Every year since 2007, Furman University has compiled a greenhouse gas inventory as part of the American College & University President’s Climate Commitment, of which Furman was a charter member. The inventory is part of Furman’s master plan for sustainability, called Sustainable Furman, which outlines the university’s goals in that arena. One of those goals is a climate action plan with the ambitious mission of making the campus carbon neutral by 2026, the year of Furman’s bicentennial.
“That gives us something to shoot for,” says Laura Bain, the Shi Center’s newly appointed associate director for sustainability assessment. She is responsible for ensuring that Furman is collecting all the greenhouse-gas data and submitting it for both the inventory and the annual Sustainability Tracking and Rating System report (STARS), which takes a more comprehensive look at everything Furman does in relation to sustainability.
After the data is submitted, Bain combs through it to see where Furman can make improvements. “I look to see what other schools are doing and what programs they are implementing, and see how we can do better over time.”
To accomplish the inventory, Bain, with the help of student Assessment Fellows Joe Hiebert ’18 and Logan Richardson ’18, collect data from stakeholders across campus and enter it into an extensive spreadsheet called the Campus Carbon Calculator, created at the University of New Hampshire.
“Once we have all of the data,” explains Richardson, “we compile it into the calculator, which is set up to automatically convert our data to metric tons of greenhouse-gas equivalents Furman produces in various categories.”
“Our job in terms of interpreting the data is to understand the trends in our greenhouse-gas use and identify areas where we can improve,” Hiebert adds. “We also record this data in another excel file so we can look at trends over time and see what categories are the largest contributors to our greenhouse-gas emissions.”
The information is broken down into three scopes, each handling a different aspect of greenhouse-gas emissions. Scope 1 is AC, heating, cooling, grounds and maintenance; Scope 2 covers all electricity purchased from Duke Energy; and Scope 3 encompasses everything else (commuting, waste disposal, waste-water treatment, purchasing).
After the data is input, the student Fellows upload it to a website run by Second Nature, the overarching organization that compiles all the data for universities across the U.S. Through their website, the team can look at the data in various ways. This year, Second Nature added a new reporting platform that lets users compare their school to other schools.
Second Nature’s website also shows Furman’s metrics, notably the fact that the university’s greenhouse-gas emissions are down 20% since 2007. Furman has now completed 73 of the strategies outlined in their Sustainability Master Plan, and 46 more are ongoing. Bain acknowledges the important role of Furman’s facilities staff, who put forth an uncommon effort to incorporate sustainability on campus.
“To be carbon neutral by 2026 is going to be a really big push,” Bain acknowledges. Most of the things Furman has been able to do to decrease campus carbon emissions have been in operation efficiency, heating and cooling systems, and solar generation. “The biggest thing we’re going to have to do to get to carbon neutrality is to come up with some sort of purchase agreement with Duke Energy to be able to purchase some power offsets.”
“The inventory entails a lot of number crunching,” Bain admits, “and that makes the data difficult to hit home sometimes.” To make it easier to digest, she and her team focus on changing behaviors, such as turning off lights, riding bikes instead of driving, and recycling. “As one person you can certainly do something,” she says, “but as a campus we can really make an impact.”