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GreeND, faculty consider sustainability practices

| Thursday, November 17, 2016

On Wednesday night, Notre Dame faculty and GreeND gathered with students in Geddes Hall to discuss sustainability efforts on Notre Dame’s campus.  

Paul Kempf, senior director of utilities and maintenance; John Sitter, Mary Lee Duda Professor of Literature; senior Tessa Clarizio, president of GreeND and Fossil Free ND core member; and Margaret Pfeil, professor of theology, aimed to provide perspectives on sustainability and the University’s engagement with it.

Kempf said the University has benefited from having a combined power plant, installed more than 50 years ago .

“The reason they did it was that it was efficient, and it was cost effective. It kept us from putting boilers and chillers and all kind of equipment in [different buildings]. … At the same time, they let us produce electricity while we were heating other buildings or cooling. … What people didn’t think about in the ’50s was that it really was an emissions-reduction strategy. You’re getting twice as much work or energy out of the same amount of fuel you run.”

Kempf said the University is working to reduce carbon emissions, an effort that dates back to 2008 and includes temperature set points in lead buildings and moving away from coal. Kempf said he has several sustainability goals as the campus continues to grow.

“We’re going to have to expand over the next few years,” he said. “So what’s happening over the next few years is we want to do things that are lower carbon-intensive. The University has announced that, by 2020, we’re going to stop burning coal altogether, even though it is a small percentage already.”

Sitter said the University should strive to make more specific goals.

“Given the rate at which Notre Dame is growing, our emissions may continue to grow quite a bit, and we don’t have a plan to reduce our carbon footprint in absolute terms,” he said. “It is not an easy thing to do, but it is a thing that some schools have committed themselves to.”

Clarizio said students are working towards these sustainability goals but cannot do so without any assistance.  

“The limit of what we can achieve as students is largely social rather than technical,” she said. “This is not to downplay the role of social action, but as students, a lot of what we can do involves asking someone else to do it.

“For example, we cannot draw up the plans for renewable energy on campus. We have to ask that utilities assist us. We can research what other universities have done … but ultimately we don’t have the capability to make a design or have the final say on what is implemented.”

Clarizio said the recently released Comprehensive Sustainability Plan contains vague language.

“This caused much disagreement among the [sustainability] committee until compromise was reached,” she said. “We would set vague goals for now and implement working groups which would continually improve the plan, set measurable goals and publish updates periodically.”

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