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UC charts course to combat climate change

The University of California system has set a target for all ten UC campuses to return to 2000 emission levels by 2014. According to the new report, released on Tuesday, UC Davis achieved that target in 2008, six years ahead of schedule, and has set a new 2014 goal to reduce campus emissions by an additional 10 percent, to 210,000 metric tons.

At the same time, the campus has its eye on 2020, the year by which emissions must be scaled back to 1990 levels, under Assembly Bill 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006.

"We have made important strides, but we have a lot more work ahead to improve our use of resources and become a sustainable institution," said Sid England, assistant vice chancellor for administrative and resource management at UC Davis.

When fossil fuels are burned, greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere and contribute to global climate change, as demonstrated by scientific research, including work done by UC Davis scientists.

"Since 1990, the number of students, faculty and staff has grown by nearly half, while our built square footage has increased by more than 80%," England said. "Scaling back to 1990 emissions levels within the next decade - while maintaining enrollment accessibility and affordability for every eligible student, enhancing research and promoting public service - will require aggressive additional effort and demand the involvement of the whole campus community."

The scale of the challenge is significant. UC Davis owns and operates nearly all its infrastructure, including a landfill, wastewater treatment plant, electrical substation, central heating and cooling plant, wells and pumping facilities, a bus system that serves both the Davis campus and the city of Davis, and a shuttle service that connects the Davis and Sacramento campuses. The Sacramento campus has a cogeneration plant that produces steam and electricity for UC Davis Medical Center and other patient-care facilities.

In addition to the 5,300-acre Davis campus, the Sacramento campus occupies 142 acres. Together, the two sites house more than 1,000 buildings totaling some 14 million gross square feet. The Sacramento campus alone anticipates doubling its square footage in the next 15 years.

UC Davis also operates numerous off-site research centers, including the Bodega Bay Marine Laboratory, Tahoe Environmental Research Center facilities in California and Nevada, a veterinary medicine teaching facility in Tulare, and facilities at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore.

According to the new, 44-page Climate Action Plan, UC Davis will focus the bulk of its near-term efforts on energy conservation and efficiency, renewable energy sources, and ensuring sustainable new development.

For example, the university will evaluate whether to decommission 100,000 square feet of energy-inefficient space each year for 10 years, and whether to require all new capital projects to be greenhouse-gas neutral after 2012.

One major new capital project now under way - UC Davis West Village - is a case in point. The development on 200 acres of university-owned property west of Highway 113, will be one of the world's first large-scale "net zero" energy communities: On an annual basis, it will draw no net energy from the electrical grid, relying instead on a diverse array of renewable energy sources, from solar panels to biogas generation fueled by campus food waste. West Village will include housing for 2,000 students, 350 homes for faculty and staff, a 10-acre recreation complex and what is believed to be the first community college center on a university campus.

The climate plan also calls for UC Davis to evaluate several other options, including:

  • An initiative that would cut energy usage for lighting across campus by 50 percent.
  • A comprehensive education campaign with rebates and other incentives that would encourage students, faculty and staff to reduce waste and conserve energy.
  • An integrated waste management plan that would eliminate landfill waste.
  • A 100-year tree plan that would expand the campus urban forest. The campus already has more than 12,100 trees that annually "sequester" - or remove from the atmosphere - about 940 tons of carbon, absorb about 5 million gallons of water, control erosion and provide shade that saves an estimated $106,000 in natural gas and electricity costs.

The plan also catalogues steps the campus already has taken to reduce its carbon footprint, including:

  • Requiring all new construction to exceed building energy performance requirements of the California Building Code by 25 percent, or 5 percent more than demanded by UC policy.
  • Converting most of the Unitrans bus fleet that serves the Davis campus and city of Davis to compressed natural gas, which generates far less greenhouse gases than diesel.
  • Instituting programs that encourage alternative transportation, including generous bike trails and bike parking; Zipcar, a new car-sharing service; Zimride, a ride-sharing service; and the goClub, an incentive-based program that offers benefits to staff, faculty and students who choose an alternative to commuting to campus alone in a car. Together, the strategies save an estimated 35 million commuter miles each year.
  • Converting 380 acres from agricultural uses to native bunch grasses at the Russell Ranch Habitat Mitigation Area, requiring less water and maintenance. In addition, bunch grasses store considerable carbon in their deep roots.
  • Operating a zero-waste football stadium, considered the nation's first.
  • Developing an ambitious organics and food waste diversion program in campus dining facilities.
  • Creating an "environmentally preferable" purchasing program that negotiates competitive prices for Energy Star computing equipment, replaces energy-inefficient printers with new ones, and makes post-consumer paper cheaper to buy than virgin paper.
  • Installing solar panels, motion-sensor lights, energy-efficient washing machines and other energy-saving technologies at residence halls and in student apartments.
  • Encouraging teleconferencing, telecommuting and telemedicine to reduce miles traveled.

Most of the energy that the university uses comes from fossil fuels burned to create heat and electricity. Carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane are the predominate greenhouse gases  the university produces, with the Davis campus contributing about 70 percent of the total, the Sacramento campus about 29 percent and the outlying facilities about 1 percent, according to the plan.