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Energy and Climate Action at Agnes Scott

Agnes Scott is planning and implementing a number of activities to reduce our energy use in all buildings across campus.  We have focused on energy efficiency first, establishing a priority list of equipment replacement and building envelope improvement projects.  We are now funding these projects through a Green Revolving Fund.  We have also recently invested in renewable energy projects on campus. 

Our energy reduction efforts stem from the college’s commitment to the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), now called the Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments. Agnes Scott signed the Commitment  in September 2007. We submitted our baseline greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions inventory on September 15, 2008. Our initial Climate Action Plan (CAP) was completed during the summer of 2009 and was submitted on-line to the ACUPCC on the September 15, 2009 deadline. In that CAP we projected a deadline of 2037 for the college to be climate neutral. As of the FY 2017-2018 the college had reduced its carbon footprint by 30% and we are on track for 50% reduction by 2022. You can track our progress on the Second Nature website here.

What's in a CAP?

A climate action plan(CAP)  is a roadmap for how an institution will reduce its net carbon emissions to zero from the baseline number over a certain period of time. Universities and colleges generate carbon emissions from structures that occupy people, specifically by purchasing energy created by burning fossil fuels, utilizing greenhouse gas-emitting refrigerants, and 'indirect' sources like travel for study abroad and daily commuting. 

Agnes Scott's CAP strategy is to reduce our energy usage by installing higher-efficiency equipment and promoting energy-conservation behaviors, while increasing our renewable energy sources. Lastly the college will use carbon offsets to cover the emissions that are impossible to avoid or replace. The order of these actions is vital: first we reduce our total energy demand by energy conservation (education) and energy efficiency (equipment upgrades), then we purchase renewable energy to transition our energy consumption to clean sources, and finally, we purchase carbon credits to offset the portion of our footprint we cannot avoid with efficiency, conservation, or renewables.

Background 

In 2007, President Elizabeth Kiss signed the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), therefore, ambitiously committing Agnes Scott College to carbon neutrality by the date of 2037. The commitment, since then, has transformed to simply the Climate Leadership Commitment facilitated by the non-profit organization Second Nature. The transformation, however, did not only come in the form of a name change, we have also committed ourselves to setting a resilience strategy for our community, in conjunction with the City of Decatur. (ADD LINK TO CRP?) Despite challenges like campus community growth, and lack of innovative and robust renewable energy programs in Georgia, we have made significant progress toward our goal to reduce our net campus carbon footprint to zero. Furthermore, upon further analysis, the Center for Sustainability staff has revisioned the trajectory of our journey to carbon neutrality and gained further insight on solutions that fit our unique context.

Our Goal

 Agnes Scott will achieve carbon neutrality by no later than 2037 by implementing energy reduction strategies, investing in renewable sources of energy, educating the campus community to be mindful stewards of the environment, promoting cleaner modes of transportation, and developing community-focused carbon offsets that have regenerative benefits to our vulnerable region.

The Process

After completing the GHG emissions inventory, Agnes Scott’s Sustainability Steering Committee (SSC) requested that the energy efficiency and alternative energy subcommittee that guided the GHG process also guide the CAP. This subcommittee has been led by three co-chairs: the college’s director of facilities, a professor of chemistry and an alumna who served as an elected member of the state’s Public Service Commission. The co-chairs and other volunteer subcommittee members met several times in the fall of 2008 to discuss what information needed to be gathered in order to decide on potential carbon emissions reduction goals for the college. The same student intern who conducted the GHG emissions inventory collected the necessary information as a work study student in 2008-2009. She and the college’s sustainability staff also reviewed climate action plans and reports, along with case studies from other colleges and universities. 

 In the spring semester of 2009, the subcommittee began to look at potential reduction goals and agreed to report on several reduction scenarios to the full SSC and the Board of Trustees. The reduction estimates in these scenarios were based on specific research, such as:

 - Conservation: estimates based on available information about past reductions at Agnes Scott due to conservation messaging. Also based on research about reductions achieved at other colleges and universities. 

- Efficiency: estimates based on a three-phase mechanical retrofitting plan combined with energy saving projects from the deferred maintenance plan. 

- Renewable energy: estimates based on a professional assessment of potential roof-top solar capacity. 

 The SSC and Trustees responded with support for the scenarios, asking the subcommittee to return with refined reduction options.

Renewed Goal for Climate Action Plan - Scopes 1 & 2 

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50% goal by 2022

Considering only the energy-related sources of our carbon footprint, we can observe significant progress toward our carbon neutrality goal. As depicted in the chart below, we have already decreased our carbon footprint by over 30% in our Scopes 1 and 2 emissions. With aggressive and consistent effort in energy efficiency projects, renewable energy, and most importantly, sustainability education, focusing heavily on energy conservation, we are bound to meet our goal of 100% reduction of our carbon footprint by 2037. The incoming class’ graduation year happens to coincide with the year that we track to meet our 50% goal in our Scopes 1 and 2 emissions: 2022.Therefore, this academic year has marked a critical opportunity for us to engage new and prospective students in contributing positively to our sustainability goals. Many of our first-year students are excited to know that they are ushering us into this major milestone on our carbon neutrality journey and have begun demonstrating interest in working with our office and remaining engaged in the implementation of our climate action plan.

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How do we get from here to 50%? (16.60% in Scopes 1+2)

Potential scenario:

● Conservation: Research from Radford University shows that consistent active interventions (posters and stickers to remind community members to unplug, film screenings, demonstrations) and normalizing energy-conservative behavior can result in up to 10% reductions in energy demand. To be conservative, we can assume that we will achieve a 5% reduction, or 280 metric tons of CO2e annually. (4% reduction in Scopes 1+2)
●  Efficiency: Preliminary research done for the Green Revolving Fund estimates that completing the transition to LED for all remaining light fixtures would reduce our footprint by about 150 metric tons of CO2e (2% reduction in Scopes 1 +2)
●  Renewable Energy: Approximately 1.15 MW solar photovoltaics (assuming 1200 hrs.) will reduce our energy consumption from fossil fuels by 730 metric tons (10% reduction in Scopes 1+2)

Since we joined the Climate Leadership Commitment, we have focused on the most accessible efficiency projects (lighting replacement, laboratory efficiency, etc), however we must address our most carbon-intensive and energy inefficient buildings, reducing their energy consumption through efficiency upgrades, then pairing them with renewable energy sources scaled to completely cover its energy demand.

Furthermore, as climate chaos ensues and our region begins to feel more heavily the devastation that has already been experienced worldwide (disproportionately in the Global South), these solutions are not only crucial for the integrity of our commitment, but also to the resilience of our community to disaster.