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Syracuse University to reform Climate Action Plan years after release

Syracuse University will update its commitment to become carbon-neutral by 2040.


The Syracuse University Sustainability Management team plans to update the Climate Action Plan starting this semester, said Nathan Prior, SU director of Energy Systems and Sustainability Management. The CAP, released in 2009, summarizes the university’s efforts to become carbon-neutral and produce zero net greenhouse gas emissions.


The updated plan will account for SU’s Campus Framework and Academic Strategic Plan, which did not exist when the CAP was written. The plans expanded the campus’ size and carbon footprint significantly, Prior said.


SU is still on track to achieve carbon neutrality by 2040, especially now that the university will have a CAP with more information on the decade’s increased energy use, Prior said.


The Campus Framework plan, released in 2017, is a guide for developing SU’s campus and the surrounding areas for the next 20 years. It supports the university’s Academic Strategic Plan, a list of strategies on how the university can improve in six key areas.


“As these new facilities are being built or retrofitted on campus, we need to make sure that we’re adhering to the principles of the climate action plan and that we’re doing everything we can to decrease the overall carbon footprint,” he said.


In 2007, SU’s then-Chancellor Nancy Cantor signed the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, an agreement to address global warming and become more sustainable. SU was one of the commitment’s first 100 signatories, said Steve Muzzy, climate programs senior manager at Second Nature, the organization behind the commitment.


Meg Lowe, a SU sustainability coordinator, said the Campus Framework report makes it easier to predict and adapt to changes on SU’s campus.


“We have a direction, whereas before it wasn’t available,” Lowe said. “Now we can say we know the location of where the campus will be growing.”


The team will be able to accurately predict and track SU’s carbon emissions through the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System, a framework for colleges to measure sustainability performance, said Melissa Cadwell, an SU sustainability coordinator.


The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education gave SU a silver rating for its sustainability efforts in 2019. The rating will be a guide for updating the CAP and pursuing future sustainability initiatives, Cadwell said.


“Because it is consistent, it is not only a way for us to track our sustainability initiatives, but also look at what other colleges and universities are doing,” she said.


The sustainability team can lay out the framework, but SU can reach carbon neutrality only if the entire campus is involved, Cadwell said.


“We can’t be in every building to turn the lights off as you leave the room, turn the heat down, to ask you to ride the bus as opposed to parking on main,” she said. “It’s going to take the whole campus community to make it successful.”


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