Update as of April 25, 2019: Since the publication of this article, USF has announced that they purchased carbon offsets to become carbon neutral. The Foghorn updated this story to reflect this development. The full story about USF’s carbon offset purchases will be published on May 1.
In December 2014, USF published a 54-page document about sustainability called the Climate Action Plan. One of its goals was to reduce the University’s emissions by 20% by 2018, with plans to be carbon neutral by 2050.
As the year 2018 came to a close, USF had not met that goal. It was not until the purchase of carbon offsets that the school announced on this year’s Earth Day that they had met their goal of carbon neutrality.
As of last year, USF has only decreased its carbon emissions by about 3.9% since 2013, the baseline year, according to the University’s Sustainability Coordinator, Richard Hsu. While USF has taken strides in the right direction, factors like travel and an increase in landfill waste have prevented further reduction of emissions, Hsu said.
According to Hsu, these emissions were mitigated by carbon offsets the school currently owns. Offsets are investments in projects that will reduce emissions external to the school in the long-term, like renewable energy and the destruction of agricultural pollutants. In the Climate Action Plan, carbon offsets are called a “last resort strategy.”
Primary goals of the 2014 initiative included energy conservation, transit improvements, water conservation and the enhancement of sustainability education. The University launched into climate literacy on campus by establishing the Office of Sustainability. Shower timers, conservation posters and waste reduction information are current efforts led by the office.
While facility advancements led by the office have helped to move the University toward this goal, an increase in travel has reversed progress.
“We have seen a significant increase in travel-related emissions,” Hsu said. “Primarily air travel. Things like study abroad programs, immersion programs that are out of the state or overseas, conference travel, research trips.”
“Those increases essentially negated reductions we’ve achieved elsewhere,” Hsu added.
Carbon emissions by campus utilities, commuting and travel, or waste are identified as a priority for reduction. The 2014 action plan includes a breakdown of greenhouse gases and their effect on the planet. “Human activity is occurring at such a large scale and rapid rate that it has disrupted the balance of the global carbon cycle, leading to an accumulation of heat-trapping gasses in the atmosphere, especially carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4),” the plan says.
Hsu was brought on in 2015 as one of the first steps toward operating a more sustainable institution. Under him, the University launched a successful pilot program of on-site waste sorting. According to Hsu, the program diverted about 77% of landfill dumpster contents to recycling and compost. He has encouraged the facilities department to continue the program.
Additionally, the office’s efforts have led to a 30% decrease in water consumption since 2015, Hsu said.
Because the University has not reached its goal in dramatically decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, the school is looking to purchase more carbon offsets to achieve carbon neutrality, according to Hsu. The University will be making an announcement on Earth Day about its offset purchases.
Facility updates to boilers, hot water systems and other equipment like Koret’s pool filtration system have allowed for the University’s emissions to be steady over the past four years. But USF’s Sustainability Club’s president Liam Doyle, a senior, hopes for a tougher approach.
When asked what USF’s sustainability priorities should be, Doyle said, “I think just keeping facilities on campus accountable to all those goals they set out for themselves. And then I would say being more aggressive toward the goals.” Doyle also wants the school to move its carbon neutrality deadline from 2050 to 2045, which is California’s statewide deadline.
“I think if we do that, it will set the tone for a lot of other universities in the Bay Area and in California, and we will kind of establish ourselves as a leader in that position,” Doyle said.
According to Doyle and Hsu, USF’s Climate Action Plan will continue to be revised with new updates and goals.
The action plan set a goal of reducing the school’s carbon emissions by 20 percent from 2013’s 27,204 metric tons. to 21,763.2 metric tons by 2018. As of 2018, the University emitted 26,154 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. According to USF’s Sustainability Coordinator Richard Hsu, these emissions were mitigated by carbon offsets.