CAP Planning Process at Rochester Institute of Technology

Second Nature

By Witold Bujak, Sustainability Manager and Enid Cardinal, Senior Sustainability Advisor to the President, RIT

(This article appears in the November, 2011 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)

Preparing the first Climate Action Plan (CAP) can be a difficult task.  With this in mind, Witold Bujak, Sustainability Manager at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) offered to approach it in a systematic way by dividing the assignment into separate, easy-to-manage tasks.

Task One – Understand the Assignment.  This was relatively easy, thanks to the vast resources available on the web. The American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) website reveals the Commitment’s protocol and reporting instructions. But the real treasure is in the online reporting system, a quick reading of just a few reports from other universities shows a variety of campus responses to the same challenge of reporting, planning and creating a long term approach that would achieve neutrality and sustain financial resources. 

Task Two – Create the Climate Task Force. To maximize the chances of successfully implementing the Commitment, five champions were selected from the campus community to chair subcommittees of the Climate Task Force (CTF), representing the education, research, community outreach, facilities, and purchasing activities of the campus, with the role of overall CTF coordination performed by the RIT Sustainability Manager. Although these individuals have diverse roles at the University each has been dedicated to the common goal of charting a successful path toward climate neutrality. Each subcommittee was charged with preparing a proposal that fulfilled the following general criteria:

  • Develop a list of processes, procedures, incentives and resources to identify, promote and measure opportunities with the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with that group’s focus area. Rank the processes, procedures, incentives and resources identified by the team based on their projected impact on reducing the carbon footprint. Consideration for ranking included first costs, annual costs, CO2 reduction potential, implementation feasibility and other characteristics unique to the measures.
  • Create an initial strategic plan addressing the requirements for implementing, benchmarking and quantifying the measures identified in the previous tasks.
  • Develop a structure to permanently support the carbon emission reduction efforts and the education of the University and local communities. 

Task Three – Develop Templates of Action.  To help identify intentions and opportunities, a customized Template of Action (TA) was developed for each Task Force subcommittee. Each template contained a CAP-based mission statement, a set of objectives that each subcommittee should focus on and suggested specific actions necessary to achieve their goal. The templates were then reviewed and modified as needed by each team.  This process helped teams to formulate a reasonable response which was later integrated in the University CAP. The creation of Templates for Action also helped to streamline the guessing process, giving each team a realistic tool for review of its operations and their impact on the sustainability-related standing of the University. We hope that other signatories will find our templates to be useful as they develop their CAPs.

Task Four – Define Focus of the Report.  In addition to establishing a target date, we concluded that the focus of the CAP should be on developing the framework that would successfully see the plan through to completion. At this initial stage of our path toward a zero emission campus we have refrained from making any assumption on implementation of measures that may create significant impact on GHG reductions but that are difficult to quantify at this time. Projects proposed by the teams that have a predictable high initial cost will be preceded by an engineering evaluation to assess the cost / benefit ratio of the measure. After this evaluation, the University may decide on its implementation and determine the timing of the project and its emissions impact. RIT has decided to look at this initial CAP Report as the basis for thinking and creativity and anticipates a well-defined list of actions, associated costs and a timeline for implementation in its 2013 report.

Task Five – Define Rationale and Select the Target Year.  The University recognized that its commitment to reduce the impact on global climate disruption requires moderate yet decisive action to demonstrate its leadership role in the curtailment of emissions, supported by reasonable and measurable annual net reductions. In October 2009, the U.S. President signed Executive Order No 13514, “Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy and Economic Performance”. The Order requires all federal agencies to lead by example in implementing sustainable practices and reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Executive Order 13514 also establishes that all new federal buildings must achieve a zero-net-energy by the year 2030. Based on the direction taken by the federal government, challenges from other universities, growing pressure from internal and external interest groups, regulatory agencies and calls for leadership from RIT Administration, the University selected 2030 as the carbon neutrality target date.

Task Six – Define University’s Forward Path for Carbon Reduction. In July 2011, RIT hired Enid Cardinal as the Senior Sustainability Advisor to the President.  This newly created position is in charge of campus wide sustainability oversight, which includes the implementation of the Climate Action Plan.  Adding to the challenge of achieving carbon neutrality by 2030 is the fact that the Institute is growing.  Our square footage, and by extension our energy demand, is increasing while at the same time we need to achieve carbon reductions in an economically feasible manner.  This will require strategic thinking and planning.  Talks have begun on RIT’s next strategic plan; climate neutrality by 2030 will need to be a part of the planning process.  It will have to be a factor in the design of any new building built on campus.  With every successive CAP, our plan will be more detailed and get us closer to our target.  For our CAP to be successful, the target will have to be institutionalized.

The solutions for carbon neutrality in 2030 will likely look very different than those of today.   As members of an Institute of Technology, we know how rapidly energy systems, carbon reduction solutions and technology in general are evolving.  We know that our faculty, staff and students will play a central role in the development of those solutions in our classrooms, through our clean energy incubator and in our campus operations as a whole.  We strive for innovation in all that we do and tell our students to dream big.  That is the only way to address the challenges of climate change that lie ahead of us.