April 24, 2019

University Releases Sustainability Plan; Goal is Zero Emissions by 2046

By Anne Levin

Just days after the town of Princeton released a draft of its Climate Action Plan, Princeton University has announced its own Sustainability Action Plan. Among the goals of the initiative, which was released Monday, April 22, is zero emissions by 2046. That year is the University’s 300th anniversary.

The plan builds on efforts in the past decade to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, design energy efficient buildings, encourage alternatives to single occupancy vehicles, and practice sustainable dining, construction, and other operations.

“Our global environment faces challenges of unprecedented scope and complexity,” University President Christopher L. Eisgruber said in a press release. “Princeton can play a leadership role not only by developing innovative solutions through teaching and research, but also by establishing best practices in our campus operations and community behaviors that serve as models for the world. This plan sets out ambitious but attainable goals that will guide us toward a more sustainable future.”

Among the aims outlined in the plan is reducing water usage. The 2046 goal is a 26 percent reduction in annual campus water usage from 2008. The management of storm water  will be expanded. Waste will be reduced through reuse and recycling. While the University has modestly decreased its overall campus landfill waste, its recycling rates have declined “due to behavioral, market, and programmatic challenges,” the release reads. “Princeton will redouble its efforts to study successful strategies on campus and develop ambitious targets.”

The University’s first formal commitment to these issues was its 2008 Sustainability Plan, which introduced the “Campus-as-Lab” initiative that encourages faculty, staff, and students to test sustainable strategies. Efforts have resulted in energy cost savings, a reduction of carbon dioxide emissions to 1990 levels, fewer single occupancy cars driving to campus, declines in waste volume, and an emphasis on sustainable and local purchasing and products.

Shana Weber, the University’s Director of Sustainability, said the new plan will continue those goals and push them forward. “This plan is ambitious, with an intent to inform three decades of institutional decision-making and individual-scale action,” she said. “At the same time, the plan strives to be honest about clear progress as well as intractable challenges as we grapple and tinker with solutions.”

The 38-page plan highlights initiatives already in place, including the University’s 27-acre solar field, which produces nearly six percent of its total annual electricity needs; its geo exchange wells, currently installed at Lakeside Apartments, Lawrence Apartments, and the Lewis Arts complex; the retrofitting of LED lighting in buildings throughout the campus; a vertical farming project that resulted from a student’s senior thesis; and a rain garden at Frick Chemistry Lab, among others.

The goal of reducing campus greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2046 has interim reduction targets along the way. The emphasis is on eliminating fossil fuel combustion. The University will pursue this goal through such methods as expanding solar power on campus; converting from a  natural gas-fueled campus steam system to a heating hot water system; renewing energy efficiency improvements in existing buildings; and investigating long-term fuel alternatives.

The plan has been a collaborative effort involving faculty, students, University trustees, and alumni, among others. Sophomore Christpher Gliwa, a civil and environmental engineering major, is quoted in the release as saying the University’s plan could serve as a model for other organizations.

“Irrefutable evidence has shown that the longer humanity delays its adoption of sustainable practices, the closer we creep towards Earth’s ‘tipping point,’ ” he said. “That is why the Princeton Sustainability Action Plan is so consequential, on and off campus. By embracing sustainability at the campus level, we not only fulfill our moral obligation to act on the issue of unsustainable practices, but we also add to the momentum of the growing movement to promote sustainable practices globally.”

To view the plan, visit  https://sustain.princeton.edu/sites/sustainability/files/princeton-sustainability-plan-final.pdf.