Cal Poly's goal is to achieve carbon neutrality as soon as possible, as stated in the Second Nature Climate Commitment. Jake Douglas | Mustang News

The Cal Poly Climate Action Plan (PolyCAP) Team has developed the Cal Poly Climate Action Plan to address new California State University (CSU) policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Overall, this will help the school decrease its environmental footprint and adapt to the effects of climate change.

The 124-page plan lays out an extensive process to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) and reduce Cal Poly’s environmental footprint.

Prior development

The project was first developed by a group of senior students as part of a two-quarter-long city and regional planning design studio course. Students who were part of the team were under leadership of the City and Regional Planning Department and worked to address the 2014 CSU Sustainability Policy.

“We essentially contracted with [the] City and Regional Planning [department] to do this as a student involved hands-on Learn by Doing project, to develop our Climate Action Plan,” Director of Energy, Utilities and Sustainability Dennis Elliot said.

Students then presented this plan to the faculty working in Facilities, as sustainability is a large element that falls under their authority.

“Facilities as the organization within Cal Poly administration that is responsible for compliance with CSU Sustainability Policy and everything related to energy, water and waste, it is a natural home for climate planning,” Elliot said.

Early last year, students presented PolyCAP to the Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) Board of Directors; however, the board decided not to endorse it.

“There were some issues last year that students were concerned with which is why they did not endorse it, so we aren’t sure if the authors are going to redraft it or if they will just move along with it,” ASI Board member for the College of Science and Math and mathematics sophomore Ethan Alexander said.

Elliot said Facilities has not currently taken any action to pursue formal adoption or endorsement of PolyCAP, though it is something they are hoping to achieve in the future.

“This is something I am working on, because it is my job, and it is the right thing to do because it is driven by state law and CSU Policy. It is our desire to achieve formal adoption or approval of the Climate Action Plan, as a fundamental thing that Cal Poly is committed to achieve,” Elliot said.

The goals

Based on the 2014 CSU Sustainability Policy, schools have to reduce GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and to 80 percent less than 1990 levels by 2040.

This includes:

  • Reducing waste to the landfill by 80 percent by 2020
  • Increasing recycled and reused items by 80 percent by 2020
  • Reducing GHGs 80 percent by 2040
  • Increasing Renewable Energy 33 percent by 2020
  • Reducing water usage 20 percent by 2020
  • Increasing use of sustainable food 20 percent by 2020

The scopes

There are three scopes used to measure carbon emissions on Cal Poly’s campus.

Scope one considered direct onsite emissions that are released on Cal Poly’s property. Some examples of this include combustion of natural gas from boilers in the central plant and consumption of fuel for on-campus fleet vehicles.

Scope two emissions are under our control but they take place elsewhere.

“For example, electricity doesn’t emit greenhouse gas here but it emits it somewhere else,” Elliot said.

Some examples include water usage, electricity usage and discharge to the city sewer.

Scope three includes elements that are not on sight and not under Cal Poly’s control, such as commuting, business travel and traveling overseas for study abroad. Scope three is quantified by a Cal Poly Transportation Survey.

The CSU Sustainability Policies only apply to the first two of the three scopes. However, Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong recently signed the Second Nature Climate Commitment, making the school responsible for Cal Poly’s scope three emissions.

“This is important, because it is 50 percent of our carbon footprint. If we don’t try to address those and try to manage them, we are ignoring half of our total environmental footprint. That was a significant statement on the President’s part and a leadership statement to say we are going to go above and beyond state law, above and beyond CSU policy,” Elliot said.

Second Nature Climate Commitments is run by non-profit organization Second Nature. According to Elliot, almost a thousand universities are participating in the commitment, including all of the UC’s and more than half of the CSU’s.

Under this commitment, Cal Poly has promised to achieve neutrality as soon as possible.

Cal Poly’s neutrality goal is set at 2050, but Facilities Volunteer Coordinator and Manager of the Zero Waste Program Colleen Trostle believes the goal is subject to change.

“Honestly, I think we are going to meet these goals way before the selected date,” Trostle said.

The sectors

The plan has eight sectors, including agriculture, buildings, campus life, Public-Private Partnership (PPP), renewable energy, solid waste, transportation and water. Each of these sections plays a significant part in reducing Cal Poly’s environmental footprint.

Within each category there are various recommendations for the school to carry out.

“Some of this has to do with infrastructure and lighting fixtures and some of it has to do with the way we are using our water and agriculture land, some of those resources as well,” Alexander said.

Some examples of these recommendations are to invest in making the buildings more sustainable, improving the lighting fixtures, modernization of heating and air conditions and more.

“The recommendations are not mandatory in each area; they are areas of opportunity,” Elliot said.

The future and its impact

Currently, the PolyCAP is still being developed and pursued by Facilities staff.

“We will likely collaborate with [the] City and Regional Planning [department] again and develop some new student projects to go do updates to the greenhouse gas inventory or to perform new transportation surveys, updating that data,” Elliot said.

Facilities staff — including Sustainability Coordinator Kylee Singh — said they believe students should become aware of all of the effects of climate change and our environment’s future.

“Everything we do has an environmental impact, has an impact on our health, on our economy, has an impact on us becoming a sustainable community,” Singh said.

Elliot said be believes if students are passionate about climate change and its effects, students should speak up and help the community be more aware of it.

“Ultimately it is up to executive decision but a student voice, especially from the student government, would be impactful to that conversation. It would be great if the student body, whether it came from a club, or ASI Board of Directors, or [Julian A. McPhee University Union] Advisory Board, or greek organizations, or anyone,” Elliot said. “Anyone who wants to support this and is passionate about climate change, by all means, have your voice be heard.”

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