PRINCETON BOROUGH — Eighteen months after beginning a campus “green” initiative, Princeton University said it has achieved a modest 1 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions which it intends to build upon with a $40 million, 10 year effort to cut utility use on campus by 25 percent.
“The university’s goal is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to 1990 levels,” the school said in a report issued this week, explaining that would mean a target of 95,000 metric tons by 2020, or 19,000 metric tons less than in 2007.
While so far the decrease in emissions has been modest, the school said that was achieved despite the addition of 164,000 square feet in building space since July 2008.
Campus officials said improvements in sustainability have been helped along by a “culture change” at Princeton that includes the participation and often leadership of students.
School efforts to go green have resulted in lower water consumption, energy efficient new construction, and an increase in the number of employees who commute to work using public transit or car pools, the report said.
Other sustainability efforts have ranged from retrofitting dorm bathrooms with low-flow fixtures, to adding electric vehicles to its fleet and using recycled paper for bathroom tissue.
The university has invested significant amounts of money on the effort, including multi-million dollar outlays to improve energy efficiency, spending for green building design and construction, and the installation of geothermal technology at a university apartment complex for graduate students.
“What is most striking about this report are the many initiatives that have been undertaken and the impact they are beginning to have in achieving the university’s ambitious sustainability goals,” said President Shirley Tilghman in a written release. “But just as important is the report’s emphasis on what still needs to be done and on the strategies now in place to make continued progress in the years ahead.”
The school aims to decrease carbon emissions to 1990 levels through direct local actions rather than purchasing “offsets” like many institutions do. If the university did nothing to reduce emissions, estimates are that emissions would increase 54 percent over 2007 levels because of new buildings and renovations.
The planned reduction in utility usage will be achieved in part by improving the efficiency of the school’s cogeneration power plant and the buildings it serves. These facilities account for about 85 percent of the university’s emissions. School officials said improvements could mean an estimated $8.5 million in savings a year over a 30 to 40 year period according to today’s energy prices.
“These goals mean significant change in how we operate,” said school Executive Vice President Mark Burstein in a phone interview. “They require every department to change the way it does business.”
One of the greatest resources in the effort has been the school’s students, who often make suggestions on policy changes or new programs, Burstein said.
“The wonderful thing about students these days is that they are very focused on these issues,” he said. “Cultural change is hard to accomplish, but with the leadership of many students, faculty and staff, we have obtained significant progress over the past two years and, even more importantly, gained momentum to reach our goals.”
The report highlights the fact that greenhouse gas emissions have decreased for the first time since the university’s energy-efficient power plant was installed in 1996.
To help the university achieve its goals, new construction and major renovations are being designed with the goal of pushing beyond 30 percent less energy cost than a standard off-campus building. The new chemistry building slated for completion in 2010, the redeveloped Butler College student residential complex that opened this fall and the Sherrerd Hall academic building that opened in 2008 all meet the equivalent of the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver certification.
About 300 members of the university have participated in a new transportation demand management program that provides incentives like gas cards for car poolers and subsidies for bus and train passes. Campus shuttle buses now run on 20 percent biodiesel, and a replacement program calling for low-emission vehicles in the campus fleet is in progress. Six low-speed electric vehicles have been purchased to replace internal combustion engine utility vehicles, joining a zero-emission fleet of utility and golf carts on campus.
The university also is working to reduce its overall fleet of vehicles and wants to decrease the number of cars commuting to campus 10 percent by 2020.
Other recent initiatives cover a broad range of activities including green purchasing, buying more local food, recycling, and planting trees.
School officials said the emphasis on the environment is also an important component of faculty research, environmental courses and student activities.