UNC Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions 20 Percent in '09

For the first year since a 2007 pledge to achieve climate neutrality by midcentury, the University has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions. Emissions in 2009 were 20 percent lower than the previous year, reflecting the compounding effects of internal efficiency programs and external market influences.

“This turnaround puts us slightly ahead of schedule to achieve our 2050 goal, which is a good thing,” said Daniel Arneman, the UNC greenhouse gas emissions specialist who prepared the 2009 inventory for the University. The inventory is available online.

Scientific and program factors contributed to the reduction, he said, but economic factors were responsible for well more than half of the decrease. As the economic downturn continued in 2009, demand for natural gas and electricity decreased, causing these energy prices to fall. This change enabled University staff to explore alternative strategies for heating, cooling and powering the campus. Natural gas and electricity generated by nuclear, hydroelectric and renewable sources replaced tons of coal and reduced carbon emissions.

At the same time, state budget cuts drove a team of building energy technicians to seek out efficiency improvements in campus buildings. Their efforts to implement low-cost and no-cost solutions saved the equivalent of 15,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, as well as more than $1 million, in 2009. The program continued through fiscal 2009-10, resulting in total savings of nearly $4 million and 40,000 tons of carbon abatement so far.

The decrease in energy demand resulted from contributions at the highest administrative levels, with the declaration of a comprehensive energy policy by Chancellor Holden Thorp ’86 in 2009 that outlined conservation practices and standards for the entire campus, and also at the individual level, with stickers on light switches and equipment reminding people to shut them off when not in use.

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