at Johns Hopkins University
The Johns Hopkins Sustainability Committee recognizes that over the next few decades, Johns Hopkins will be challenged — on operational, research and academic levels — to address impacts of global climate change. The Committee also recognizes that the longer we wait to devise a strategy, the more difficult this challenge will become.
After two recent Committee meetings dedicated to this topic, Members of the Committee gained consensus around a general set of principles and recommendations for President Brody to consider when evaluating the feasibility of a new climate policy for the university.
Focusing on what makes Johns Hopkins unique, a climate policy should be developed in a way that emphasizes strengths and promotes its ability to offer meaningful contributions and benefits to local, national and global communities.
Therefore, the Sustainability Committee suggests that a policy be based upon the following four principles:
Formation of a Strategic Plan
Members of the Committee uniformly agree that in order to meet the principles as defined, experts within the university will need to develop a comprehensive climate change strategic plan. The plan can be developed within the framework of the existing Sustainability Committee, or could be developed by forming a new Climate Change Working Group. We do recommend that the group that develops the comprehensive climate change strategic plan include a balance of faculty, students, researchers, administrators, and facilities professionals.
For a strategic plan of this magnitude, it is likely that a high quality final report with meaningful strategic recommendations would need a minimum of one year to complete, but no more than two years. A final deadline for the deliverables should coincide with a noteworthy occasion in order to leverage public relations benefits.
Even though it may be advantageous to establish an ultimate goal, i.e., carbon neutrality, the strategic plan should focus primarily on what can be achieved within a specified and manageable timeframe. The strategic plan should also include a sufficient level of research to determine the baseline, including: (1) an inventory of all greenhouse gases — our “carbon footprint” — across university divisions, (2) projections of emissions based on growth projections for the next twenty years under a “business-as-usual” scenario, (3) evaluation of current university policies in relation to emission goals, and (4) identification of specific strengths of JHU that can be leveraged to help the university meet short-and long-term emission reduction goals.
Issues to be Addressed in a Strategic Plan
Members of the Committee also agreed that there are a number of issues that will need to be addressed when formulating a comprehensive climate change strategic plan, such as:
Definitions — The focus on climate neutrality is clear in some ways (i.e., we emit greenhouse gases from the use of fossil fuels in heating, cooling, transportation, and electric usage) but is somewhat subjective in other areas (i.e., are we responsible for the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by students as they travel on Spring Break?) A climate plan would have to evaluate the sources of emissions and determine which sources are the responsibility of Johns Hopkins University and which are not.
New Technologies — There is a growing catalog of new technologies that can help reduce energy use or produce renewable power. In the immediate term, these technologies can help with lighting and plug loads, and in the medium to longer term, new technologies will be more building-integrated and can include on-site distributed energy resources. A climate plan would need to evaluate available technologies and identify opportunities.
Finance I — There are constraints in the way we finance energy efficiency projects, and misplaced incentives that often push us in directions that are not in the best interest of achieving goals. An example is our parking services. On one hand, we want to encourage faculty and staff to carpool, take public transportation, or find an alternative avenue for getting to the university. On the other hand, the parking office is funded by parking fees and is income dependent. A climate plan would need to address how to change incentive structures.
Finance II — Capital projects (new construction and major renovations) have tight and inflexible budgets with little to no room to accommodate costs for more than basic program needs. However, there may be many ways to add value to the project that are difficult to carve out of a capital budget. A climate plan would need to address how to more easily tap into University loans, energy efficiency funds/budgets, operating budgets, or other funding pools in order to ensure that all important energy reduction and alternative energy features can be incorporated into projects.
Finance III — With a well-developed strategy, there will be opportunities to generate revenue through the sale of carbon credits and other measures that will offset some of the spending needs. A climate plan will need to evaluate all financial gains and losses, and identify the strategy that will allow the university to move towards a climate neutrality goal without raising tuition or appropriating funds from other university necessities.
Research buildings — Reducing energy in these buildings will be a particular challenge since they are inherently energy intensive and need to be available to students and researchers 24 hours per day. A climate plan would need to pay particular attention to these special buildings to ensure that important research is not compromised while energy reductions are taking place.
Student Involvement — Students are a centerpiece of our university, and will need to be a part of — and contribute to — the solution. A climate plan will need to identify how to best incorporate students, student activities, and student commitments into various strategies.
Overlap of research and operations — There are certain areas, such as data centers and computing assets, that are typically considered part of University operations. However, research computing needs, similar to research use of buildings, introduce specific needs and requirements that merit special consideration. Actions to standardize computing infrastructure, including energy requirements, might adversely affect the academic and research needs of our community. Electronic resources are large, and growing, users of energy, so addressing these issues may also help in identifying solutions to our greenhouse gas emissions. A climate plan will need to examine our collective computational needs.
Collaboration with other universities — One of the advantages of working on reducing our carbon footprint now is that many other universities are working on very similar issues. We have great opportunities to collaborate, share ideas, and learn from the successes and mistakes of others. A climate plan should include knowledge of, and collaboration with, other university climate activities so that we can gain advantage in our own projects.
Research — As the country’s first research university, we have unparalleled resources at Hopkins to help with evaluating, studying, and finding solutions to issues related to the emissions of greenhouse gases. The Bloomberg School for Public Health recently held a groundbreaking conference on the connections between climate change and public health, and other schools have made similar contributions. A climate plan should accentuate the ability of our embedded research abilities to help uncover new areas of scholarship and practical advancement.
Community — The University should look for opportunities to collaborate with the community to share information and expertise. We hope to create a mutually beneficial relationship to provide guidance and assistance to one another in dealing with climate-related issues. A climate plan should evaluate how our progress and attention to reducing greenhouse gases could assist with similar efforts throughout the greater Baltimore-Washington region.
Members of the Johns Hopkins University Sustainability Committee