Vanderbilt Shrinking Its Carbon Footprint

The university has completed its first greenhouse-gas inventory and adopted an environmental commitment statement affirming the university’s dedication to environmental responsibility and accountability.

“Vanderbilt is one among a small percentage of schools that has undertaken the completion of a GHG [greenhouse gas] inventory and made it publicly available,” says Judson Newbern, deputy vice chancellor for facilities and environmental affairs. “Subsequent annual calculations of emissions will be conducted in the future to measure progress, which also will be made publicly available.”

Greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere and are emitted through both natural processes and human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels, decay in landfills and the carbon cycle. Vanderbilt emits greenhouse gases through many of its daily operations such as the combustion of coal, use of electricity, commuting and waste disposal.

During the baseline period of 2005–2007, average annual greenhouse-gas emissions produced by academic, research and patient care areas on the university’s 330-acre campus amounted to an estimated 487,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MTCO2E). Academic and research areas accounted for approximately 302,000 MTCO2E, or 62 percent of average yearly greenhouse-gas emissions; the remaining 38 percent are attributable to patient care areas.

Emissions sources at Vanderbilt include purchased electricity (45 percent); coal use (24 percent) and natural gas use (8 percent) at the on-campus co-generation power plant; and commuter travel (19 percent).

“These major sources present the most significant opportunities for improvements in Vanderbilt’s current carbon footprint,” says Andrea George, director of the Sustainability and Environmental Management Office (SEMO).

Environmental initiatives implemented to reduce emissions for the next GHG inventory report include:

  • A commitment to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) building practices. Seven buildings at The Commons have received gold or silver LEED certification, and green building principles also were used during the recent renovation of the One Hundred Oaks medical facilities.
  • ThinkOne, a campus-wide energy conservation campaign focused on energy-saving behaviors to reduce Vanderbilt’s energy consumption.
  • Water and lighting retrofits, including a recent retrofit of the lighting system at Memorial Gym that resulted in an 18 percent reduction in lighting energy consumption.
  • Improvements to commuter programs, including a ride-match Web site, the launch of several van pools, and the arrival of Zipcars on campus.
  • A program to drastically adjust thermostats during the hours a building is not in use.

Vanderbilt’s Environmental Commitment Statement was endorsed by a number of key stakeholder groups on campus, including the Vanderbilt Student Government and the Faculty Senate. The university also will promote lifelong learning about sustainability practices for the benefit of the Vanderbilt community.

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