March 15, 2010

Bold new plan for confronting climate change

The Johns Hopkins University will cut emissions of climate-changing carbon dioxide gas by more than half from projected levels by 2025, the university announced on Friday.

The university will invest more than $73 million in conservation and efficiency measures that will cut emissions caused by facilities operations by an initial 81,000 metric tons a year. That’s 57 percent of the overall goal of cutting 141,000 metric tons from the 276,000 a year in emissions it would otherwise be generating 15 years from now.

The remainder of the goal will be achieved by adopting new technologies that emerge between now and 2025 and by motivating members of the university community to reduce energy consumption and environmental impact, Johns Hopkins said.

The emissions goal is part of a broad multifaceted Implementation Plan for Advancing Sustainability and Climate Stewardship, also announced today. The plan encompasses research, education and community outreach in addition to greenhouse gas reduction.

“Global climate change is one of humanity’s greatest challenges,” said Ronald J. Daniels, president of the university. “The earth’s rising temperatures will, over decades to come, affect where and how we live, the ecosystems we inhabit, our quality of life and even our health.

“Facing this challenge head-on is our shared responsibility as humans, and especially as residents of the developed world,” Daniels said. “But universities have a special role in our society and a special responsibility. We are institutions that discover, that educate and that, often, set an example. When it comes to global climate change, Johns Hopkins will be a leader in all three.”

Besides the dramatic cuts in carbon dioxide gas emission, the plan calls for creation of an Environment, Sustainability and Health Institute, bringing together faculty members from across the university. They will collaborate on research and on teaching climate change science and sustainability to students, including those who choose the university’s new undergraduate major and minor in global environmental change and sustainability and the new master’s degree in energy policy and climate. Institute faculty members also will focus on applying science to environmental policy, to public health initiatives and to practical measures that individuals, organizations and businesses can take to fight global warming.

“Just as Johns Hopkins medical researchers move their discoveries off the lab bench to the patient’s bedside to save lives,” Daniels said, “this institute will take a bench-to-real-world approach: We will use discoveries to get things done.”

The plan also includes establishment of a Sustainability House in a to-be-renovated building on North Charles Street at the university’s Homewood campus. It will serve as headquarters for the university’s Office of Sustainability and student environmental groups and as a showcase and laboratory for energy conservation techniques and technologies. The design team, with students and faculty members participating, will be directed to include cutting-edge sustainability features and to meet aggressive goals, such as zero net carbon emissions, storm water capture and reuse, and organic maintenance of the grounds.

Another key element of the plan is to put Johns Hopkins knowledge to work contributing to Baltimore’s and Maryland’s sustainability and climate change efforts. One such effort, announced late last month, is a $190,000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency–funded collaboration with Baltimore City; Johns Hopkins students will be trained to conduct audits at nonprofit organizations in the city and help them determine how to cut energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.

The implementation plan is the result of months of detailed follow-up work on the March 2009 report of the university’s President’s Task Force on Climate Change. That report was the culmination of a year’s work by Johns Hopkins faculty, administrators, students and trustees, as well as representatives of the Baltimore business, government and environmental communities.

“In response to a serious issue, we have taken a typically serious and thorough Johns Hopkins approach,” Daniels said. “We have devoted the time and effort required to do this right: comprehensive data gathering, careful analysis and systematic planning.”

The implementation plan puts Johns Hopkins on a path toward a future defined by a vision of carbon net neutrality but takes a practical approach focused on what is achievable now and in a reasonably predictable 15-year period, said James T. McGill, the university’s senior vice president for finance and administration.

“This plan is responsible and sustainable not only environmentally but also financially,” McGill added. “We’ll be getting an attractive return on these investments in dollars as well as in tons of reduced carbon dioxide. In fact, by the time we’ve completed this initial $73 million investment, we expect to be saving more than $10 million a year for years to come.”

The path to that return on investment includes a building-by-building, campus-by-campus list of HVAC, electrical and lab equipment improvements; lighting fixture and control upgrades; measures to make buildings more airtight; window replacements; installations of solar power panels and solar hot water equipment; water conservation measures; and other steps.

The plan targets laboratory research buildings in particular; often referred to as “heavy breathers,” these buildings consume significant amounts of air that must be heated or cooled to satisfy temperature and humidity requirements.

Additional significant savings in carbon dioxide emission—32,000 metric tons a year—and in energy costs will come from cogeneration plants being built on both the university’s East Baltimore and Homewood campuses. The plants will burn relatively clean natural gas to produce both electricity and steam heat more cheaply and efficiently.

Another aspect of the plan is an aggressive, sustained campaign to encourage students, faculty and staff to reduce energy consumption at work and at home. The university also will launch a parallel effort to find and implement new conservation opportunities in its energy-intensive information technology infrastructure, including desktop and mainframe computers, printers and monitors, and server farms. The IT professionals who will lead this effort will also look for other creative ways to improve the university’s technology capability while reducing energy consumption.

Fast Fact: JHU climate/sustainability plan

Projected JHU CO2 emissions, 2025, assuming “business as usual”:

276,300 metric tons per year

Target JHU CO2 emissions, 2025:

134,700 metric tons per year

Targeted reduction in CO2 emissions, by 2025:

141,600 metric tons per year (51.2 percent)

Reduction in CO2 emissions by already identified initiatives:

81,000 metric tons (29 percent of total projected “business as usual” emissions in 2025; 57 percent of emissions reduction goal)

Costs and savings:

Initial investment: $73.8 million. Projected savings per year from initial investment: $10.3 million. Total investment and total savings per year by 2025: to be determined.

Examples of CO2 reduction measures:

Co-generation plants, one at Homewood (spring 2010) and two in East Baltimore (by late 2011). Total cuts of 54,000 metric tons a year (32,000 counts toward the university’s goal; the remainder is attributable to the Johns Hopkins Health System, co-owner of the two East Baltimore plants). Investments of $8.6 million at Homewood and $34.5 million in East Baltimore; total $43.1 million.

Combined annual energy cost savings:

$6.5 million.

Mudd/Levi/Biology East Complex, Homewood campus (air handling and HVAC, lighting control upgrades, weather stripping and optimization of automatic door openers). Cuts 5,315 metric tons a year. Investment: $6.9 million. Annual energy cost savings: $1.19 million.

Ross Research Building, East Baltimore campus (upgrade utility infrastructure and convert HVAC system from constant to variable air volume). Cuts 3,227 metric tons a year. Investment: $4.64 million. Annual energy cost savings: $640,000.