Southern Miss will save $273 million by being ‘greener’ with initiative
The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) is the only university in the state and one of the few in the country that is an official “green school” by virtue of having adopted a Climate Action Plan (CAP) that will greatly reduce the school’s carbon footprint by improving energy efficiency and other measures.
“Being the first university in Mississippi to have a CAP is a great example and a proud day for Southern Miss,” said Larry O. Lee Jr., M.Ed., USM’s chief sustainability officer. “Plans such as these set a good example for students on many, many levels. Plans like this are the future of business, industry and education.”
The plan that has been two years in the making is 150 pages long, and includes more than 170 mitigation strategies. Lee said most of the strategies address energy conservation due to 70 percent of their emissions resulting from building loads.
“Those strategies can be as simple as individual behavior modification or as complicated as complete engineered system changes,” Lee said. “The Physical Plant Department has done an outstanding job of conserving energy over the past two years by using existing resources through efforts such as lighting retrofits and improvements in HVAC efficiencies. According to our plan, the next five years will be crucial to the foundation of the remaining 35. Those five years include strategies addressing every aspect of life on campus.”
The CAP isn’t just about feeling good about doing the right thing to help reduce greenhouse gases that many scientist believe are adversely affecting the world’s climate systems. It also makes good economic sense. Over 40 years, the CAP is expected to save the university about $273 million in energy costs.
“That’s a lot of money,” Lee said.
The process of developing the plan began on Earth Day 2008 when USM president Dr. Martha D. Saunders was one of 20 university presidents across the country who signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC).
“Shortly after I became president at Southern Miss, the university identified several overarching goals for the campus,” Saunders said. “One of them, ‘a culture of healthy minds, bodies and campuses’ led to my signing of the Presidents’ Climate Commitment on Earth Day 2008. I can think of no clearer commitment to our goals and our planet than to follow the actions outlined therein. With the full force of the university community in support, we will model the tenets of sustainability and educate the next generation accordingly. We have a lot to do to reach our goal, but the first step — commitment — has been met.”
The ACUPCC challenged universities not only to measure and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, but to identify and implement mitigation strategies towards achieving climate neutrality by eliminating or off-setting those emissions. Saunders is one of 22 members of the ACUPCC steering committee, the governing body for the national campus green commitment.
Since the signing of the ACUPCC in 2008, Southern Miss has implemented several sustainable activities that have successfully reduced total carbon emissions per square foot by seven percent. The Princeton Review, one of the nation’s top education service and evaluation companies, has named Southern Miss as one of the most environmentally responsible facilities in the country.
Lee said it took two years to develop the plan because the commitment is designed to allow institutions to develop a foundational culture before actually creating a CAP since such a plan is so far reaching.
“The actual writing of the plan, after an exhaustive research phase, took approximately four months,” Lee said.
Lee said a lot of the measures are simply “the fearless use of common sense.”
“As an institution of higher education we are charged not only with educating the future leaders of Mississippi and this region, but also to show what responsible stewardship looks like,” Lee said. “This is a great example.”
Nationwide, the “green schools” movement could have a major impact on greenhouse gas emissions. Lee said with about 17 million students currently enrolled in institutions of higher education, supporting faculty and staff, large buildings, infrastructure and considerable travel, higher education consumes about 20 percent of the nations’ natural resources.
“Considering these facts, it is our responsibility as educators to lead our constituents in the realm of sustainability,” he said. “Our goals at Southern Miss are to be the model of sustainable thought and practice within our state and region. While we can ‘do’ projects to ‘go’ green, the end-game of our entire initiative is to ‘be’ green. To do so, we have to affect the cognitive processes of our institution on every level. Every plan we make and every action we take should begin with consideration of the tenets of sustainability. As the first dedicated Office of Sustainability in the state, with the first full-time professional sustainability staff, we strive everyday to make such a cultural transformation a reality.”
The CAP website, www.usm.edugreen, has been designed as an interactive tool for any person interested in sustainability and the efforts of the Southern Miss Green Initiative. Information, tools, opportunities to get involved and personal advice are all included in the website.
Top 10 Ways to go green
1. Recycle. Recycle. Recycle.
2. Ride a bike through USM EcoEagle bikes.
3. Spread the word. Become a USM EcoEagle representative.
4. Educate yourself. EcoEagle lectures.
5. Expand yourself. EcoEagle films.
6. Re-use! Start with a USM Lug-A-Mug.
7. Get involved and volunteer through EcoEagle projects.
8. Go trayless with USM Eagle Dining.
9. Eat sustainable fashioned meals. A veggie burger now and again never hurt anyone.
10. Conserve. Turn it off when you leave.
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