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Sustaining Sustainability – What’s Next?

By Louise Gava ’07

Ten years ago, students began making proposals for a sustainability coordinator, buying even five percent of our electricity from renewable sources seemed a long shot, and I don’t think anyone could have predicted that we would agree to work toward climate neutrality. 

Today, St. Lawrence’s sustainability coordinator can confidently say the University obtains 10 percent of its electricity from renewable sources and that we have 19 months from the printing of this magazine to publicly submit a plan detailing the actions that will help us reach zero net greenhouse gas emissions--climate neutrality.  The document we submit will not be absolute, but a seriously considered plan that outlines the actions we see as realistic opportunities enabling us to reduce our emissions. 

We know from our greenhouse gas inventory that electricity, heating and transportation are the largest contributors to our carbon footprint.  We also know that energy conservation and efficiency must be increased we can switch to renewable energy sources. 

But what will those renewable energy sources be?  Will St. Lawrence have its own wind turbine?  Will all the roofs be covered with solar panels?  Will we burn some form of biomass?  Perhaps.  As with any good investment portfolio, diet or music collection, we must diversify. If a new technology appears 20 years from now and we want to switch from one of the older energy production technologies, it will be less resource-intensive if we can convert only partially.  Besides, diversification provides multiple teaching tools.  

We are also examining ways to reduce carbon emissions from faculty and student transportation.  Conservation Council, the tripartite committee responsible for energy use and sustainability issues on campus, is working on a comprehensive transportation plan that would reduce faculty commuting, use of student vehicles on campus, and transportation during breaks.

How will St. Lawrence finance these projects? In November 2007, the William J. Clinton Foundation announced a $5 billion grant designed to assist signatories of the Presidents Climate Commitment in meeting their goals of climate neutrality.  St. Lawrence is fortunate to be one of the pilot schools; we hope to make major strides in sustainability though performance contracting offered by energy services companies.

Although carbon and other greenhouse gasses are currently on center stage, the University’s work with sustainability is not, and will not be, limited to reducing our impact on climate.  Water conservation, biodiversity, land use, social equity and other sustainability issues will remain relevant.   

In a similar vein, we realize that it would be a direct conflict to overemphasize carbon emissions from travel, for that would affect one of our aims: that students graduate with an understanding of diverse cultures.  St. Lawrence has no intention of cutting foreign travel, and thus will have to find ways to offset carbon emission associated with that travel.  We have a long and exciting road ahead of us.
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