St. Mary’s College of Maryland has created a very specific plan to achieve climate neutrality by 2020, committing to reducing its baseline greenhouse gas emissions by 30% and offsetting the remainder through off-campus investments. This plan, known formally as the Climate Action Plan, was created with input from faculty, staff, and students, and was submitted January 12 to the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment reporting site. Upon submission, St. Mary’s joins 361 peer institutions of higher education that are at the forefront of the battle against climate change.
“Environmental stewardship is a key element of St. Mary’s College’s mission,” said President Joseph R. Urgo. “As part of that mission, St. Mary’s has always embraced civic mindedness; and given the world’s evolving issues, I believe that this plan supports those traditions.”
Most of St. Mary’s’ emissions stem from three areas: transportation (25.4%), purchased electricity (52.4%), and oil and propane consumption (17%). Some examples of the actions defined in the plan include energy efficiency upgrades, such as lighting upgrades and heating and cooling system improvements; promoting behavioral and operational changes; and investing in on-campus renewable energy projects.
The college has a long history of environmentally-oriented campus improvements. Since 1984, it has reduced its storm water runoff by 50%, steadily improving the local environment through reforestation and the creation of meadows, infiltration ponds, and plant buffer zones. In 2007, the college completed its first energy performance contract, reducing annual consumption of electricity by 16.5%, heating oil by 24%, and water by 35%. That same year, the students voted to begin taxing themselves to provide funds for the campus to offset 100% of the college’s electricity consumption with renewable energy credits. Furthermore, the student body also provided half of the funding for the installation of a geothermal heat pump system under the new James P. Muldoon River Center.
In 2008, St. Mary’s became the first college in Maryland to be awarded the Certification in Environmental Planning from the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program. The college is also the site of one of two pilot programs for green buildings funded by the state of Maryland, with Goodpaster Hall receiving LEED Silver certification. Since 2007, the college has been recognized as part of the EPA Green Power Partnership. And in 2010, the college was one of four Maryland Green Registry Leadership Award Winners.
“We will use this document to guide us in sustainability initiatives for the next 10 years,” said Elisabeth Neu, the college’s sustainability fellow. “We will be better able to meet our goals, and track our emissions reductions and cost savings. Furthermore, this plan will allow the college to appreciate a number of co-benefits, including long-term cost savings and improved marketability,” said Neu. “Most importantly however, it ensures that we shoulder our share of climate change mitigation.”