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  • Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

An inconvenient inventory
April 14, 2010 - 8:04pm

Greenback U, like a lot of other schools I'm sure, is in for a rude awakening.

Under terms of the Presidents Climate Commitment, we filed our first greenhouse gas inventory in 2008, covering 2007.

In 2009, we published our Climate Action Plan -- our road map (OK, our rough sketch of one possible route) for getting to carbon neutrality by a date certain.

But now it's 2010. And we have to do another GHG inventory -- this time, for 2009. And (while the numbers aren't final yet), I know for a fact that it will show higher emissions than we had in 2007.

How could it not? We're bigger than we were in 2007. We educate more students and -- more important -- we've added new built space. Some entirely new buildings, and some additions to older buildings.

True, the new space we've added is more efficient to heat, to cool, to light, to ventilate than our older buildings were, but that's not the point. The point is that we've added new space and not retired any of the old, so the old building emissions (about 60% of our total) are still there and the new building emissions come on top.

The simple fact of the matter is that you can't grow your way to zero. Just doesn't work. Never has. Not likely to start now.

The more complex fact is that this is going to be a political problem. The suits (I don't call them "hats" any more) at Greenback feel like they've been doing right things for the last couple of years (in part at my urging), and the new inventory numbers are going to feel to them like a punch in the gut. They've been warned in the past that something like this would happen, but warnings aren't reality. Reality hits harder.

So, somehow, I now need to inoculate my management structure against the numbers they're going to see. I've got to get them comfortable with the explanation for the bad news before that news actually becomes available. In fact, I've got to get them sufficiently comfortable that they can not only acknowledge the numbers and justify them as an intermediate stage on the road to carbon neutrality, but that they can also see their way clear to publishing those numbers to the world.

It's going to take a certain amount of footwork. Or creativity. Or something.


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