Will Sampson ’24 on Achieving Carbon Neutrality through Renewable Natural Gas and Carbon Offsets

The College of the Holy Cross is committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2040. Presently, over 60 percent of the College’s carbon footprint comes from heating, which is primarily fueled by natural gas. Renewable natural gas (RNG) and carbon offsets are potential assets in fulfilling this commitment. RNG emits significantly less carbon than traditional natural gas does. This gas is fully interchangeable with conventional natural gas and thus can be used in existing natural gas systems, such as Holy Cross’ physical plant. RNG is essentially biogas (the gaseous product of the decomposition of organic matter) that has been processed to purity standards. RNG can be extracted from landfills, livestock operations, and wastewater treatment plants.

Other colleges and universities are utilizing RNG and carbon offsets in a cost-effective manner to achieve carbon neutrality. My proposed plan of action for Holy Cross is to contract with a major in-state energy or waste management firm to access RNG at a competitive and stable rate. The University of New Hampshire has achieved carbon neutrality by utilizing RNG. UNH partnered with Waste Management to develop a landfill biomethane plant, which now fuels most of the campus. UNH sold renewable energy certificates to finance the capital costs of the project. Similarly, with its own RNG plan, Duke University is approaching carbon neutrality. Duke partnered with Google and Duke Energy to develop a livestock biogas plant.

Meanwhile, Allegheny College and American University have achieved carbon neutrality through carbon offsets, which are voluntary offsite investments made to negate emissions. For Allegheny and American, these measures included investing in responsible trucking, forestry, international energy sustainability, and further insulation on their campuses. To reduce its carbon footprint and as an alternative to converting to RNG, Holy Cross could maintain its traditional natural gas system while increasing its portfolio of carbon offsets.

heating boiler with metal pipes above
Holy Cross’ central heating plant, fueled by natural gas.
There are commercial RNG facilities within proximity of the Holy Cross campus. These locations are listed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as sellers of biomethane, a form of renewable natural gas. Some Massachusetts locations include Westminster, New Bedford, Haverhill, Hadley, and Rutland. Holy Cross can explore contracting opportunities with these locations individually, or through a major energy or waste management partner.

In accordance with the Jesuit tradition, Holy Cross is committed to active engagement with the world. The Society of Jesuits’ Universal Apostolic Preferences call us to act urgently on today’s environmental crisis, “whole nations and peoples need an ecological conversion if we are to be honest custodians of this wonderful planet.” By reducing its carbon footprint through renewable natural gas and carbon offsets, the College is dedicating itself as an honest custodian of this planet. We gain new strength to care for others and for creation when we replenish our common home.

I see three major steps in reducing the College’s carbon footprint through RNG. First, Holy Cross should continue building efficiency projects to minimize heating demand, and consequently, natural gas usage. Second, the College should contract with a major in-state energy or waste management firm to access RNG at a competitive and stable rate. Finally, Holy Cross should replace conventional natural gas purchases with RNG from a new contract. These measures will lead to significantly reduced carbon emissions, advancing the College’s mission to be carbon neutral by 2040.

Monica Martinez ‘21 on Alternative Transportation Appreciation Day – April 21st

On April 21, 2021, the College of the Holy Cross will host an Alternative Transportation Appreciation Day (ATAD). You may be wondering what is alternative transportation? Why is the office of sustainability spending a day celebrating it? Alternative transportation refers to the different forms of commuting other than single-occupancy vehicles (meaning when one person drives in a gasoline-powered vehicle alone). Some alternative forms include walking, biking, using public transportation, driving an electric vehicle, and carpooling. Student and employee commuting produce 30 percent of Holy Cross’ carbon emissions. The goal for Alternative Transportation Appreciation Day is to bring awareness to options like carpooling incentives, public transit, and carbon footprints in order to encourage the Holy Cross community to try transportation alternatives to single-occupancy driving. By doing so, the office of sustainability hopes to reduce the College’s carbon emissions produced through commuting.

To support alternative transportation commuters, the College maintains a number of Electric Vehicle (EV) charging stations, exclusive hybrid vehicle parking spaces, and bike racks. Four dual-dual port EV charging stations are located on the third and fourth floors of Holy Cross’s parking garage. Highly desirable parking spots, exclusively for hybrid vehicles, are spread throughout campus parking lots, everywhere from Hogan Campus Center to Figge Hall. Uncovered bike racks are situated on the corner of Linden Lane and Kimball road, between the Science complex and Dinand library, as well as on each side of the Hart Center. Try to keep these locations in mind as they will be useful for ATAD activities.
Map of poster route
As mentioned earlier, ATAD will take place on April 21, 2021 and encourages people to enjoy the outdoors while staying socially-distanced. Participants will find green posters with QR codes in various locations on campus (see the map). The QR codes direct students and employees to infographics about public transit, to a site where they can calculate their carbon footprint, and to the app store where they can download the Baystate commute app. Happy ATAD!

Monica Martinez ‘21 Explains Rampant Emissions & Carbon Offsets

Round graphic with leaves and smoke stack
Graphic from the NNOCCI reframe cards

What actions have you taken to reduce your carbon footprint? What if I told you that it would cost less to offset your carbon emissions from travel than to buy two fast food burritos? Carbon offsets allow individuals and organizations to compensate for their emissions and reduce their carbon footprints. The average person living in the United States produces about 4 metric tons of carbon from air and ground travel per year, which would cost around $24 to offset. The money used to purchase carbon offsets is funneled towards a project that is designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Some of these projects might be geared towards planting trees, developing renewable energy, or capturing methane from landfills.

But, what is carbon? Is it that bad for the environment? There is regular CO2 and rampant CO2. Regular carbon dioxide is used and created by natural life processes. However, rampant carbon dioxide is produced from burning fossil fuels for energy. Plants use regular CO2 that animals exhale, and therefore some CO2 is part of natural life cycles. But, we are also adding CO2to the air when we burn oil, natural gas, and coal for energy. We call this type of CO2 “rampant” because there is too much of it and we need to get it under control. When rampant carbon dioxide accumulates in our atmosphere and our oceans, it creates problems for the earth’s climate and ecosystems. Now that we know about rampant carbon dioxide, does the idea of carbon offsets sound more intriguing?

To get a better understanding of what a carbon offset is and how it works, let’s take the example of a Holy Cross student who lives in New York. This student drives home to New York for Holy Cross breaks and during these drives, the student produces carbon emissions. By purchasing a carbon offset, the student can continue to drive to and from New York but at the same time support a project that pulls an equal amount of carbon from the air. Even if the student is emitting carbon on the East Coast, their contribution to the carbon offset benefits everyone even those halfway across the world.

As a Holy Cross student who lives in California, I am aware of the larger carbon footprint that I have due to my air travel throughout the year. I may not have a car on campus to drive into Boston on the weekends, go for weekly Trader Joe’s runs, or pick up InHouse coffee but, I am still emitting a lot of carbon by living in California and attending the College of the Holy Cross. The question then becomes who’s responsible for these carbon emissions? Does it all fall on me? Do the airlines share the responsibility? Does Holy Cross have an obligation to offset carbon emissions from student and employee commuting? My answer is that it is everyone’s responsibility to reduce their carbon output and it starts with knowing your own carbon footprint. Calculate yours now.

Sustainability Upgrades Made by Facilities (Part 2)

Less visible projects, like improving heating and cooling efficiency, stay hidden but drastically impact the Holy Cross’ carbon footprint. John Cannon, the director of facilities operations, reveals these hidden projects that continue to advance the College’s environmental goals.

Campus Composting: Zero waste at Kimball Main Dining Hall
The 2009 decision to go “trayless” in the main dining room saved more than one million gallons of water and greatly reduced general food waste. Now, Kimball Main Dining Hall & Kimball Food Court recycle or compost 100% of its waste. Any waste that cannot be recycled or composted is burned for energy. In the first year of this initiative, 110 tons of food waste that would have otherwise been thrown in a landfill was composted.
Red large compactor outside

Single-Stream Recycling: Diverting waste since 2012
Holy Cross has diverted waste from the trash stream since the 90s. In 2012, the College adopted a single-stream recycling program. Need a reminder on the three guiding principles? 1) Recycle all empty plastic bottles, cans, paper, and cardboard. 2) Keep food and liquid out of the recycling bin. 3) No plastic bags.
Front of large compactor

Eco-Friendly Cleaning: Increasing indoor air quality
Building Services exclusively uses environmentally-friendly cleaning products, avoiding products that contain Volatile organic compounds (VOC). Furthermore, Building Services orders supplies in bulk to reduce packaging waste.
Blue cleaning liquid

Chillers at Stein Hall: Move heat effectively
Chillers help transfer heat from an internal environment to an external environment. This process takes a lot of energy, but Stein Hall has a high-efficiency system. This system supports the College’s energy conservation efforts.
Grey chiller

Loyola Hall Heating: Delivering comfort and energy efficiency
More than 300 upperclassmen experience highly-efficient heating at Loyola Hall. A heating system that cuts energy usage by maximizing the conversion from fuel to heat.
Black heating system

Apartment Composting: Offsetting carbon a pound at a time
Figge Hall and Williams Hall residents drop off food waste at two freezers. This waste then gets composted off-campus. Fun fact: The composting process offsets carbon instead of contributes to carbon emissions.
Top loading freezer along wall

Campion House Heating: Maximizing combustion
Over 90% of fuel used in the Campion House heating system actually becomes heat. An older system may only convert 56% to 70% of fuel to heat. A higher conversation rate means more energy savings and less carbon emissions.
Heating system

The College’s 2017 Carbon Footprint

Holy Cross’ efforts continue to show! The College’s carbon footprint is almost 48% less than in 2007, with 12,053 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MTCDE) recorded for 2017. Heating and cooling continues to be the biggest carbon emitter (and the greatest focus for the Department of Facilities). Waste and the Holy Cross vehicle fleet are the smallest emitters at less than 2% each.

heating boiler with metal pipes above
Holy Cross’ central heating plant, fueled by natural gas.

Heating & Cooling
During those nippy nights and scorching summers, Holy Cross’ physical plant takes the spotlight. At the heart of campus, and the College’s carbon footprint, the physical plant heats 67% of Holy Cross’ buildings. Natural gas fuels this process. To maximize efficiency, consequently cutting carbon emissions, the College has updated boiler controls and added insulation to steam pipes.

Don’t worry, the College hasn’t ignored the other 33% of campus buildings. A neat infrared camera system measures building surface temperatures, which allows Facilities employees to identify and rectify heat loss. Individual buildings also possess energy recovery systems and extensive insulation to keep comfortable air indoors and unwanted air outdoors.

Renewable Electricity
Holy Cross uses quite a bit of electricity each year. In 2017, the campus used 21,490,864 kilowatt hours. That’s equivalent to watching over 53.5 billion cat videos! However, electricity accounts for zero percent of the College’s carbon footprint. Why? Holy Cross purchased a long term contract for hydropower (electricity fueled by moving water). Considered a renewable fuel source, hydropower produces zero carbon emissions.

Commuting & Travel
Not only does Holy Cross account for carbon emissions produced on campus, but the College includes emissions produced by Holy Cross community members engaged in college-related activities (think: faculty attending conferences, staff driving to work, or student-athletes heading to games). Thus, the College includes commuting and air travel in its annual carbon footprint. Unfortunately, commuting and travel emissions have increased by almost 25% since 2007.

Offsetting
#Composting is trending! Kimball Main Dining Hall & Kimball Food Court recycle or compost 100% of all waste. This helps Holy Cross reduce its trash stream, and also offsets some of the College’s carbon footprint. The composting process takes carbon out of the air, which subtracts tonnage off the overall footprint. Meaning? The more Holy Cross composts, the better for the College’s carbon footprint! In 2017, Holy Cross offset 36 tons of carbon through composting, the equivalent of 145,991 burritos.

Sustainability Upgrades Made by Facilities (Part 1)

Less visible projects, like improving heating and cooling efficiency, stay hidden but drastically impact the Holy Cross’ carbon footprint. John Cannon, the director of facilities operations, reveals these hidden projects that continue to advance the College’s environmental goals.

LED Lighting: 75% less energy than incandescent lighting
A rugged and long-lasting solution, LED fixtures contain no mercury and offer high efficiency lighting with no warm-up period. According to the United States Department of Energy, LED lighting uses at least 75% less energy and lasts 25 times longer than incandescent lighting. Holy Cross continues to convert campus indoor and outdoor lighting to LED fixtures.
Outdoor light post in front of Worcester skyline

High Efficiency Windows: Less air loss = more energy saving
The Department of Facilities has replaced old windows to high efficiency windows in Alumni Hall, Hanselman Hall, and Lehy Hall. The increased insulation reduces the amount of indoor air that escapes to the outdoors.
Two closed windows from outside Alumni Hall

EV Charging Stations: Made possible by MassDEP & National Grid
The College installed four dual-port electric vehicle (EV) charging stations in the parking garage in 2019 through a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and a rebate from the National Grid.

Annual Testing: Eliminating leaks & increasing efficiency
Beyond highly insulated steam piping throughout campus, the Facilities Department tests every steam trap annually to eliminate leaks. Less leaks equals better energy conservation.
Black steam trap

Variable Frequency Drives: Aligning energy output with need
A variable frequency drive (VFD) controls power to a motor so supply and demand match. Need an analogy? Instead of running a blender on high to smooth that room temperature avocado, the blender automatically runs on low for the avocado and high to crush that frozen strawberry.
Control panel of variable speed drive

Upgraded Heating Controls: Adhering to the Energy Conservation Policy
Holy Cross’ Energy Conservation Policy, revised in early 2009, is designed to improve operating efficiency and reduce the cost of energy consumption. The College aims to have building temperatures about 70 degrees in the winter and 74 degrees in the summer.
White heating control

Hydration Stations: Fostering a reuse culture
Hydration stations promote reusable beverage containers throughout the Holy Cross community. Consequently, the College reinforces its efforts to slash trash production.
Hydration station built into wooden wall