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Green Initiatives

American U on Track to Carbon Neutrality by 2020

American University in Washington, DC just became the seventh largest higher ed buyer of green power in the United States, after signing an agreement to purchase energy credits equivalent to the institution's annual electricity usage.

The university will buy enough wind-generated renewable energy credits to cover its use of 53 million kilowatt hours of annual electricity usage. The purchase is comparable to planting 451,434 mature trees in one year or taking 6,500 cars off the road for the year.

The university has also announced its intention to become "carbon neutral" by 2020. To achieve that ambitious goal, the university said it plans to employ four strategies:

  1. Reduce consumption;
  2. Produce renewable energy;
  3. Buy green power; and
  4. Buy and develop carbon offsets.

American U's plan comes two years after President Neil Kerwin signed the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment, pledging that the university would work to achieve carbon neutrality.

The recent purchase of renewable energy credits helps the institution progress more than halfway to its carbon-neutrality goal.

According to data compiled by the EPA's Green Power Partnership and published in April 2010, only six other universities exceed American U's coverage of energy through "green" means. The top buyer is the University of Pennsylvania with the purchase of credits to cover almost 193 million kilowatt hours; that covers 46 percent of that institution's total electricity use.

American U's credits are supplied by Colorado-based Renewable Choice Energy through the Langdon Wind Energy Center, a wind farm in North Dakota. Renewable energy credits have become one way to address the greenhouse gas emissions of electricity consumption. Purchasing the credits in the same quantity as the university's electricity consumption means that the energy it uses will be added to the power grid from renewable sources, thereby encouraging further development of these projects.

"American University strives to be a sustainability leader in higher education. With our location in the nation's capital, we feel a particular responsibility to lead climate change mitigation strategies," said Chris O'Brien, director of sustainability. "In addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, this renewable energy credit purchase also enhances the university's educational mission and serves as just one example of our active pursuit of sustainability."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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