Philadelphia University Unveils Plan to Achieve Climate Neutrality by 2035

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PhilaU’s DEC Center, which opened in 2013, was built to LEED Gold standards.

Philadelphia University submitted its comprehensive Climate Action Plan to the American College and University President’s Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) outlining the University’s plan to reach climate neutrality by 2035.

Sustainability has been a longstanding value at PhilaU and the Climate Action Plan submitted on Jan. 15, 2014 formalized the University’s plan to curtail carbon and greenhouse gas emissions so they do not have a negative impact on the environment.

ACUPCC is a pledge made by college and university presidents on behalf of their institutions to pursue climate neutrality in campus operations and to promote sustainability education, research and community engagement. Signatories of the pledge are held accountable with public progress reports.

The Climate Action Plan addresses PhilaU’s current greenhouse gas levels and proposes several mitigation strategies that can be achieved without a related increase in the operating budget and which could ultimately save nearly $3 million in energy costs by 2035.

Some of the mitigation strategies include:

  • Space Efficiency—PhilaU’s campus is projected to grow by one million square feet by 2035. Physical Plant and the University will better manage available space to limit the amount of new building on campus to 600,000 square feet by 2035, considerably reducing projected emissions related to that expansion.
  • Green Power—Beginning in July 2014, the University has committed to purchasing 100 percent of its electricity from certified green-e sources. This effort will reduce by nearly half the University’s greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Efficient Gas Boilers and IT Infrastructure Improvements—Systematically replacing older, less efficient natural gas boilers with newer models and building the infrastructure to support more cost-effective interruptible transportation gas will save the University up to 30 percent in related energy costs.

The savings achieved by some of the mitigation strategies will be used to fund other mitigation strategies. In total, the Climate Action Plan is projected to generate almost $2.9 million in financial savings for the University by 2035.

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The University’s plan calls for reduced emissions by 2035 based on a variety of strategies.

“It was the goal of President Spinelli to create a sustainable climate action plan with cost strategies that assure these initiatives pay for themselves,” said Tom Becker, PhilaU associate vice president for operations.

Work on the Climate Action Plan began in 2012 when a Sustainability Committee subcommittee was formed to spearhead the University’s strategy.

Eli Zweizig, a graduate student in the M.S. in Sustainable Design program, contributed analytics to help shape the plan.  “My role was to assist in developing the mitigation strategies, calculating their impact on greenhouse gas emissions and finances, and then translating that data into the mitigation portion of the Climate Action Plan,” Zweizig said.

As an intern with Honeywell’s Act! Earth program, a campaign started by PhilaU and partner Honeywell in 2011 to inform the campus community about modernizing school facilities with more energy-efficient equipment and processes, Zweizig and two previous interns had access to Honeywell engineers and equipment needed to determine PhilaU’s current carbon footprint and its best future practices.

Building the Climate Action Plan required PhilaU to inventory all of its carbon emissions, and while there is room for improvement, the subcommittee confirmed that PhilaU was already on track to a sustainable future.

Becker said the University has been committed to operating using the best management practices related to sustainability. “From an energy-use basis, our benchmarking has shown we are already very efficient,” Becker said. “But this plan not only showcases our progress to date, but our commitment going forward. Through campus collaboration and industry partnership, we now have a publicly reported strategy in place that advances sustainability as well as cost savings.”

As part of its Strategic Plan, the University is committed to constructing all new buildings at the LEED silver level or better. The SEED Center, a gray-to-green renovated space, was awarded LEED Gold certification in 2012. The DEC Center, completed in 2012, was built to LEED Gold standards and is currently in the certification process. The University was awarded the APPA Leadership in Educational Facilities 2013 Sustainability Award, given annually to the educational institution that best integrates sustainable practices into its physical plant operations.

PhilaU’s commitment to leadership in sustainability is evident throughout its educational programs as well as operational practices. PhilaU offers innovative academic programs with a focus on sustainability, including the M.S. in Sustainable Design; M.S. in Construction Management; B.S. in Environmental Sustainability; and Bachelor of Landscape Architecture. The College of Architecture and the Built Environment teaches sustainability as one of its central educational tenets and was one of the first in the country to require students take courses in sustainability.

There are several student environment groups on campus, including the Student Organization for Sustainable Action and a U.S. Green Building Council student chapter.

To read the entire plan, click here.

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