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U. of I. signs commitment to combat climate degradation


Sharita Forrest, News Editor

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The University of Illinois has promised to achieve climate neutrality by joining a nationwide consortium of concerned colleges and universities that are signing the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment. By signing the commitment, Chancellor Richard Herman pledged that the U. of I. is developing a long-range plan for reducing and neutralizing greenhouse gas emissions on campus and is accelerating its research and educational efforts to equip society to re-stabilize Earth’s climate and help the U.S. achieve energy independence.

The climate commitment marshals the extraordinary influence of the nation’s higher education community – which comprises more than 4,000 institutions, more than 17 million students and millions of workers – to lead and model sustainability and good stewardship of the environment. College and university leaders who endorse the commitment agree to develop comprehensive action plans within two years, to conduct an inventory of greenhouse gas emissions on their campuses, and to initiate actions to reduce emissions in the meantime.

“Renewable energy and its partner, sustainability, are key initiatives in our strategic plan at Illinois,” Herman said. “We are moving ahead toward our goal of transforming the campus into a learning laboratory for the practical application of sustainable technologies. We are fortunate that this critical moment in our planet’s health comes when we have incredible brainpower and technology at our fingertips.

“We have to start looking at our natural world as a place from which comes not only energy and food, but also poetry, music, inspiration, creativity, hope – the very lifeblood of our human spirit.

If we view our planet as possessing those kinds of precious resources – and I believe we must – it will ultimately sustain us, sustain our dreams, our hopes and our children’s futures.”

The Urbana campus has numerous short- and long-term eco-friendly research, scholarship and conservation efforts under way that fulfill parts of the commitment.

The Earth and Society Initiative, part of Herman’s Strategic Plan for the Urbana campus, fosters interdisciplinary scholarship on environmental issues and has provided seed funding to five working groups that are developing curricula and conducting research into global warming, renewable energy, and other issues. Through the Energy Biosciences Institute, a collaboration with the University of California-Berkeley, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and BP, the U. of I. established the world’s first research institution dedicated to the emerging field of energy bioscience and the development of next-generation biofuels.

Herman also recently endorsed the Urbana campus Energy Use Policy, establishing seasonal building temperature guidelines, emphasizing personal responsibility in energy conservation, and requiring larger renovation projects and new construction projects to qualify for silver-level certification under the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program. The Business Instructional Facility, opening this fall, is being constructed to LEED gold standards with a green roof, photovoltaic panels and special lighting controls. Accordingly, the preliminary design for the National Center for Supercomputing Applications’ Blue Waters petascale computing facility, expected to go online in 2011, includes a 98 percent efficient power distribution system and a cooling tower for water-cooled hardware. The campus also is retro-fitting the heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems in many other buildings to maximize efficiency.

Students are involved in many green projects on campus, including a program in which waste vegetable oil from university dining halls is being collected and converted into biodiesel for fueling university vehicles. Curricular initiatives include student teams performing energy audits of campus buildings and developing a sustainable design for the South Farms. Interdisciplinary student teams also participate in the U.S. Department of Energy’s biennial Solar Decathlon, in which they design, build and operate energy-efficient, fully solar-powered homes.