President's Pages in Princeton Alumni Weekly
Building a Sustainable Future
December 9, 2009
In the winter of 2008, Princeton unveiled an ambitious plan to combat anthropogenic climate change, not only through the groundbreaking research of its faculty and students at the intersection of science, engineering, and public policy, but by creating a more environmentally friendly campus. This fall, Princeton’s Office of Sustainability issued a comprehensive report (www.princeton.edu/reports/sustainability2009/) that charts our recent progress in achieving our environmental goals, as well as looking to the future. Although I can only scratch the surface here, I thought I would share with you some highlights of this report, which is divided into three broad sections: greenhouse gas reduction; resource conservation; and research, education, and civic engagement.
In pursuit of our commitment to reduce the University’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, I am happy to say that for the first time since 1996, when our cogeneration plant was built, we have halted the steady increase in carbon dioxide emissions and actually decreased the amount of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere. While the nearly 1 percent decline constitutes only a small fraction of the 16 percent reduction in emissions that we intend to achieve by 2020, we are at last moving in the right direction, despite the increasing number of buildings and people on our campus. A key element in securing substantially greater reductions in the coming years will be a 10-year, $40 million investment designed to improve the efficiency of the cogeneration plant and the buildings that it heats, cools, and lights.
As for new buildings, our intent is to make them as green as possible—literally in the case of the newly constructed Sherrerd Hall and Butler College dormitories, where we hope a thin layer of rooftop vegetation will help to cool the buildings, reduce the runoff of storm water, and create a wildlife habitat, as well as providing a real-life laboratory in which the impact of such measures can be gauged. Our design standards for all new buildings and major renovations now specify that energy cost savings exceed the standard code requirements by more than 30 percent, with Sherrerd Hall beating the norm by no less than 47 percent.
Vehicles represent the second largest generator of carbon dioxide on our campus, and here, too, we are making a concerted effort to reduce emissions, having determined that 71 percent of our faculty and staff drive to work, mostly riding solo. To achieve our goal of reducing the number of vehicles commuting to campus by 10 percent by 2020, we have provided employees with a number of incentives to carpool and use public transportation. Moreover, the University’s shuttle system now includes 14 new vehicles that run on biodiesel fuel, further reducing the campus’ carbon footprint.
Under the heading of resource conservation, the University has undertaken—and will continue to initiate—a wide range of measures designed to consume less, recycle more, and when confronted with a choice, to follow the greener path. For example, the recession has given added impetus to our efforts to use less paper—a major feature of academic life—be it through the conversion of printed publications to digital form or the introduction of a cap on student printing. With respect to food, we have significantly increased the purchase of local, organic, and otherwise sustainably produced items, to the point that sustainable food purchases now account for 60 percent of the total. And water consumption is falling dramatically—by an estimated 25 percent in residence halls alone—with the introduction of low-flow devices.
Last but certainly not least, the new Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment is leading our efforts to become one of the world’s foremost centers of research and teaching in this area. Not only are our faculty and students modeling the scope and ramifications of climate change, they also are exploring alternative energy sources and carbon mitigation strategies, designing technological solutions, and developing practical policy prescriptions to the global challenge that we face. In addition, we are, in the words of the report, fostering “initiatives that engage the campus as a laboratory for new ideas and encourage civic engagement,” whether that means monitoring the water quality of Lake Carnegie, deploying a wireless environmental sensor network across the campus, or sponsoring the first wholly student-run farmer’s market in the country—all with the generous support of the High Meadows Foundation. To the extent that our students become better stewards of the environment through their formal and informal educational experience at Princeton—and through the example that we ourselves set as a University—the sum of their choices, both now and in later life, will help to ensure that the environmental future of our planet is a bright one.