Dec 11, 2019

Making sense of the Greenhouse Gas Inventory Results

By Andi Utter '20

What does all of this mean? Why does it matter? (I’m glad you asked!). The reason I was originally assigned to do this research was because the university needed to be able to track and assess their contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. The university uses this information to plan and prioritize its efforts and investments to minimize university impact on the environment, but also allows them to take a harder look at where it can also improve strategies to mitigate pollution. You cannot know what to improve if you do not have an inventory of what you have! So ultimately all of us, students, faculty and staff can make a more sustainable St. Edward’s.

After many weeks of data collection and continued analysis, the inventory for 2018 has been completed. Through working with multiple on campus partners, the university’s overall gross emissions for 2018 were 18,162 metric tons of Carbon Dioxide equivalents (this includes other greenhouse gasses which contribute to the greenhouse effect in this number, so the combined impact of Methane, CH4, Nitrous Oxide, N2O, and Carbon Dioxide, CO2). Sources of CO2 include commuting to and from campus, consuming on-campus electricity through charging and using devices, eating food from the cafeteria, printing papers in the library, and heating and cooling the classrooms. This is something everyone contributes to, whether on or off campus, because this calculation is based off of community members of campus, not just what happens on campus. 

greenhouse gas inventoryAmong other new discoveries, the Sustainability Indicator Management and Analysis Platform, SIMAP,  also has the ability to  calculate a nitrogen footprint for our campus. Nitrogen is important to track too - it usually takes the form of fertilizers or livestock operations and can runoff into other bodies of water causing severe pollution. The food we choose on campus from Jo's, Bon Appetit, or the vending machines all directly contribute to that pollution footprint, unless you choose products that are organic/local.Other activities also contribute to this footprint: wastewater treatment, generated electricity from fossil fuels, and commuting to and from school. The gross emissions of nitrogen compounds for 2018 were 14.1 metric tons, which is equivalent to 892 passenger vehicles driven for one year!

Based on previous years reports the university is making progress on mitigating its production of greenhouse gas production (CO2, CH4, N2O) because our net emissions amount to 0.08 metric tons, mostly a result of carbon sequestration from Wild Basin and the university campus forests. With your continued help, we can shrink that footprint even smaller:

→Try to go paperless and print only what you need to for a class!

→Meatless Mondays! Challenge yourself creatively to see if you can find delicious alternatives for one day a week.

→Carpooling with classmates, public transportation, biking and walking are all lower impact ways to get around in Austin.

→Use the food waste receptacles in Ragsdale and Hunt properly, it will save food from going into a landfill and creating Greenhouse gases.

→Remembering to turn off the lights, unplug electronics, and keep your room at a comfortable temperature also can help the university save.

Andi Utter '20 is the Greenhouse Gas Analyst Intern for the Office of Sustainability.