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Posts Tagged ‘Climate Action Plan’

By Liz Bloomhardt

Originally Published December 8, 2011

 

Duke has stepped off the coal train. Nostalgia, however, has us hanging on to the memories, but it’s time to move on. For posterity, let us note the role of coal in the University’s history with a plaque then move on by renaming Coal Pile Drive.

The time is right for this change to happen. First, because the University recently ended its use of coal after more than 80 years as the primary fuel source. Second, because the Duke University Medical Center (DUMC) is currently undergoing a dramatic physical transformation that should and will take center stage of the roadway. Third, because the University has more notable people and accomplishments to celebrate than a coal pile.

To the first point, in the Spring of this year, Duke officially ended its more than 80-year reliance on coal as the primary fuel source for on-campus steam production. Steam is primarily used to heat buildings on campus. Prior to implementation of the Climate Action Plan (CAP) in 2009, coal made up nearly 90 percent of the fuel mix for steam production. At the same time, steam production itself contributed 24 percent of the total emissions of the University.

Since the CAP was implemented, a careful juggling act of steam capacity has taken place. The East Campus Steam Plant, located next to Smith Warehouse, has been renovated and restored to run on natural gas. As a result, the CAP calculates a drop in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of nearly 10 percent compared to baseline estimates. The full measure of actual reductions from the renovations will appear in reporting for 2011, which is not yet available. Presumably, 2011 should prove to be another successful year of reductions in campus GHG emissions.

It’s now time for the West Campus Steam Plant to receive a facelift. The coal pile is now gone, and so is the equipment required to move and burn coal within the facility. In its place, additional natural gas boilers will be installed with fuel oil back-up. The building will also undergo restoration to reveal the original architecture, similar to the award-winning facelift of the East Campus facility. Once in operation, the West Campus Steam Plant will resume primary steam production and the East Campus Steam Plant will serve to compliment that capacity when necessary.

Plant modification is not the only activity happening on Coal Pile Drive these days. The drive is also undergoing a dramatic transformation from back alley to front door. Not more than two years ago, the uninviting river of pavement ran by a small patch of woods, then the actual coal pile on its way to the hospital. For visitors, you may have hardly noticed the coal pile itself. Instead you were more likely to be caught in awe by the tall smoke stacks imposing on the skyline with their harsh industrialism. You might also have been caught, literally, between the tall concrete wall holding back the coal pile and oncoming traffic.

Now, there is a guard stationed under a collapsible tent, with construction cranes and heavy equipment vigorously building out what will be a dramatically transformed part of DUMC. New buildings include the Duke University Cancer Center, the new Duke Medicine Pavilion, a hospital expansion and the new School of Medicine Learning Center. In addition to the new buildings, plans are in place to connect DUMC with a spine of greenways and quadrangles that provide healing natural environments for patients, families and visitors. That spine will run down the old Coal Pile Drive and connect DUMC with the Engineering Quad and the rest of campus. A screen of trees will be planted between this pedestrian way and the renovated steam plant.

With Coal Pile Drive’s defining landmark no longer in place, it seems natural that its name should also be retired from use. According to retired University Architect, John Pearce, he officially bestowed the name on the access road in the 1990s when the Durham Fire Marshal required 911 addresses for all on-campus buildings. Prior to that time it may have been referred to as Coal Pile Drive, but the name was apparently not official as it was a private road.

Regardless of the origin, the moniker is no longer needed for orientation. In addition to being a prime naming opportunity for a potential donor, the new greenway should serve as the foundation for the new name, demanding in its own right the honor of orienting the campus.

Duke no doubt has reason to celebrate the significant milestones on the road to its greener future. Ending its use of coal is one of those milestones, and the renovation and renaming of Coal Pile Drive is a true opportunity to paint the campus landscape in our future vision.

Liz Bloomhardt is a fifth-year graduate student in earth and ocean sciences. This is her final column of the semester.

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By Liz Bloomhardt
Published October 13, 2011

Since the Board of Trustees of the University approved the Climate Action Plan in May, 2009, the annual green house gas (GHG) inventory of the University has been trending downward. The calculated 2010 emissions were 8.9 percent below the 2007 baseline. These reductions are roughly on par with the stated goals set forth in the CAP, and that document has proved to be an able guide.

Over that same time, the Sustainable Duke website has indicated some mission creep. In addition to the objectives of the CAP in reducing emissions and reaching carbon neutrality by 2024, there are now robust sections that cover campus initiatives in other areas like dining, waste, water and purchasing.

This totally makes sense.

The CAP was created as a direct response to President Richard Brodhead’s signing of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) in 2007. Sustainability, however, means more than just climate to a school’s operation, reputation, ranking and service to society.

This year, the president-appointed Campus Sustainability Committee, of which I am a member, and its many subcommittees have been directed to move beyond climate and focus some energy on the creation of a Sustainability Strategic Plan (SSP).

In addition to getting a few more points on the next Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) Sustainability Tracking Assessment and Rating System (STARS) rating submission in three years, an SSP has the potential to empower unexpected change. In the same way President Brodhead told me last year the CAP led the University to end its use of coal.

In the same way the CAP measures greenhouse gas emissions and set a target for carbon neutrality, the SSP will derive its success from the identification of reliable data streams and clear, articulate goals that can be measured.

The areas into which the SSP has the power to move however, (eg. purchasing and waste) are decision areas that quickly become decentralized into Duke’s many schools, departments and buildings. This will provide a major challenge like those already being tackled in the area of personal transportation.

In addition, without the same unifying commitment from ACUPCC that led to the CAP and similarly-focused plans at schools across the country and world, the SSP must navigate a less-defined space.

Though several peer and neighboring institutions including Yale, N.C. State, Princeton and Purdue have published SSPs, they are each slightly different in their approach and scope. Duke will be the same. Instead of crafting a holistic SSP over the course of a year, like was done with the drafting of the CAP, a couple choice areas have been selected, to be followed by additional areas in later years.

This year’s primary areas of focus are: a) water and storm water and b) transportation. The secondary area is waste reduction/recycling/composting.

The first focus, water and Storm water, is a policy area that is under central administrative control and has garnered heightened interest since the severe drought of 2007. A large user education effort was made at that time, and compliance with state and local regulations will dictate storm water management requirements. This is a safe, easy category to include in the first year. It is also regionally relevant if not particularly progressive.

The second area of focus this year is transportation. This topical area seems redundant, however, as it is covered under the CAP, and a subcommittee and a working group already exist to address the stated and evolving goals and challenges.

Finally, as a secondary focus area, a new subcommittee will form to consider materials management on campus including recycling, waste and composting. Waste management—and recycling in particular—is an often-lamented underachievement on Duke’s campus. This newly formed subcommittee has an opportunity to challenge that reality, but it’s not likely to be easy. The current waste management system is of the decentralized variety and therefore rife with political and bureaucratic implications.

Not included in this year’s list of focus areas are dining and purchasing. Dining in particular is a highly relevant topic area right now with the West Union renovation and growing food awareness on campus. It’s likely that these areas will come later, I just hope the prime opportunity to start to address them specifically, and sustainability in a holistic way has not passed.

The SSP has the power to change Duke in unexpected and positive ways. Let us make sure Duke is open to the possibility.

Liz Bloomhardt is a fifth-year graduate student in mechanical engineering. Her column runs every other Thursday.

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By Liz Bloomhardt
Published September 29, 2011

Google added Duke. Duke is in the Google circle.

Since Duke is a socially connected campus, that may not have surprised you, but would you have guessed the connection was made over hog waste?

In early September, Google announced it had partnered with the Duke Carbon Offsets Initiative (DCOI) to invest in and purchase offsets from the recently operational Loyd Ray Farms Swine Waste-to-Energy Project developed in partnership between DCOI and Duke Energy.

Before I go any further, let me remind you that an offset is a reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Under proposed cap and trade programs, for example, offsets would come from reductions that take place in a sector of the economy that is not regulated under the cap. In the currently unregulated market, offsets are essentially one person saying to another “I will pay you to reduce your emissions because I can’t reduce mine, but I’m going to take the credit for that reduction.”

This is exactly the case for Google. In 2007, Google decided that it would become carbon neutral. According to the Google Green Blog, it has pursued neutrality on three fronts: increasing its energy efficiency, purchasing and driving the market for renewable energy sources and purchasing offsets for the remainder of their emissions. According to company literature Google has been carbon neutral since 2007.

Duke is not a mint like Google with its ad revenue. Google’s role in the offsets market is primarily to drive demand for high quality offsets; the mission of the University and the DCOI is slightly different. Instead of simply purchasing existing offsets in an underdeveloped market, DCOI was established in June 2009 with a dual objective. The first objective is to develop a portfolio of offsets for Duke to purchase in 2024, the target date for carbon neutrality. The second objective of the DCOI is to act as a catalyst for innovation and standards development within the burgeoning North Carolina offsets market in particular, and in so doing, share that learning with the broader community.

To fulfill this mission, DCOI is developing projects, banking offsets and brokering offsets to develop more offsets. DCOI is engaging the University research community, students, funding agencies and Duke Energy to develop the knowledge base for future offsets models in an open and transparent way.

In the brief history of the DCOI, the Loyd Ray Farms Swine Waste-to-Energy Project is an excellent first.

It took about three years to develop and construct the open source system from off the shelf technology. In addition to destroying the methane produced by the hogs, the system powers a 65-kW microturbine that feeds electricity back onto the farm and also powers the waste water treatment process which treats odors, ammonia emissions, nitrogen, phosphorus and heavy metals. The system, which came online in May, 2011, also controls releases to surface and groundwater.

Before full success can be declared, reliability of the system must be confirmed, other co-benefits must be measured and verified and the cost of the system needs to come down so the benefits are a net positive for the farmers.

Google, it turns out, has high standards for its offsets. Their involvement on the project not only lends a high level of production value, it is also an endorsement of the DCOI and Duke Energy project in particular.

So is all of this a green-washing hogwash?

As Google’s Green Team will tell you, capturing and converting methane into carbon dioxide may seem counter-intuitive. But, methane, the target pollutant of agricultural and landfill gas collection systems is a potent greenhouse gas, 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. So the conversion works out to a significant reduction.

On the other hand, the offsets generated by this project and enabled through a cap and trade scheme are an end-of-pipe solution. They achieve a marginal improvement. Plus, both of these sources of methane, agriculture and landfills, don’t just exist naturally, society creates them through supply and demand for meat and a disposable lifestyle.

So DCOI, now with the support of Google, is doing more than just putting lipstick on a pig. But we need to remember that the DCOI is just one initiative under the Climate Action Plan and Duke’s journey toward being carbon neutral.

Liz Bloomhardt is a fifth-year graduate student in mechanical engineering. Her column runs every other Thursday.

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By Liz Bloomhardt
Published September 15, 2011

Brian will annoy you with his enthusiasm. He will irritate you with his optimism.

But, Brian is exactly the kind of person Duke needs to get this climate neutrality thing done.

Brian Williams (not the one from NBC), is the transportation demand management coordinator at Duke Parking and Transportation (DPT). He has only been on the job for a year, but he is making progress.

The 2009 Climate Action Plan (CAP) laid out the challenge.

According to the CAP, transportation accounts for approximately 23 percent of Duke’s baseline greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint. Commuters contribute about 52 percent, while air travel (43 percent) and the campus fleet (5 percent) make up the rest.

Brian’s focus is on alternative transportation. It’s his job to create the right incentives and implement programs that entice commuters and residential students to move from high impact modes of transportation (the single occupant vehicle (SOV)) to lower impact modes of transport like carpooling, vanpooling, public transit, bikes or walking.

This month’s Green Devil Challenge is on point in urging the Duke community to “Get Electrified” and to engage the latest batch of Brian’s alternative transportation options including WeCar, GoPass and the not yet arrived hybrid articulating busses which are slated to start service later this semester.

First, WeCar: WeCar is the new ZipCar-only-better (according to Brian) program run by Enterprise, and yes, they will come pick you up for extended rentals—on campus!

WeCar ratchets up the sex appeal of campus car-sharing programs with four Chevrolet Volts. These plug-in hybrid electric vehicles are touted to be the most fuel-efficient compact car sold in the U.S. They will travel approximately 35 miles (which is sufficient for most local trips) on a full charge before engaging the gasoline engine. Just remember to plug it in when you return—sharing is caring, after all!

An Enterprise representative who was checking up on the Volts, which reside just outside the Bryan Center, told me the usage on the vehicles has been good and steadily growing, as has membership in the WeCar program itself, which arrived on campus Aug. 15, 2011.

Although the program appears to be on track to duplicate and hopefully expand on the success of its predecessor, ZipCar, the reduction of SOVs and SOV trips on campus as a result of either program is unclear.

The second exciting edition to the alternative transportation arsenal is the new GoPass program. Replacing the old subsidized system, GoPass is essentially a free bus pass providing access to the regional transportation network (DATA , TTA, CAT and C-Tran) to students and those faculty and staff with offices on or adjacent to Duke’s Durham campus.

According to Brian, under the old program, approximately 600 to 700 people used public transportation and had a partially subsidized pass. Since the new GoPass program was announced, roughly 4,500 Dukies have claimed their GoPass—a plastic swipe card tied to your Duke unique ID. Of those new card holders, Brian reported that about 1,500 have used their card to access the public transit network at least once. However, more analysis of ridership patterns and improved usage rates will be required before the program can be called a true success. Regardless, the initial enthusiasm is impressive.

In addition to the new and modified programs, older programs, like the free Bull City Connector bus between Duke and Durham, carpool permits and the bike commuter program are also still available and building momentum.

Changes in culture can be difficult and can take a long time to manifest themselves. So when Brian reported that the number of carpool permit and bike commuter applications is much higher than last year and creating a backlog at the DPT offices, my first response was nearly an enthusiastic fist pump.

Unfortunately, I also know the flip side this backlog implies: it’s the frustration and confusion that comes from interacting with an over worked and stressed out DPT staff. Barriers get erected, communication breaks down, assumptions are made, progress is stunted, groups feel alienated … you get the idea.

So, we might all agree that good communication, clear information and useful resources are excellent, although non-trivial goals going forward now that a good foundation of alternative transportation options has been constructed. Good thing Brian is confident he can meet the challenge. In fact, he has already started with targeted in-person outreach, access maps for well served housing locations in Durham, maps of bike facilities on campus and informational how-to videos. And there’s so much more to come.

Lest you think I place too much faith in one man, I dare you to meet Brian. His infectious optimism for positive change will rub off and leaving you humming: “Always look on the bright side of life …”

See, we can all be like Brian.

Liz Bloomhardt is a fifth-year graduate student in mechanical engineering. Her column runs every other Thursday.

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By Liz Bloomhardt
Published April 8, 2011

The sitting U.S. president was too busy launching a reelection campaign to meet for this column, but I did stop by the Allen Building where the president of Duke University, Richard Brodhead, agreed to let me into his office. What follows is an account of our conversation, edited for clarity and brevity.

Green Devil: Can you describe the process you went through in deciding to sign the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment [in 2007, also signed by nearly 300 other colleges and universities, that set in motion the drafting of Duke’s Climate Action Plan and the commitment to reaching carbon neutrality by 2024]?

Richard Brodhead: You start by asking the question, does this university believe in sustainability? Yes. Do we believe that humans have an impact on the environment? Yes. Do we believe, therefore, that over time humans should alter their behavior so as to show greater respect for the environment? Yes.

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By Liz Bloomhardt
Published March 25, 2011

The Duke community is having a food awakening, and next year’s incoming class of freshmen are getting a front row seat at the table.

The latest in a long line of food-related events, debates and campaigns on campus was the selection in February of Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer, as the summer reading assignment for the incoming Class of 2015 at both UNC and Duke.

Having snuck a copy of Foer’s book into my own stocking at Christmas (next to a copy of Lunch Poems by Frank O’Hara) I took the opportunity over Spring break to do a little reading. Unfortunately, I didn’t really feel like any lunch after reading Foer’s book. It may be an easy read, but Eating Animals is an emotional sucker punch.


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By Liz Bloomhardt
Published February 25, 2011

Every Duke student who has lived on East Campus since 2002 has heard of Eco-Olympics. I say it’s time to spread the competitive energy and engage the rest of campus.

In its current form, Eco-Olympics is held every Fall for several weeks. It pits freshman dorms against one another in a competition that awards points for energy reduction, events attendance and recycling. The winning dorm gets T-shirts and ice cream.

The campus-wide version will require some tweaking to this model and a new name, but it offers the following benefits: a) It will build community spirit. b) It will engage non-residential populations. c) It will provide incentive to participate in existing programs. And d) it will put real data into the public domain.

Let’s look at each point.

Mundane activities like recycling your office paper, turning off the lights or commuting to the office aren’t necessarily fun by themselves. Right now, you might be inclined to do them out of habit, because it’s convenient or because you derive satisfaction from doing things that are socially acceptable and encouraged. Now, if you get a group of friends or colleagues together, these activities can become a bonding experience. Get yourself a rival, and the passion to achieve naturally gets kicked up a notch. An Eco-Olympics for all of Duke should provide both the “Kumbaya” kind of community building and the kind of community bonding that only rivalry-leading-to-positive-social-change can build. Plus, this would be a program we could totally brag about!

Next, Duke University is composed of some 15,000 undergraduate and graduate students, only about 10 percent of whom are freshmen living on East Campus. That means there is a significant, untapped population just waiting to be engaged.

At a graduate student retreat in January, students in a roundtable discussion on sustainability from such schools as the Fuqua School of Business and Sanford School for Public Policy were like, “Yea, I would want to compete against other schools at Duke, but I also need to know that my actions are making a difference.” Staff members want in, too; I know they do, and well, fine, we can let the professors play as well.

Which brings me to the next point: incentive. This is not about grades, but about points, and it runs both ways. On the competitor side there is also glory, a sense of moral righteousness and camaraderie (we’ll get to prizes in a second). On the University side, the competition would highlight existing programs like carpool incentives and award points for enrolling members. It could also measure tons of trash diverted to recycling programs or percentage reductions in energy or water use due to conservation measures or changes in behavior.

Finally, and most importantly, the real data that is already being tracked by the service sectors of the University would be used, displayed, digested and owned by everyone.

It’s time to open the floodgates and let the data out!

Facilities Management is migrating its data to a user-friendly platform that will have limited access and that should be out of beta in a couple months. This data could be easily mined and stripped of cost-sensitive information for display on dashboards across campus. (On a side note: Dashboards are not new, and it’s a shame we don’t have any yet. Let’s get on that.) The competition data can also be available through an online portal so users can interact with it.

Some work will have to be done to migrate other data streams—like waste and recycling tonnage—to the existing metered utility data, but this is an investment worth making if Duke is serious about all aspects of sustainability. And I think we are.

The detractors to this egalitarian proposal might mention that Sustainable Duke already engages the community by sending out Green Devil Challenges to members of the Duke community who have signed the sustainability pledge. I counter: These challenges are voluntary and do not measure action, but they are a good start and should be included in the competition.

Despite the myriad benefits of a University-wide Eco-Olympics, this program will likely cost money. We should evaluate the associated costs, with the understanding that we will reap the rewards of the investment with positive publicity (hard to quantify monetarily), decreased operating expenses and lower cost of offsets in 2024, the date set for carbon neutrality. The community is also likely to learn a great deal in the process. Knowledge in the service of society….

But wait, there’s more; I haven’t gotten to prizes yet. They should be good—more than, but also including a trophy—certainly more than T-shirts and ice cream. That is all. Discuss.

Liz Bloomhardt is a fourth-year graduate student in mechanical engineering. Her column runs every other Friday.

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