American University Pledges to be Carbon Neutral by 2020

Target date is one of the most ambitious plans in the nation for doctorate-granting institutions

WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 14, 2010)—American University plans to neutralize greenhouse gas emissions and become a carbon-neutral campus by 2020.


American University, Northern Arizona State University, Antioch University, and the University of Montana are the only doctorate-granting universities with aggressive 2020 carbon neutrality dates. American University's plan is one of the most ambitious plans in the nation for a large, urban campus without an engineering or agriculture school. AU is the first university in Washington, D.C. to announce a carbon-neutrality plan.

To achieve carbon neutrality by 2020, American University plans to employ four strategies:
- Reduce consumption
- Produce renewable energy
- Buy green power
- Buy/develop carbon offsets

American University's plan, released today, comes two years after President Neil Kerwin signed the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) pledging that AU would work to achieve carbon neutrality. Of the 685 signers, 200 have submitted plans thus far. Many plans call for carbon neutrality by 2025, 2040, or 2050.

"We have used the geographical limitations of our urban 84-acre campus in the nation's capital to our advantage to more aggressively pursue renewable energy and carbon offsets," said Chris O'Brien, director of sustainability. "Of the few plans that call for earlier carbon neutral dates, American University's size, location, and academic focus make our active pursuit of sustainability distinctive."

A recent purchase of wind-generated renewable energy credits equivalent to 100 percent of the university's annual electricity usage has already helped the university progress more than halfway towards its carbon-neutrality goal.

The ACUPCC requires signatories to implement at least two of seven recommended tangible actions within two years of signing the commitment. American University has implemented five:
1. Adopted a green building policy
2. Adopted a sustainable purchasing policy
3. Encouraged public transit
4. Purchased renewable energy credits
5. Adopted measures to reduce waste

Sustainability isn't a buzzword at American University; it's a culture visible in everything from how public safety officers patrol the campus to how the residence halls are cleaned. It's a dedication to environmental and social responsibility exemplified by the new LEED gold-designed building for the nation's largest School of International Service and programs that teach filmmakers how to tell the earth's stories while caring for the planet and its wildlife.

American University's push toward sustainability began in the ‘90s with a rededicated focus to the original campus plan, designed by Frederick Law Olmstead. The university revived Olmstead's original design to incorporate more gardens and green space across campus. AU signed the Talloires Declaration in 2006, the first official statement made by university presidents, chancellors, and rectors of a commitment to environmental sustainability in higher education. In 2009, AU became a charter participant in STARS—the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System.

Currently, American University is participating in a pilot program with the US Green Building Council to develop a streamlined approach to green building certification for campuses. A team is working to certify 30 AU buildings to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards.

In addition, the university will soon install a wind turbine and a steam turbine to reduce its carbon emissions. This summer, the university will be the first in the metropolitan area to install the Vegawatt, which will take used cooking oil from the dining hall and convert it, on site, to electricity and hot water.

AU's sustainability programs are earning increased recognition too. This spring, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) honored AU as one of the top 54 colleges in its 2009-2010 College and University Green Power Challenge. The university recently placed third in RecycleMania, edging out more than 600 colleges in a competition to reduce waste though recycling. AU is also included in the Princeton Review's just-released Guide to Green Colleges.

Located in Washington D.C., American University is a leader in global education, enrolling a diverse student body from throughout the United States and more than 140 countries and providing opportunities for academic excellence, public service, and internships in the nation's capital and around the world.

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