The U Stumbles on Path to Sustainability

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(Graphic by Mark Klekas)
(Graphic by Mark Klekas)
(Graphic by Mark Klekas)

The U has committed itself to be more sustainable, but so far, it’s not meeting its own green goals.

The U signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), an initiative committed to ensure a carbon neutral campus by 2050. The plan includes sub-goals to keep the university on track and the next installment is to lower 2007’s recorded carbon footprint by 25 percent by the year 2020.

But as of 2012 — the most recent available date from the ACUPCC — the U had actually increased its carbon emissions since 2007. The total increase was 68,240 metric tons of CO2, equivalent to emissions from 6,226 homes annually, according to the EPA.

This energy usage has broad implications. According to the 2010 Community Carbon Footprint Report, the U generated 16 percent of Salt Lake City’s total emissions. That number was reported before many new campus buildings were completed. The Spencer Fox Eccles Business Building, the new Student Life Center and the Marriott Honors Dorms, were all finished after the 2012 report and more buildings are on the way. The Crocker Science Center, the S.J. Quinney College of Law, the basketball training facility, Lassonde Studios and the new wing of the Huntsman Cancer Institute, are all in progress and will generate more energy.

Jeff Wrigley, energy manager for the U’s Facilities Management, said the U is currently focused on making buildings energy efficient. According to a February article from The Daily Utah Chronicle, Wrigley said “It’s far more economical at this point in time to conserve our usage than to replace it completely with clean energy.”

Sergio Rodriguez-Orellana, a freshman in computer science, agreed with Wrigley’s sentiment, but wants more to be done to make the campus carbon neutral.

“The cost of powering the campus on solar alone is insane,” he said. “In a more realistic sense, I don’t think that would be a solution — at least, not with solar panels right now.”

The U’s most prominent solar panels are on the roof of the Marriott Library. However, according to a Daily Utah Chronicle article from March, those panels only cover 0.6 percent of the library’s total energy.

Chelsea Gibbs, a freshman in biomedical engineering, said the new buildings’ energy output must be accounted for in the long run.

“Our school is very concerned about progress,” Gibbs said. “But we’re not compensating for the buildings we have on campus, we’re just increasing the size of the campus.”

Avisha Sabaghian, a sophomore in political science, is hopeful the U will be carbon neutral, but is reluctant to say it will happen.

“Maybe they’re just procrastinating, and it’ll get done three months before 2050,” Sabaghian said.

The U’s Sustainability Office, and Facilities Management, were unavailable for comment.

t.almond@chronicle.utah.edu

@SeymourSkimmer

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