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Brandeis updates Climate Action Plan

Brandeis has reduced its carbon footprint for the first time since it signed a pledge in 2007 committing to reduce its energy consumption and work towards carbon neutrality, President Ron Liebowitz announced on Tuesday.

The university reduced its footprint by eight percent between fiscal years 2015 and 2016 and used 10 percent less energy. Reducing our energy consumption is key to addressing the footprint, said Mary Fischer, Brandeis’ sustainability coordinator, because energy use comprises “the bulk,” of the total carbon footprint.

As part of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, Brandeis released a Climate Action Plan in 2009. However, Brandeis’ carbon footprint increased by one percent between 2007 and 2015.

“This reflects, in part, an expansion of both the student body and the campus physical plant. Nonetheless, our carbon footprint would have increased by 8 percent instead of just 1 percent if the New England electric grid had not dramatically reduced its carbon intensity from 2008 – 2015,” according to the President’s Task Force on Campus Sustainability.

Last October, this task force began updating the Climate Action Plan (CAP) to help Brandeis set short-term goals for reducing its footprint. This came two months after Interim President Lisa Lynch, who commissioned the task force, hired Fischer, who sits on the task force, to the position of sustainability coordinator which had been vacant since 2012.

“We have begun to respond to the urgent call of climate change, facing our responsibility to the global community…and joining the leaders of the world who are acting on the Paris Agreement,” said President Ron Liebowitz of the footprint reeducation, in a campus-wide email.

The original 2009 CAP set a goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, but this is not the main focus now. The task force was asked to examine short-term actions to “start making a difference immediately” before tackling long-term goals, according to Fischer.

The new CAP, released on Tuesday, names the shorter-term goals of reducing energy emissions by 10 percent by fiscal year 2018 and 15 percent by fiscal year 2020 (using 2015 as a baseline, or starting point). Sources of campus emissions include natural gas and oil issue, water heaters and purchased electricity.

The vast majority of Brandeis’ greenhouse gas emissions (approximately 87 percent) come from building energy use, an area where the university faces a unique challenge due to the age and efficiency of its buildings.

Brandeis found in 2015 that it uses approximately 25 percent more energy than comparable schools, based on climate and building characteristics. Sixty percent of campus buildings were constructed between 1951 and 1975, when energy efficiency was not a major consideration.

“As a result of both design and age, our buildings are deteriorating quickly, requiring ever-increasing amounts of both energy and costly maintenance to operate while keeping occupants comfortable,” the updated plan says. Research found that schools investing in building “envelopes” such as efficient windows, roofs and mechanical systems have successfully reduced their carbon footprint, according to the plan.

In addition to numerical guidelines, the CAP includes summary of ongoing sustainability projects and recommendations for the future.

This academic year, short-term projects for the task force include publicizing the CAP; recruiting participants for working groups and brainstorming sessions; and hosting educational events. The task force has also released an “energy conservation and management policy” along with the CAP which features guidelines for building temperatures and personal conservation tips.

The Department of Facilities Services is studying lighting efficiency, potential envelope improvements and solar energy. The Gosman Gym already has solar arrays, but Brandeis is probing installing panels on the Admissions building or the new residence hall replacing Usen Castle, said Jim Gray, vice president for campus operations and a co-chair of the task force. Solar panels, however, require a large amount of roof space and are only 15 percent efficient, according to the plan. This means solar could only account for one to two percent of university electricity needs, said Fischer. It is also better to use solar on newer roofs which rules out a chunk of Brandeis buildings.

The CAP also urges creation of a subcommittee to explore expanding education climate change education so Brandeis can champion these studies “as a key component of its social justice mission.”

It proposes a “climate and social-justice oriented” cluster hire of faculty in various departments and supports a student-led initiative to institute an environmental literacy requirement. Students submitted this proposal to the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee which is beginning tackle the scheduled reevaluation of the general education requirements.

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