2021 Sustainability Report: How CU is making strides in reducing carbon footprint

New document charts progress, details goals aligned with 2021 Strategic Plan
By Staff

2021 University of Colorado Sustainability Report (Click image to view)

A new report takes stock of the University of Colorado’s significant achievements in environmental sustainability in recent years, while also stating goals for improvement that align with the systemwide Strategic Plan that’s nearing completion.

Requested by CU President Mark Kennedy, the 2021 Sustainability Report states the university’s commitment to the long-term goal of carbon neutrality.

“Environmental sustainability is not only a critical piece of the Strategic Plan, but also critical to CU’s future,” Kennedy said. “This new report highlights the progress made at our campuses and system administration in recent years and details the goals we’re working to achieve.”

The 29-page document, which will be posted here once published, focuses on sustainability in the built environment.

“The four campuses of the University of Colorado are united in their passion to create opportunities to reduce campus energy use and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions,” the report states. “The university recognizes that it has an important part to play in combating climate change.”

In 2009, the CU Board of Regents passed a resolution encouraging sustainability efforts across the system. The systemwide strategic planning efforts, including a focus on sustainability, began in 2019 and identified near-term (2026) goals that reduce energy consumption and GHG emissions. CU’s goals align with various efforts by the state and local governments to address climate change.

Recognizing the importance of reducing CU’s carbon footprint, the four campuses have tracked energy-use intensity, GHG emissions and water consumption since the mid-2000s.

CU Boulder and UCCS also began voluntarily tracking many sustainability measures through the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS) in 2010. STARS – a comprehensive self-reporting tool to measure sustainability in higher education – bestows platinum, gold, silver and bronze ratings. CU Boulder in 2010 was the first university in the nation to achieve a STARS gold rating; CU Boulder achieved gold again in 2018, as did UCCS.

Key categories in the report are:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions. As part of its 2021 strategic plan, CU set a goal of reducing GHG emissions 15% from 2019 emission levels by 2026.
  • Energy consumption. Through its 2021 Strategic Plan, CU is setting a goal of reducing its energy use intensity (EUI) in campus buildings by up to 10 percent from 2019 levels by 2026. By improving the energy efficiency of its existing and new buildings, all four campuses have seen a measurable decline in EUI since tracking began in the mid-2000s.
  • Sustainability planning. The CU Boulder Energy Master Plan is underway; it focuses, in part, on energy modeling and efficiency optimization and identifying energy conservation measures. CU Denver is participating in the Auraria Higher Education Center (AHEC) Climate Action Plan update; AHEC is currently soliciting public comment on its plan. UCCS is in the process of updating its Sustainability Master Plan and creating an Energy Master Plan, and also is beginning a full facilities condition assessment, which will be used, in part, to identify opportunities for energy conservation measures and energy performance service contracts. CU Denver and CU Anschutz use savings from the Xcel Energy Rebate program to conduct energy studies and full energy audits, which in turn are used to identify energy conservation projects.
  • Buildings. Since 2007, the state of Colorado has built or renovated 160 Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED)-certified buildings; more than a third of these were built by CU, including 10 LEED Platinum-certified buildings, the highest of the four certification levels. CU prioritizes renovation and repairs over new construction, and also has realized significant energy efficiencies in the operation of its campus laboratories.
  • Water. Campuses limit potable water consumption through conservation measures such as the installation of low-flow toilets and replacing autoclaves and glass washers in labs. The campuses also limit water use for landscaping by planting native plant species and installing irrigation controls and rain sensors. As a result, water consumption has declined both overall and at each campus during the last decade.
  • Waste diversion. CU promotes sustainability through waste diversion, thoughtful purchasing decisions and creating an infrastructure that supports reuse, recycling and composting.
  • Transportation. CU promotes the use of alternative modes of transportation and the use of alternative fuel vehicles to reduce GHG emissions from travel to and through its campuses.

“The 2021 Strategic Plan afforded a unique opportunity for the four campuses of the University of Colorado to discuss and collaborate on sustainability goals,” states the report, which was prepared by Kori Donaldson, senior director for capital construction and planning in the Office of the Vice President for Budget and Finance. “The individual campus efforts in the last decade are remarkable and should be celebrated. To continue as leaders in the fight against climate change, more work is needed to define a clear path to carbon neutrality.”

During the lead-up to CU revisiting its sustainability goals in 2026, the university will continue to:

  • finalize energy master plans, audits, and assessments and identify opportunities for energy performance service contracts;
  • conduct thorough life-cycle cost analyses of potential capital projects to identify first costs, environmental costs and energy savings opportunities, and to reduce operations and maintenance costs;
  • go beyond LEED Gold and look for opportunities to incorporate net-zero energy consumption measures in its building design;
  • maintain a strong emphasis on funding deferred maintenance projects, with particular attention to making improvements that increase efficiency and reduce GHG emissions; and
  • integrate environmental sustainability goals with social and economic sustainability goals.

As noted in the report, CU “recognizes that the path to net-zero energy is one of continuous improvement.”