MCTC going green

College signs onto climate pact

Before leading a guest into Minneapolis Community and Technical College’s physical plant building, Facilities Director Roger Broz offered a warning.

“It’s going to be kind of loud in here,” Broz said, opening a door to reveal a huge room crisscrossed with brightly colored pipes. The clamor of machinery poured out.

Climbing down a metal staircase and stepping onto the cement floor, Broz walked over to two giant, high-efficiency boilers that heat the Downtown campus. He pointed out a small computer touch screen mounted on a nearby wall, part of a “state-of-the-art energy management system” installed since 2004.

“It allows us to fine-tune the energy savings,” he said, tapping on the console. “… You still have to use electricity, still have to use water — but less.”

Broz was making a point: the college isn’t new to the sustainability game. Recently, though, it joined more than 450 institutions
across the country in a pledge to reduce their green house gas emissions, which have been linked to global warming.

In December, Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC) President Phil Davis signed the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment. Over the next few years, MCTC will develop a plan to conserve energy, increase recycling efforts, improve land use and take other steps on the path to its goal of becoming a climate-neutral campus.

“I think this has been an institution with … a great social conscience, and there’s probably very little in world issues that is more important right now than the quality of the environment,” Davis said.

Broz said MCTC already was reducing its energy use and introducing green technologies, in part as a way to deal with rising utility costs and tight budgets.

“Our operational costs are going up faster than the funding we receive to operate, so there’s a huge incentive to look for opportunities to save,” he said.

The commitment gives a higher profile to those efforts and forces the college to set targets for reducing emissions in the future.

A ‘green’ framework

Guiding those efforts will be a campus climate committee made up of students, faculty and staff members. Under the terms of the commitment, MCTC had two months to pull together the committee, which planned its first meeting for February.

MCTC has one year to inventory all of its greenhouse gas emissions, everything from the emissions linked to electricity, heating, and cooling to the exhaust fumes from cars and buses used on commutes to campus.

That emissions inventory will provide the framework for a plan to make the campus climate-neutral, meaning it will produce no net greenhouse gas emissions.

Davis said MCTC could go a long way toward achieving climate neutrality by making improvements on campus, but it could not bring emissions down to zero in the foreseeable future. Eventually, the school may consider purchasing carbon offsets — paying for emissions-reducing activities like planting trees to make up for unavoidable campus

The terms of the University Presidents Climate Commitment give MCTC two years to develop its plan for becoming climate neutral, including setting a target date and milestones to meet along the way.

When asked how far off that date might be, Davis replied, “Honestly, I don’t know. That’s what we’re hoping this plan will help us to uncover.”

A growing partnership

The University Presidents Climate Commitment sets no “fixed timetable” to achieve climate-neutrality, said Lee Bodner, executive director of ecoAmerica, one of three nonprofits sponsoring the effort. In fact, that timetable likely will look very different for each participating school.

“It depends on the size of the school, it depends on what their carbon footprint actually is and [it depends on] what they ultimately want to do to become climate neutral,” Bodner said.

As of February, 492 public and private institutions had joined the pact, ranging in size from large state schools like Arizona State University to tiny community colleges. Thirteen Minnesota universities signed-on, including the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.

Winona State University President Judith Ramaley, who sits on the commitment’s steering committee, predicted the growing network of schools would have a broad influence, serving as an example for businesses and communities.

Ramaley described campuses as “working models” of conservation efforts. Many operate like small communities — with their own power plants or police forces, for example — meaning proven conservation strategies could be scaled-up for towns and cities, she said.

Campuses are home to many of the researchers developing and testing new green technologies, she added.

They are also home to students who, in many cases, are driving conservation efforts.

“This [commitment] provides a vehicle for their natural interest and ability to make a difference,” Ramaley said.

Student involvement

At MCTC, members of the Three-Legged Frog environmental club will take the lead in publicizing the benefits of a new commingled recycling plan. It was a small, first step for a group eager to join in the climate commitment.

Donovan Carrasca, the group’s public relations officer, said it was a commitment that will last far longer than the two years most of MCTC’s 12,000 students spend on campus.

“We’re at point A now, and [the question is] how do we get to point Z?” Carrasca asked.

Answering his own question, Carrasca said he would spread the word about the climate effort to other students — a major challenge on Minnesota’s most diverse campus, where differing languages and cultures are sometimes barriers to communication, he and other club members acknowledged.

Biology faculty member Cathy Geist, the club’s advisor, said the commitment could bring about changes advocated by faculty members for years. Geist was excited by plans for a campus greenhouse and rain gardens, and said she hoped the school would think about installing plantings on rooftops to absorb stormwater.

Davis said the interest in greening MCTC’s campus was not new.

“I think there is renewed vigor,” he said, “because college and university presidents around the country are saying this is a very important commitment for us to make.”