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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Guest: UC Davis climbs ladder to a carbon-free campus

UC cannot meet sustainability goals without students’ help

Besides being unbelievable, it’s also heartbreaking to see the results of our negligence of the environment. We constantly hear about how climate change is affecting other people or other species in other places. Although it’s very saddening to hear, in most cases we are typically not affected by it, at least not immediately or directly. We tend to be more understanding of consequences only once they directly affect us, as has become the case recently.

During this year’s winter months, we directly experienced these consequences with freezing temperatures throughout the U.S., especially on the east coast. The states felt the freeze and weren’t just hearing about it occurring elsewhere. Living in California my entire life, I never thought I would see it hailing only a few months ago here in Davis and Sacramento. Perhaps it’s most incredulous that these changes are occurring in California, a place where the weather is usually beautiful but is now ravaged not only with unusually cold weather but also drought and catastrophic fires. Universally, though, we still have not reached a limit extreme enough for ourselves to decide to drastically change our habits. While we have yet to make global changes for the most rapid turnaround, all levels of effort are crucial to help combat these consequences with devastating effects.

The University of California recognizes the importance of addressing these issues in order to ameliorate and combat the consequences of living unsustainably. That is why in November of 2013, UC President Janet Napolitano announced the Carbon Neutrality Initiative. This initiative commits all UC campuses to emitting net zero greenhouse gases from not only buildings but also from vehicle fleet by 2025.

A goal of this scale will greatly alleviate the effects of carbon emissions on our environment, once we achieve it. While there are many ways to achieve this goal, including purchasing carbon offsets, UC is giving priority to strategies that will increase our energy efficiency, use more renewable energy and conserve energy.

Since the announcement of this initiative, UC Davis has taken on several different projects to achieve this goal by 2025. One step was the purchase of an anaerobic digester. While its purchase was only two years ago in 2017, the biodigester has been operating since April of 2014 under previous ownership from CleanWorld. This biodigester takes in all of our campus organic waste from the dining commons and “digests” it to generate power from the methane gas released in the process. The process greatly helps reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by using cleaner energy and decreasing our reliance of non-renewable energy.

Another major step UC Davis took toward carbon neutrality was the construction and development of a 62-acre solar power plant. The Large Solar Power Plant was completed and began running in August 2015. This project has since contributed to reducing our carbon footprint by 14,000 metric tons, or 9%. For a better understanding of what 14,000 tons of gas looks like, imagine the size of a hot air balloon. Now imagine being surrounded by 14,000 hot air balloons. That is a huge amount of gas! So while the Large Solar Power Plant does not meet all of our large campus needs, it’s greatly helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions and their effect on the environment while also reducing our carbon footprint overall.

An ongoing effort toward carbon neutrality at UC Davis is not only meeting but also exceeding the UC’s minimum requirement for all new buildings to be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver certified. The U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification levels are: Certified, Silver, Gold or Platinum. UC Davis also exceeds in meeting the California Energy Code (Title 24) minimum energy efficiency standards by setting the goal at a higher 25% instead of settling at exceeding energy savings by the 20% requirement. One example of our strategy to increase energy efficiency in buildings is with the recent remodel of the Memorial Union, which earned LEED Gold. With the addition of this latest certification, UC Davis now has 31 LEED certified buildings, and this number will continue to increase as we complete current projects and undergo new ones, too.

Among one of our largest efforts to help achieve this goal and encourage sustainable behaviors was the Cool Campus Challenge, which took place from April 1 to 26. This month-long challenge was a friendly competition between UC campuses designed to motivate and reward students, staff and faculty who took actions and learned more about sustainable practices to reduce their carbon footprint. Our campus finished strong in the top six. Here are some of our stats:

●  UC Davis participants saved or reduced a total of nearly 1.8 million pounds of CO2 equivalent during the challenge.

●  This equated to 1,134 pounds saved per participant — the third highest amount for a UC Campus.

●  UC Davis Health had the second highest number of participants and points earned in the healthcare category.

With all of these major efforts and exciting changes, UC Davis is working steadily toward achieving carbon neutrality by 2025. The UC, however, would not meet this goal without student involvement and engagement efforts that align with these values. Such efforts to reduce one’s carbon footprint and to live more sustainably can take shape in many different forms and from people of every kind of background. Every effort toward reducing your carbon footprint is a significant step toward living a greener life and allowing our planet to replenish itself.

Written by: Sheila Michelle Perez

The writer is a fourth-year student majoring in sustainable environmental design and Carbon Neutrality Initiative fellow at UC Davis.


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