Last April, as we celebrated Earth Day 2018, I wrote to the campus community to invite students, faculty and staff to help shape ambitious new goals on greenhouse gas emissions. As we approached the goal established by Brown in 2008 — to slash emissions to 42 percent below 2007 levels by 2020 — we knew that significant worked remained ahead. Climate change is perhaps the defining challenge of this century. Given Brown’s aspiration to educate leaders and generate knowledge for years to come, we have an obligation to contribute to global efforts to reduce emissions.
I’m pleased to report today that Brown has set an aggressive goal to cut its campus greenhouse gas emissions by 75 percent by 2025, and to achieve net-zero no later than 2040. The Corporation of Brown University approved the goal during its meetings over the weekend.
The goal is based on the strength of a plan that seriously takes into account the technical and financial realities of global energy markets; ensures the flexibility demanded to respond to changes in technology and energy prices over the next two decades; and includes a series of immediate steps to achieve the majority of greenhouse gas reductions — 75 percent below 2017-18 levels — by 2025.
The University will meet its goals through four phases of achievable actions. And, in keeping with our teaching and research mission, a central aspect of the efforts will be to engage students and faculty in the intergenerational work of finding solutions. Our work will be embedded in the academic fabric of the institution, through coursework and co-curricular activities.
The first phase of efforts, a pair of renewable energy agreements with providers of solar and wind power, is already in motion. You may have seen the University’s announcement in January that Brown finalized a partnership to create a 50-megawatt (DC) solar facility on a former gravel pit in Rhode Island and a separate agreement with a Texas-based wind farm. Together, the projects will offset 100 percent of Brown’s on-campus electricity use. Along with a thermal efficiency project begun in 2017 to convert Brown’s central heating plant from steam to hot water, these efforts will cut campus greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 27,000 metric tons per year by the early 2020s.
The second phase of the net-zero efforts, scheduled for 2022, will convert the heating plant to post-consumer bio-oil as a primary fuel, with natural gas as a backup. While not a permanent solution, recycled bio-oil, which is derived from waste cooking oil discarded after food preparation, enables a large decrease in emissions in the near term, as steps are taken to prepare for a more permanent fuel solution that relies on renewable electricity.
The later phases of the plan involve further upgrades to the University’s central heating loop and buildings connected to it, enabling lower-temperature water to meet the heating needs of the campus, and ultimately the conversion of Brown’s heating plant to renewable electricity, with bio-oil as a secondary fuel.
The plan creates a path to net-zero with meaningful changes to our infrastructure, and without overreliance on buying carbon offsets and other indirect measures. It involved extensive and careful study, and a critical component of the University’s plan is that we will re-assess it continually to ensure that Brown is making use of the most efficient and effective technologies.
The best available science tells us that the world needs to cut its emissions dramatically by mid-century or sooner to avert the most catastrophic effects of climate change. With our pledge to reach net-zero, and with a plan that is ambitious, yet technically and financially feasible, Brown will be a leader in addressing a defining challenge of the 21st century.
I am deeply grateful to co-chairs Stephen Porder and Leah VanWey and all who participated in the efforts of the Longer Term Sustainability Study Committee, as well as our partners in Facilities Management, for the work contributed to formulating this plan. Later this morning, news of Brown’s pledge to achieve net-zero emissions will be shared on the Brown website, where I invite you to learn more details.
I look forward to the work ahead in ensuring a sustainable future for our campus.