e s f home link - e s f college of environmental science and forestry
e s f home link - e s f college of environmental science and forestry

SUNY-ESF Sets Plan for Carbon-Neutral Campus by 2015

Five-point path details 40 initiatives that will drive the College's net CO2 emissions to zero in the next six years

The SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) has developed a Climate Action Plan that will use a combination of renewable energy projects, sustainable construction, energy conservation and managed forestland to make the college carbon neutral by 2015.

ESF took the unusual step of involving students in the formulation of the plan, which was to be submitted Sept. 15 to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education as part of the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC).

"Most educational institutions hired consultants to assist in the formulation of their plans," said ESF President Cornelius B. Murphy, Jr. "We relied largely on our students, faculty and staff. Our final action plan was actually synthesized by a student and framed by a student."

Undergraduate Justin Heavey, a junior majoring in environmental studies (environmental policy, planning and law) and minoring in renewable energy, worked with ESF staff members to put together the 92-page report that will be submitted in accordance with ACUPCC requirements.

The report spells out a five-fold path toward driving the college's net CO2 emissions to zero by 2015. Some 40 individual initiatives are included in those five major areas:

  • energy conservation measures, including energy audits, renovations, technology and facility upgrades;
  • alternative energy projects on the main campus and regional campuses designed to deliver clean and renewable energy to existing structures, including biomass heat, photovoltaic arrays, wind turbines, and the production of biodiesel from waste cooking oil to help fuel the college fleet;
  • new construction that will focus on energy-efficient design and systems that produce heat and power from sustainable sources for new and existing buildings;
  • campus action to engage the campus community to increase awareness and reduce waste in all aspects of college operation, including travel efficiency and standardized temperature settings;
  • forest carbon sequestration, centering on proper designation and management of ESF's forested properties, in keeping with Chicago Climate Exchange and Greenhouse Gas Protocol standards.

"Other colleges and universities purchase carbon offset credits," Murphy said. "At ESF, we grow our own."

Michael Kelleher, ESF's director of renewable energy systems, said, "We're doing this without purchasing carbon offsets. We're actually deploying projects that will reduce our carbon emissions and increase our ability to meet our carbon-neutrality goal. We're taking real actions."

Robert Davis, ESF's director of forest properties, said only a portion of the college's 25,000 acres of forested properties across New York state is included in the action plan. Specific management techniques will be used to maximize the forest's carbon sequestration abilities, he said.

Kelleher noted the college's ability to manage its properties to the greatest advantage is building on nearly a century of work in environmental sustainability and sustainable forest management. The involvement of current students in developing the climate action plan ensures that that knowledge will continue to grow, he said.

In addition to Heavey's work on the plan, former student Brennan Marks, a forest and environmental resource engineering major who graduated in 2007, and student Eric Jones were involved in the planning and installation of the Heiberg wind turbine. Student Jessica Bohn manages the biodiesel production facility, and is fostering the development of a student run energy cooperative.

"Our college is our students' college. Given our educational mission, it was only right that our students so strongly contribute to the development of our climate action plan," Murphy said.

"It relates to the background they receive here at ESF, it relates to their passion and commitment to protecting the environment and it relates to their preparedness and their maturity," he said.

One of the centerpieces of ESF's action plan commitment is the planned construction of an extremely energy-efficient building that will serve as a gateway to the campus. A cutting-edge combined heat and power system will produce more energy than the building consumes. The college will seek LEED Platinum designation for the building, which will serve as a campus hub that accommodates the admissions and outreach offices, special event space and the college bookstore.

Energy for the Gateway building will come from renewable, local biomass. The system will include a 6,000 MBtu wood pellet steam boiler, a 200 kW back-pressure steam turbine, a 30 kW biodiesel micro-turbine, dual 65 kW natural gas micro-turbines and a 50-100 kW photovoltaic array.

Over the past six years, ESF has taken significant steps toward sustainability, including development of a biodiesel production facility and an alternative fuel vehicle fueling station, the installation of a wind turbine on the college's Heiberg Forest campus in Tully, and the installation of Flexi-Pave walkways, a bioretention basin and a green roof on the main campus.

The plan states that with an initial investment of $11.7 million, the anticipated annual savings of $1.3 million and another $3.9 million in expected grants and incentives, the payback period on the plan is six years.