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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University August 18, 2008 | Vol. 37 No. 42
Climate Change Task Force Moves Ahead on Ambitious Time Line, Goals

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

The university's Climate Change Task Force is halfway home. Now comes the hard part.

The task force, convened in January by President William R. Brody, continues to brainstorm initiatives and projects — some of which have already been set in motion — aimed at the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions derived from university operations.

President Brody convened the task force to help guide the development of the university's new climate change policy that focuses on practical, innovative and economically viable approaches to confront this environmental threat, with the long-term vision of carbon neutrality.

The task force was specifically charged with developing within one year a comprehensive strategic plan and creating an interdisciplinary working group of experts who will focus on innovative and novel approaches related to climate change. Its membership includes a number of people from outside Johns Hopkins.

The task force's leadership recently met to discuss the group's progress to date. Ben Hobbs, task force chair and a Schad Professor of Environmental Management in the Whiting School's Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering, said there's been no shortfall of wonderful ideas, both big and small, but the group realizes that at some point it will have to begin to narrow down its list of recommendations.

"Right now we are continuing the process of identifying opportunities to help us reduce our carbon footprint," Hobbs said. "But we are being very selective. What looks good now might not look good down the road. We also don't want to just reach for the low-hanging fruit but identify measures that we can put in place that will have a lasting, significant impact."

As part of the climate change policy, adopted by President Brody last July, Johns Hopkins wants to help lead the way to confront global warming through the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and the development of more-Earth-friendly technologies. The policy also calls for JHU to harvest its strengths in science, technology, public health and public policy to find solutions to climate change on a global level.

The task force has looked inward to what the university is contributing to global warming. It's also looking at what Johns Hopkins can do for the community, the nation and the world in terms of being an intellectual leader, a creator of new knowledge and an educator in the realm of climate change.

Due to the enormity of its charge, the task force was broken up into three working groups: Tactics and Strategies, Community Partnerships, and Innovation and Research. The working groups have been meeting monthly.

Tactics and Strategies, chaired by Larry Kilduff, executive director of the Office of Facilities Management, will help develop a broad collection of technical measures, behavioral incentives and innovative approaches to reducing carbon emissions on the JHU campuses.

Over the past three months, the group has collected a vast amount of data at the building level, including energy consumption by type (steam, chilled water, electricity, water); categorized buildings by type and primary use; recorded current hours of operation; and compiled lists of energy conservation measures already taken by each building. The data will enable engineering and technical staff to identify those buildings where opportunities exist to implement more energy-conserving measures.

The group has already helped push forward two significant initiatives.

In 2009, the university plans to build a cogeneration power plant on the Homewood campus to supply a significant portion of the campus's energy needs. The proposed plant, which will run on natural gas, will generate not less than 3.5 megawatts of electricity — roughly 20 percent of the campus's current peak requirements. It will save the university $1.5 million annually and, because JHU will purchase less electricity from regional coal-burning power plants, will reduce the campus's carbon footprint.

"Cogeneration" refers to creation of both power and heat. The plant's turbine drives a generator that creates electricity; meanwhile, a heat recovery unit captures the turbine's exhaust to make steam used to supply hot water and heat to buildings.

The new plant will be an addition to the existing campus power house, next to Whitehead Hall.

Johns Hopkins Medicine also recently announced plans to build a cogeneration plant on the East Baltimore campus, sometime within the next two years.

"Combined heat and power just makes an awful lot of sense," Hobbs said. "It increases our efficiency by turning out electricity, heat and cooling from the same source."

The Tactics and Strategies working group also called for the hiring of an engineering firm that will soon undertake a comprehensive look at the university's inventory of buildings as part of an effort to determine JHU's carbon footprint, both current and projected.

"Previously, we looked into buildings on a sort of ad hoc basis," Hobbs said. "This firm selected will offer a consistent methodology and evaluation of our buildings that, we expect, will offer payoffs down the road."

The Community Partnerships group will develop and nurture relationships with state, city and community organizations to explore ways to enhance shared goals, transfer knowledge and collaborate on efforts related to climate change. The group is chaired by Frederick W. Puddester, senior associate dean for finance and administration in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences.

Puddester said that the group is generating a list of projects and initiatives in which the university can engage the students and the community. Much of what his group has examined, he said, revolves around behavior modification.

"For example, how do we encourage taking your bike to work or carpooling, or living near your work? These are some of the things we are looking at," he said. "The students also have some wonderful ideas. We want to put in place a process to review student projects and prioritize them, perhaps find criteria to determine how quickly a concept can pay back carbon reductions."

Puddester said that his group might ultimately recommend a series of relatively small gestures that, when combined, will make a significant impact. He mentioned partnering with a local nonprofit to offer energy efficiency appraisals of homes in the surrounding community, a "green revolving fund" that reinvests cost-saving initiatives and making modifications to on-campus vending machines to reduce their energy consumption.

"There's ways to do that," he said. "It may not seem like a significant gesture, but you start working on these machines and people walk by to see what you're doing, and they'll go, 'I didn't know you could do that. You're right. We don't need it to do that in the middle of the night.' It's about getting people involved and connected to this overall effort."

The Innovation and Research group, chaired by Darryn Waugh, a professor in the Krieger School's Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, will seek to spur creativity, innovation and new avenues of scholarship by re-examining various aspects of climate change from a multidisciplinary perspective. Hobbs said that this group has looked into undergraduate and graduate programs in sustainability and submitted a proposal to the provost's Framework for the Future Discovery Working Group. In May, Provost Kristina Johnson put out a call for initiatives in research, scholarship, creativity, teaching and practice that have the capacity to make major breakthroughs at the boundaries and frontiers of disciplinary knowledge.

The Climate Change Task Force works in consort with the Johns Hopkins Sustainability Committee, a 16-member group formed in 2006 to head a universitywide effort to greatly improve Johns Hopkins' environmental profile.

During the next several months, the task force will continue to look into the feasibility of more- energy-efficient facilities (existing and planned), alternative fuel use, the addition of climate-related courses to the curriculum, collaborative efforts with the community and other schools, and other proposals.

Hobbs said that the task force is looking for ideas and input. To make suggestions, leave comments or ask questions, go to


More on the Climate Change Task Force

In coming months, 'The Gazette' will sit down with the chairs of the task force and three working groups to discuss in more detail their ongoing efforts.


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