By Daniel Schemer, September 2008
So many activities in our lives – driving to work, heating our homes, cooking our food, purifying our water, disposing of waste, powering industrial machines, etc. – produce CO2 emissions, which is a big issue when it comes to global warming and environmental preservation. All over the country businesses and universities are looking for ways to utilize cleaner energy for carbon reduction. UMass Dartmouth is no exception, but first we must determine our condition in order to make improvements.
Thomas Paine is the cog in the sustainability machine. A graduate student in Public Policy studies, Mr. Paine has been a vital member of the Office of Sustainability since its inception. His involvement in so many projects has yet to garner him an official title; it’s somewhere in the middle of Project Coordinator and Assistant Director for Sustainability, but at least he has his own office in Foster Administration. His most important project right now is what will be the model for the whole campus Sustainability Assessment Report: the Greenhouse Gas Inventory.
“It’s really broad. There are a lot of things we’re looking at in trying to capture and determine our carbon footprint,” said an overworked Mr. Paine. A guideline in The American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, his task is to determine how much greenhouse gas is produced from the running of UMass Dartmouth. “The narrow scope is stuff we directly consume on campus; the broader scope is all the travel.” For clarification, all burning of fossil fuels and consumption of electricity on campus is the narrow scope. All commuter traffic from faculty, staff, and students, as well air travel the campus pays for when any member of population is attending a conference, is the wider scope.
Mr. Paine has been working on the Inventory since the summer, and compiling all the data has been no easy task. A multitude of sources, such as Office of Public Safety, Registrar’s Office, Facilities, and the Office of the Chancellor, have been constantly queried in order to obtain information regarding the campus budget, student population, amount of residents compared to commuters, traffic patterns on Ring Road, and the types and amount of energy consumed throughout the campus.
Feeding this plethora of information into calculation software designed for carbon footprint analysis, Mr. Paine has attained some astounding figures. The numbers he has been working with give strong insight into how much energy it takes to power the campus. Estimates for last year say 40,000 tons of CO2 were produced by the campus, and that includes 18,000 tons produced by consumption of electricity and at least 7000 tons from all commuters. To put that into perspective, national estimates have the average American producing 20 tons of CO2 per year.
“The first logical step in lowering your carbon footprint is addressing the greatest opportunities for reduction in emissions. It is the things that will make the biggest impact, as well as the fastest and the cheapest,” said Mr. Paine. Reducing emissions usually leads to saving money. An example he brought up is that almost all the windows in campus buildings, with the exception of a few newer ones, are still single-pane, some going back several decades. This factor contributes greatly to higher energy consumption for heat in the winters. By converting all windows to double-pane and covering them with insulation, buildings will save money on heating and, hence, reduce annual emissions.
Though the statistics are valid, one major issue concerning the inventory is that measurement of energy consumed is metered as a whole; with the exception of a few buildings, there’s currently no way to tell how much each building is consumed when compared to others. “There’s talk about the need to start metering individual buildings. That won’t reflect the campus Greenhouse Gas Inventory, but it will tell us where the biggest problems are and try to look for improvement.” Surveys and analyses are being done in determining what factors for each building might be contributing to the steady increase of electricity consumption over the last 5 years. Installing energy meters for every building is the logical and imminent step in decreasing the estimated 9 million dollars set aside for the annual energy budget plan.
The biggest difficulty, according to Mr. Paine, is figuring out commuter data and traffic information because most of the necessary data doesn’t exist. “I can find out zip codes, how many parking passes Public Safety has given out, but that’s about all I can figure out. I don’t know how many people are coming to campus without passes.” Within this dilemma is trying to determine where non-residential students are coming from and by what means – car pool, public transportation, etc.. “I have an assumption that students, typically, don’t live as far away as their home addresses. Students move and don’t need to change addresses because they have their parents’.”
The Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report is due this month, followed by presentations of his findings in the near-future. Despite the pressure on his shoulders, Thomas Paine remains optimistic that his research will be a positive forward in the long-term, goal-oriented plan for attaining climate neutrality on campus. “Once we know what we have, then the next step is to see where our biggest problems are, and that’s when the Sustainability Assessment comes in.” Expect only good things from the man known as Mr. Paine.