Emissions Cuts

Emissions Cuts May Pay Off for UCSB

ANNA DAVISON, SANTA BARBARA NEWS-PRESS STAFF WRITER


A group of UCSB graduate students says the university can not only meet the state's targets to help curb climate change, but can make a profit doing it.

The students -- in the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management -- looked at ways the campus could cut its output of greenhouse gases. By carrying out their recommendations, the university could save $5 million by 2020, the students say.

"We're hoping the UC system as a whole can adopt these standards and save money as well as addressing climate change," said Todd Haurin, who was part of the effort.

"It's this generation that needs to do this. We need armies of people to do this," said Betty Seto, who worked on the group project along with Mr. Haurin, Fahmida Ahmed, Jeff Brown and David Felix.

They say the campus could meet the state targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions -- to the levels of the year 2000 by 2010, and 1990 by 2020. Their analysis assumes the campus population will grow from 1 percent to 2 percent a year -- the estimate used by the university for planning purposes.

Mr. Haurin said that while the Bush administration has been dragging its feet on the issue of climate change -- which most scientists believe is a genuine threat -- there's plenty that can be done on a local level.

The Bren students began their work by doing an inventory of emissions produced by cars and as a result of electricity and gas use on campus. In total, the emissions are the equivalent of what's pumped out of 8,000 cars driven throughout the year.

Already, the campus has taken steps to reduce its energy use, including retrofits, and it's saved the university $1.4 million in energy costs over the last couple of years, said Perrin Pellegrin, campus sustainability coordinator.

The Bren students would like to see UCSB go further -- and save more. They looked for ways to cut emissions and analyzed the initial costs and anticipated cost savings.

"It's really looking at it almost from a business sense," Mr. Haurin said.

The end product is a schedule of suggested actions, arranged according to the up-front outlay. The first things the university could do, the students say, are free -- reducing energy use from computers, for example.

"It's always exciting when we can have a quick payback and a large money savings. It's always a good argument," Ms. Pellegrin said.

Later efforts could include upgrades to heating and air-conditioning systems and lighting, and increased use of bicycles, rather than UCSB vehicles, on campus.

The Bren group would like the program to become a model for other campuses and for industry, cities and counties. UC Berkeley, UCLA and Yale University already have expressed interest in the project, said Dan Worth, executive director of the National Association of Environmental Law Societies.

The students' project is part of the association's Campus Climate Neutral Program, a grass-roots effort to encourage graduate students to take the lead in addressing climate change issues.

Mr. Worth said he's "overjoyed" by the Bren group's efforts, and gave the students a standing ovation after they presented their conclusions at an event Wednesday at Fess Parker's Doubletree Resort. He said while he expected there would be some cost savings by cutting emissions at the university, the $5 million saving is "fantastically impressive. . . . I was amazed by the total number."

As well as helping UCSB -- already home to several green buildings, notably the one in which the Bren school is housed -- solidify its green reputation, the students say the effort will help the university prepare for any regulations that may come along in the future, and help cushion the possible impact from higher energy prices. It will also allow students to become educated on climate change and involved in efforts to address the problem.

Mr. Worth envisages students in other departments becoming involved, too. Business majors could work on the financial model, for example, and engineers could develop technology to cut emissions.

"This starts as a small project for graduate students and expands into a campus-wide project," Mr. Worth said.

The students also want the university to establish an office of sustainability, create an environmental information management system, and assign a sustainability coordinator.

At their presentation, they wore buttons proclaiming their support for The Green Initiative Fund. Voting begins next week, and if approved, a $2.60 fee, per student, per quarter, would go toward projects related to resource conservation and sustainability.

UCSB Chancellor Henry T. Yang, who met with the group as it was working on the project, said he's "proud of the efforts being made by our students and our faculty and staff to find new ways to decrease emissions and enhance the health of our planet."

The students say they will present their proposal to Mr. Yang in the coming weeks.

Still, they know they'll face obstacles in getting the go-ahead for their proposal, even though it might save the university money in the long run.

There's the problem of institutional inertia, and challenges in the way UCSB's budgets are administered. Ideally, Ms. Pellegrin said, money from the operations budget -- perhaps savings produced by other "green" projects -- could be put toward the fund for building new facilities, so they're as energy efficient as possible.

"Our campus is a laboratory," Mr. Yang said, "not only for innovative research, but also for pioneering practices in environmental conservation and sustainability."

This article appears courtesy of the Santa Barbara News-Press.