In 2008, former university President Ann Weaver Hart signed the President’s Climate Commitment, a form promising to “neutralize greenhouse gas emissions, and to accelerate the research and educational efforts of higher education to equip society to re-stabilize the earth’s climate.”
This was followed by Temple’s Climate Action Plan in May 2010. The plan calls for greenhouse gas emissions-reduction targets to be met every five years until 2030, with a final goal of reducing emissions by 30 percent of 2006 levels.
The plan to continue growing sustainable practices continued when President Theobald signed the White House’s American Campuses Act on Climate Pledge on Nov. 18, 2015. Part of the pledge included Temple becoming carbon neutral by 2050.
Kathleen Grady, director of sustainability, said the university is currently looking into energy-efficient practices that would cut down on emissions. Along with greenhouse gas monitoring, the university is looking into other ways to be more efficient with energy, which may mean looking into alternate forms.
“[The university] is proactively investing in energy efficiency and conservation strategies that reduce demand based greenhouse gas emissions,” Grady said in an email. “By coupling those efforts with a green power purchasing commitment, the university would send the message that climate change is an urgent issue and it is willing to pay a financial premium to address the challenge immediately,” she said.
Although the recent switch to natural gas may have contributed to reaching the target reduction of greenhouse gas emissions for 2015, an increase in the purchase of green power should be the next energy change for 2016.
“There’s controversy over how green this is as an energy source, some of the dirtier more carbon intensive fuels, oil especially, has been replaced by natural gas,” said Robert Mason, a professor of geography and urban studies at Temple.
Mason said he thought using more renewable resources was a possibility, especially if Temple wants to compete with other large institutions in the city and show its commitment to sustainable practices.
The University of Pennsylvania managed to make 54 percent of its electricity usage “green power,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency, and Drexel University uses 100 percent “green power.”
If Temple allocates at least 3 percent of its electricity, like Grady said, it too could be a partner in the Green Power Partnership Program.
“If we bought just 10 percent of our electric requirements as renewables that would cost $33,000—about one-tenth of one percent of the utility budget,” said Kurt Bresser, an energy manager with Facilities Management. He added that cost is not a significant fraction of the overall budget, especially Temple’s utility budget.
But, if an increase of only 10 percent in renewable resources is relatively insignificant in cost, Temple could increase its percent of green power purchased every few years. To not at least attempt an increase of 10 percent in green power purchases generates an uncertainty in Temple’s ability to take the right steps toward the carbon neutrality goal.
Bresser said the only way Temple can reach the goals signed by Theobald last year would be to buy more renewable energy. While sustainable design for existing buildings and ones under construction is not a bad course of action, it is unrealistic to not incorporate more green power in the process—an act that could severely cut down on the university’s carbon footprint.
“I don’t know when it’s going to change but I think there will be some kind of tipping point where all the resistance against renewables will evaporate and there will be widespread support,” Bresser said. “But it won’t happen if the idea and need for doing that isn’t discussed publicly.”
Hopefully students will become more aware of the importance of green power in the operation of the university. While cost does come into play here, the price of continuing to operate at such low rates of sustainawbility and green energy will affect much more than students’ wallets.
Zari Tarazona can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.