MISSOULA – Continuing its commitment as a leader in higher education sustainability, the University of Montana recently announced it has met its 2015 target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
According to UM’s sustainability report card, released by its Office of Sustainability on Earth Day, the University has successfully reduced total emissions to 10 percent below 2007 levels. This benchmark is part of the University’s plan to become a carbon-neutral campus by 2020, a goal established when UM became a charter signatory of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment in 2007.
“I am proud to be part of a campus community that understands the value of investing in energy conservation and efficiency,” said Eva Rocke, UM sustainability coordinator. “We have some incredible sustainability leaders at UM – administrators, faculty, staff and students – and the fact that we have met our first climate-action goal speaks to their leadership.”
The bulk of the emissions reductions came from energy efficiency and building improvement projects across campus. UM has invested substantially in improving the performance of its buildings through mechanical systems upgrades, deployment of digital smart meters, extending building automation controls and recommissioning buildings to ensure they are operating as efficiently as possible. These improvements resulted in a smaller emissions footprint and utilities savings of more than $400,000 a year.
“UM’s sustainability efforts are taken very seriously by our operations staff,” said Brian Kerns, UM’s energy manager and facilities engineer. “Through their own initiative – above and beyond their normal job duties – staff have improved comfort and HVAC efficiency at several buildings to a degree where those buildings are now award contenders in the EPA’s Battle of the Buildings nationwide competition.”
Energy conservation accounts for about 8.5 percent of the reduction in emissions. The last 1.5 percent needed to reach the target was met with a small purchase of carbon offsets. UM purchased a small number of carbon offsets, 746 metric tons worth, from two offset providers: NativeEnergy and the Bonneville Environmental Foundation. One offsetting project is located in Culbertson and the other is in La Plata County, Colorado. The UM student sustainability fee, as well as donations from UM Dining and the geography, environmental studies and philosophy departments, funded the offsets purchase.
“The University of Montana has been a longtime leader for sustainability in higher education, and meeting our 2015 emissions reduction target shows that our philosophical commitment has been met with operational change,” said Ian Finch, UM Dining assistant director of sustainability. “I am inspired by the cooperative work our campus has accomplished and look forward to seeing how UM continues its journey toward carbon neutrality.”
Other highlights noted in UM’s sustainability report card include the installation of a small solar array on the roof of the Fitness and Recreation Center, the announcement that ASUM Transportation will offset its 2015 bus-related emissions for the first time, and the Missoula College energy technology program’s receipt of a $730,000 National Science Foundation grant to further engage Native American and high school students in STEM education.