GUILFORD, Conn. — Energy consumption is dropping among the country’s colleges and universities, according to a new report released Feb. 9. Published by the University of New Hampshire (UNH) Sustainability Institute and Guilford-based firm Sightlines, a leader in facilities intelligence and analysis for higher education institutions, the report shows the amount of energy consumed in the operations of U.S. higher education institutions has declined by 8 percent, and that related emissions per square foot are down 14 percent from a 2007 baseline.
Nancy Targett, UNH provost, said in a statement that the university is pleased to see continued progress by institutions of higher education in reducing the sector’s contribution to climate change.
“Leadership in sustainability has always been important to UNH, both in our practice and in helping other institutions — so we’re excited about the ways in which the report’s findings can advance a vital conversation about how to rapidly accelerate that leadership to achieve greater sustainability across higher education,” she said.
The report, “State of Sustainability in Higher Education 2016,” is the second annual study produced in collaboration by the two organizations. It was based primarily on data from the 377 colleges and universities that provide information to Sightlines, the largest third-party verified database of higher education facilities data in North America, according to a statement by the company. These institutions represent all geographic regions of the U.S. and have a collective 1.5 billion gross square feet of facilities assets. The database is comprised of 59 percent public institutions and 41 percent private institutions.
Data collected, however, show that campus carbon footprints may be under-reported by more than 30 percent. Most campuses currently report few if any emissions associated with purchased goods, construction, capital reinvestment or demolition, according to the statement. New tools and standards are evolving to encourage and support collection of this missing data — and the report argues that higher education institution are in a position to help lead a shift globally, across sectors, by engaging in this challenge.
The study also found that sustainability policies are lacking when it comes to entire building lifecycles. Formal policies that promote sustainability and help minimize environmental impact are common for new construction projects, but the study found these policies are largely absent for other phases of the building lifecycle. For instance, 80 percent of Second Nature Carbon Commitment institutions have committed all new construction to earning a minimum LEED Silver certification. Such formal policies, however, have not yet been widely adopted in terms daily operations, capital reinvestment or building demolition.