MSU four years into sustainability effort

By SUSAN ANDRUS/Montana State News

In 2008 former Montana State University president Geoffrey Gamble signed the American College and University President’s Climate Commitment. The commitment document calls for schools to first “initiate the development of a comprehensive plan to achieve climate neutrality as soon as possible.”

It also calls for schools to do at least two immediate things to reduce greenhouse gasses while the comprehensive plan is being developed and asks for the action plan, an inventory and periodic progress reports to be made public.

This document, also signed by current MSU president Waded Cruzado, is central to MSU’s efforts toward creating a sustainable university. It has led to the formation of a 19-member campus sustainability advisory council that meets monthly and the creation of the ASMSU Sustainability Center, as well as many improvements to buildings on campus and the addition of courses focusing on issues of sustainability and climate neutrality. According to the climate commitment’s 2010 annual report, MSU is one of 676 institutions in all 50 states that have made this commitment.

In December 2011, MSU submitted its climate action plan. Part of the plan is devoted to developing a baseline for greenhouse gas emissions associated with the university’s existence. The amount of greenhouse gas emissions for the baseline year, fiscal year 2008-2009, was 77,375 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents.

According to statistics included in the climate action plan, the two highest contributors to emissions were on-campus burning of fuels that provided things like heat, also known as stationary combustion, and purchased electricity—those contributed 27 percent each to the total emissions. Directly financed air travel was also a significant contributor to the total at 16 percent.

MSU also chose to include emissions not directly caused by the university and not required by the climate commitment. These included emissions related to student and staff commuting choices and even an estimate for emissions produced by study abroad air travel.

The sustainability advisory council has not specified when MSU expects to reach climate neutrality, or zero net greenhouse gas emissions, as some universities who’ve signed the commitment have. The council feels that it would be unwise commit to climate neutrality when more research and planning  are needed to make an accurate estimate of when that goal could reasonably be accomplished. For now MSU plans to reduce emissions 20 percent by 2025. Assistant professor Paul Gannon called this a “very ambitious yet pragmatic and achievable” goal.

The climate action plan states “development of a sustainability-oriented culture and strong stewardship are crucial to mitigating the historical energy escalation at MSU.” So, in addition to concrete actions such as improvements to HVAC and lighting systems, students and staff can also expect to see an improved focus on civic engagement and education centered around sustainability and climate neutrality.

What does this look like on the MSU campus so far?

MSU has done a number of things to help lower the amount of emissions related to student and staff commuting. ASMSU and the university have continued to fund the Streamline bus system established in 2006. Parking services switched parking permits from stickers to hang tags partially because the hangtags can be registered to more than one car, making carpooling easier.

Some travel options like walking emit no greenhouse gases. MSU has taken steps to encourage zero emissions commuting and one way they’ve done this is by making campus more “bike friendly.” The university removed the ban on bikes on campus and has added new bike racks. The number of online courses is also increasing, which means that students can simply stay home to do their coursework rather than traveling to campus.

Diverting waste from landfills has been another area of progress. The ASMSU Sustainability Center runs a student-funded recycling program. According to the sustainability center, the recycling program has diverted 843,000 pounds of waste as of January, 2012 and improvements to the program are continually being made.

The safety and risk management department operates and “E-scrap” program that redistributes used computers within the university, donates them to nonprofits or ships them to a recycling facility that handles e-waste. Since the inception of the program 500 machines have been redistributed, and 32 tons have been sent to recycling.

University Food Services is also working to reduce waste. In the fall of 2010 they ran a pilot program to research the feasibility of composting. During that time food scraps from food services were collected and sent to a professional composting facility in Amsterdam.

Food Services has also eliminated trays in the dining halls to curb overconsumption and a 20 percent discount is offered for some beverages if students and staff are using a reusable cup. Twelve percent of the food budget is spent on Montana grown or produced foods, which decreases the department’s carbon footprint.

In 2009 the university established a major in sustainable food and bioenergy systems. The climate action plan states that there are currently 80 students enrolled in this undergraduate degree program.

Students from the Creative Research Lab in the department of Arts and Architecture have also worked together to build a sustainable home. The “EcoSmart House Project” was completed during the spring 2012 semester.

The climate action plan says that MSU is “poised to become a leader in transforming the world toward understanding the science of climate change and seeking solutions that result in sustainable living, choices, and technologies that will ultimately mitigate climate change to the degree humanity has contributed to its causation.”

In September 2012 Waded Cruzado told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle that sustainability at MSU “is taking great strides” and if MSU continues to make great strides it truly is poised to lead.

Edited by Riley Pittenger.

One thought on “MSU four years into sustainability effort

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  1. im interested in any information on the solar electric truck (sparky) you used for your recycling program, it was converted to electric in 2002 by the university. any info and pictures Too!
    Thanks in advance!
    David B

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