free and/or subsidized mass transit options to students, staff and faculty is one of the strongest eco-friendly traditions at USF. However, he said there is a need to popularize this mode of transportation among the University community.

“Although a lot of research is going on within various colleges and departments, we as an organization have not done much for the environment and sustainability until now,” he said. “However, the president’s climate change commitment has provided us with an opportunity to bring all these people into one team and pursue joint efforts.”

The commitment was conceived of by a group of college and university presidents and their representatives at the October 2006 Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) conference at Arizona State University. It is supported by three non-profit organizations: AASHE, ecoAmerica and Second Nature. According to the AASHE Web site, 554 institutions of higher education nationwide have signed the commitment.