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Taking Stock: Greenhouse Gas Emissions Calculated

By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
January 30, 2008

Here’s another one of those great things to come out of UNH that not everyone knows about: a greenhouse gas inventory tool developed at the university is now being used by about 700 colleges and universities around the country to keep tabs on emissions.

Know what’s good about that? Keeping track provides a foundation from which action can spring.

The Campus Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory Calculator was created by a graduate student eight years ago in partnership with the UNH Office of Sustainability and the global warming activist group Clean Air-Cool Planet.

The tool is specific to the uniqueness of college campuses.

“Colleges and universities overall have a fairly significant chunk of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions,” says Brett Pasinella, program coordinator for climate and biodiversity education initiatives at the Office of Sustainability.

But, he says, even if that wasn’t the case, there’s a good reason the higher education sector should keep an inventory of their greenhouse gas emissions.

“It’s imperative to educate the next generation of professionals and citizens so they can respond to the challenges of climate change that will play out over the next generation and a university campus is an excellent 'living laboratory’ for developing innovate solutions to the climate problem,” Pasinella says.

The inventory tool is a key component of UNH's climate education initiative and the work of the UNH Energy Task Force to lead the campus in developing a climate action plan as part of its commitments under the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment. In February 2007, UNH was the first land-grant university in New England to sign this commitment.

Using the inventory calculator, UNH released its first greenhouse gas emissions inventory in 2001. The inventory went back and looked at records starting in 1990 for such things as electricity, heat and transportation—huge producers of emissions. It has been updated twice since then and Pasinella is working with other faulty, staff and students to complete another update this year.

After UNH’s inventory was published, ways to adapt the tool so it could be used by other colleges were explored. By 2003, about 10 campuses in the Northeast were using the system that Pasinella describes as a “massive, very complicated Excel spread sheet.”

The calculator has undergone its fifth revision and a new edition will be released this month for testing.

The Campus Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory Calculator takes users through three steps. First, there’s the data collection and input; emissions from major energy production sources such as electricity, gas, diesel fuel and natural gas are recorded. Transportation, waste and agriculture are also factors.

In the second step, the greenhouse gas emissions are computed (formulas, conversion factors, emission factors and such are built-in) and in the third, the data is summarized.

And that is where planning for carbon reductions can come from.

“Having an inventory let’s you see where the inefficiencies are,” Pasinella says. “Once you know where they are, you know how to focus your efforts and can estimate reductions from potential projects.”

Those efforts translate into plans that can include new procedures and practices. At UNH, reducing carbon emissions is a university-wide endeavor that’s tied to research and curriculum. In Earth Sciences 405 taught by Cameron Wake at EOS, students explore ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, interviewing campus administrators and staff and then developing and role-playing negotiations in a Kyoto Protocol-type agreement to have those reductions made.

“This is more than just role-playing,” Pasinella says. “The people in college now are going to have to make these kinds of decisions for the future.”

For more information on the Campus Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory Calculator go to http://www.sustainableunh.unh.edu/climate_ed/greenhouse_gas_inventory.html.

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