Envisioning the Carbon-Neutral Campus: Planning for Reduced Energy Consumption at St. Olaf College

Author(s): Elizabeth Turner

Program Name: Master of Science in Architecture -- Sustainable Design

Institution: University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

Discipline(s): Architecture and Landscape Architecture, Energy Studies, Sustainability Studies and Science, Urban Studies and Planning

Admin Dept(s): Academic Affairs, Business and Financial Management , Energy Management , Facilities Management , Institutional Research , Planning/Architect/Capital Projects , President's Office , Public Relations/Marketing/Communications/Publications , Residence Life , Student Affairs , Sustainability Office

Keyword(s): Assessment, Buildings, Climate, Co-Curricular Education and Student Organizing, Coordination and Planning, Curriculum, Energy, Financing, Investment, Public Engagement, Purchasing, Research

Publication Date: March, 2013

Paper Type: Masters Thesis

Four practices impacting campus carbon neutrality are increasingly common at Colleges and Universities in the United States: faculty and students are engaging in hands-on sustainability curriculum, facilities personnel are analyzing campus energy consumption data, administrators and design professionals are creating campus facilities master plans, and sustainability committees are creating campus sustainability plans. While there are many excellent examples in each of these areas, they are more often than not disconnected processes. In order to move swiftly toward carbon neutrality for college campuses and, ultimately, the greater world, it is critical to move toward a holistic approach which engages facilities, administration, faculty, students, and design professionals as partners to utilize the campus as a learning laboratory.

The following report explores the potential for St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, to work toward carbon neutrality through an integrated learning laboratory process by:
-summarizing the climate change crisis and its building-derived influences
-outlining several frameworks that St. Olaf might employ to reduce campus carbon emissions, including STARS and the ACUPCC
-exploring and visualizing St. Olaf energy data as a first step to understanding the campus’ carbon emissions from energy consumption, and
-suggesting ways students might engage in the process of pursuing campus carbon neutrality.

Using St. Olaf as a case study provides the specificity necessary to develop the broader thesis: the campus is rich with data and stories from buildings and operations that students might explore, with guidance from faculty, facilities personnel, and professionals, to gain a better understanding of how the campus consumes energy and produces carbon. Employing the campus in such a way as a testing-ground for theoretical concepts is increasingly popular in the United States and many other countries, fulfilling dual goals of reduced campus energy consumption and raising student awareness of strategies for reducing carbon emissions beyond the campus.

Though the report focuses on energy-derived emissions, a similar process could be employed for additional emission sources such as air travel, and even expanded to planning for other campus resource use such as water and materials. Energy use is the focus of this report as it is at the center of current national dialogue and contributes most directly to climate change and resulting global impacts. While the recommendations of this work are specific to St. Olaf, the discussion is valuable to any campus seeking to reduce their carbon emissions or engage students in campus analysis and planning efforts.

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