For the last five years, students, teachers and administrators at Fairfield University have joined together in an attempt to reduce the school’s carbon footprint. A major step took place in about three years ago with the installation of a Cogeneration power plant, known on campus as the “COGEN.” The plant, referred to by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as a combined heat and power plant (CHP), cleanly and efficiently generates and produces power and thermal energy. In the University’s case, the COGEN produces almost enough electricity to power the entire campus.
As a result of the COGEN, Fairfield University has reduced its’ emissions of three major greenhouse gases: sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide. The plant is an integral part of the University’s sustainability initiatives and it successfully embraces the Jesuit mission to be good stewards of the Earth through social awareness and moral responsibility.
In a previous article on this site, we discussed the Jesuits commitment to the environment with their recently renovated residence. The building incorporates closed loop geothermal heating and cooling system 400 feet underground, a roof garden that can absorb up to 95% of rainfall, and sustainable bamboo flooring.
Fairfield University recently received the 2010 Energy Star CHP Award, an award given by the EPA to institutions with highly efficient CHP plants. This award recognizes Fairfield University’s environmental responsibility and commitment for future sustainability. In the school's publication, Neeharika Naik-Dhungel, of the U.S. EPA Combined Heat and Power Partnership Program stated that, “Through the recovery of otherwise wasted heat to produce hot water for campus heating and cooling, Fairfield University has demonstrated exceptional leadership in energy use and management.”
Naik-Dhungel continued by commending Fairfield University’s ability to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, estimating that, “The CHP system effectively reduces CO2 emissions by more than 7,400 tons per year.” This award highlights one of the University’s “From Red to Green” measures; however, other steps have been taken in recent years.
In 2008, President Fr. Jeffrey von Arx, S.J., signed the American College & University Presidents Climate Initiative, which expresses the University’s pledge to reduce its’ environmental impact. The formation of the Green Campus initiative (GCI) in 2008 also jump-started environmentalism among students. The group, in conjunction with the Student Environmental Association (SEA), plans and organizes events to raise environmental awareness on campus. New changes in 2010 resulted in the elimination of the campus shuttle, a diesel powered bus that made constant trips around campus.
This year, a hybrid electric bus replaced the diesel shuttle and has been retrofitted with a more efficient route, off-campus only. Also, sophomores may not park their cars on campus, resulting in the disappearance of over 400 cars. Though the elimination of the shuttle and sophomore vehicles may frustrate some students, many have responded to the change in the form of a bicycle. Slowly, but surely, more students rely on bicycles for a cleaner, more efficient way to travel to and from classes.
In 2009, the Sierra Club named Fairfield University a “Cool School” in recognition of the University’s continued efforts to set carbon reduction targets and to work towards carbon neutrality. Fairfield University not only works to reduce its’ own impact, but also educates students about the importance of the environment, promoting future sustainability.
The Environment Program at Fairfield University continues to grow as more students enroll in environment courses. Director of the Program, David Downie, a specialist in environmental policy, also notes the University’s plans to begin a sophomore residential program with a special focus on the environment. The residence, planned to launch in the Fall of 2010, will allow student residents special access to a series of courses, dinners, speakers and mentoring activities centered around the environment.
The future of the University’s sustainability movement relies on the interest and passion of its students. To learn more about the environmental movement on campus, click here.
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