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College Campuses Make Progress on Energy

March 21, 2017

Carbon footprints and whole-building lifecycles are likely the next challenges.

Higher education institutions have reduced their energy consumption by 8%, and related emissions per square foot have dropped 14% from a 2007 baseline, according to a study by Sightlines and the University of New Hampshire (UNH) Sustainability Institute.

However, there is considerable work left to do. Other findings from the study include:

  • Campuses may be underreporting carbon footprints by more than 30%. Campuses generally adhere to international carbon reporting standards, but these standards “traditionally give an incomplete and inconsistent representation of an institution’s carbon emissions by making the reporting of all ‘upstream’ and ‘downstream’ emissions voluntary,” the study authors note. Few campuses report emissions associated with purchasing, construction, capital reinvestment or demolition, and the ensuing underreporting of emissions leads to missed opportunities for impact on greenhouse gas reductions.
  • Sustainability policies don’t cover the entire building lifecycle. New construction projects usually adhere to formal sustainability policies, but other phases of the building lifecycle typically do not. The study notes that 80% of Second Nature Carbon Commitment institutions have committed all new construction to a minimum level of LEED Silver, but there are rarely formal policies covering the daily operations, capital reinvestment or demolition of buildings. “This represents a missed opportunity to control costs while adding value,” the study says.
  • Much potential for sustainability gains remains. “For example, there is opportunity to pay greater attention to sustainability during capital reinvestment and demolition phases, as the need to invest in existing buildings is projected to increase substantially in the coming years,” the study says. “Limiting net space growth may be an important approach to managing the campus impact and increasing overall institutional sustainability from both environmental and financial perspective.”

The study was based on data from the 377 colleges and universities that provide data to Sightlines, the largest third-party-verified database of higher education facilities data in North America.

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