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Making strides toward carbon neutrality

Thursday, June 26, 2014

When it comes to sustainability, Mercyhurst University just earned some new bragging rights.

Along with the university’s annual purchase of renewable energy credits (RECs), used to offset electricity consumption on campus, an additional purchase of general carbon offsets is enabling the university to offset almost 65 percent of its carbon emissions, an increase of 15 percent over last year.

“Considering that the goal is to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030, Mercyhurst is more than halfway there,” reported Sustainability Officer Brittany Prischak.

Carbon neutrality – also known as having a net zero carbon footprint – refers to balancing a measured amount of carbon emissions with an equivalent amount sequestered or offset, or buying enough carbon credits to make up the difference.

The university recently signed a contract with Renewable Choice Energy to purchase its annual allotment of renewable energy credits as “clean source” RECs, rather than “wind” RECs as it had done exclusively in years past. Translated, Prischak said, “This means that we pay a fee to help support national renewable energy projects including wind, solar, biomass and hydro and are allowed to count those credits toward offsetting our own carbon emissions.”

Mercyhurst’s current carbon emissions measure 11,145 metric tons and are attributed to:  electricity consumption, 48.4 percent; natural gas, 35 percent; transportation, 15 percent; solid waste disposal, 1.5 percent; and the use of fertilizers and refrigerant chemicals, 0.1 percent.

Since Mercyhurst’s electricity consumption decreased over the past two years, it only needed to purchase 13,000 MWh instead of the more than 14,000 MWh it had in the past, allowing the university to purchase additional carbon offsets to offset transportation on campus. The latter includes commuter transportation by students, staff and faculty to and from campus, business trips by faculty, maintenance fuel consumption, and several class trips.

“This is where we were able to achieve a total offset of nearly 65 percent of our annual carbon emissions,” Prischak said.

The university purchased the carbon offsets from Blue Ridge – Landfill Gas to Energy. The company captures a gas called methane, which is a carbon emission contributing to climate change, from its landfill and uses in its own power plant to generate electricity.  

The purchase decisions were made with input from the University Council Sustainability Committee and the Student Sustainability Fund Review Board and funded through the Student Sustainability Fee and the university’s general operating budget, Prischak said.