Johns Hopkins Gazette | May 4, 2009
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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University May 4, 2009 | Vol. 38 No. 33
Roadmap to Greener JHU and Beyond

Task Force on Climate Change proposes next steps

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

The Johns Hopkins Task Force on Climate Change has released to President Ronald J. Daniels its final report, a landmark document that includes a series of major recommendations, prominent among which is that the university reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 51 percent by the year 2025.

The task force was convened nearly three years ago by then President William R. Brody to help guide the development of a new climate change policy that would focus on practical, innovative and economically viable approaches to confronting this environmental threat, with the long-term vision of carbon neutrality.

In January 2008, the task force — an interdisciplinary blue ribbon working group of experts — was specifically charged with cultivating innovative and novel approaches related to addressing climate change and developing a comprehensive strategic plan.

Ben Hobbs, task force chair and the Schad Professor of Environmental Management in the Whiting School's Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering, said that the final report and its recommendations are a blueprint that will require changes in institutions, technology and behavior to be realized.

"Our aims here are significant," Hobbs said. "During the next couple of decades, we will use energy very differently than we do now. The reduction of emissions from our operations by 51 percent constitutes a huge break from the past."

Due to the enormity of its charge, the task force was broken into three working groups: Tactics and Strategies, Community Partnerships, and Innovation and Research. The group's membership included senior members of the university administration, faculty, students and those from the Baltimore community.

In a letter sent today to the university community, President Daniels said, "This high-level effort reflected the seriousness and commitment of this institution in tackling one of the most significant issues facing society today. It is clear that the challenge of climate change is a daunting but not insurmountable challenge. Johns Hopkins University will continue to address this issue and do its part to advance progress."

The Task Force and its three working groups met regularly to analyze comprehensively the university's emissions profile, assess relevant core strengths, identify intellectual assets and help define Johns Hopkins' role as a leader in the region.

In the report, the task force recommends that the university aggressively pursue opportunities that combine a sustainability focus with smart resource management.

Efforts in this area are already under way.

This summer, the university plans to build a cogeneration power plant on the Homewood campus to supply a significant portion of the campus's energy needs. "Cogeneration" refers to the utilization of both power and heat. 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 is projected to 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.

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

The report calls for the university to expand its focus on the student experience, ensuring that students have more opportunities to get involved in climate change research activities, community- based learning and sustainability-related social activities. Likewise, the report recommends that academic leadership find creative ways to match interested professors with meaningful sustainability projects on the Johns Hopkins campuses and in the surrounding communities.

In terms of innovation and research, recommendations were made to develop undergraduate and graduate programs in sustainability and to increase efforts to find creative technological and behavior-related solutions to expand energy efficiency measures on all campuses, such as the widespread use of LED-based lighting fixtures and computer energy-management programs.

To help push forward these initiatives, the report recommends the creation of an environmental institute at Johns Hopkins. The institute, Hobbs said, would be a multidisciplinary entity that could focus and direct the university's climate change efforts and disseminate knowledge to the rest of the world.

"This would be a physical location where students and professors could share ideas: a place for people to go to increase and target our efforts in the energy and sustainability area," Hobbs said. "Interaction is key because solutions to energy problems must be interdisciplinary."

The institute, he said, could also promote Johns Hopkins research.

"For example, right now we have people in Mechanical Engineering working on wind energy and those from Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering working on biofuels. The institute would help present these and other findings to the outside world in a concerted fashion," he said.

The Climate Change Task Force worked 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.

Davis Bookhart, chair of the Johns Hopkins Sustainability Committee and manager of Energy Management and Environmental Stewardship in the Office of Facilities Management, said that the recommendation process benefited from the "multiplicity of stakeholder perspectives" and the deep commitment of its members.

"Students, staff, faculty and community members came together for a creative brainstorming approach," Bookhart said. "All ideas were thrown on the table so that we could identify as many good opportunities as possible. The members were excited about the prospect of shaping a climate change policy for the university, and I'm personally very pleased they committed so much personal time to this great effort."

During the next several months, President Daniels and senior members of the administration will consult with deans and directors to develop an implementation plan based on the report. The plan, scheduled to be released in the fall, will detail the recommendations that the university will adopt and the timelines for implementation.

Daniels said that the goals are ambitious but obtainable.

"Even in this difficult economic climate, it is clear we have opportunities to provide environmental leadership that will help set the foundation for a stronger and more dynamic university for decades to come," he said. "As is our tradition, we can lead through discovery and scholarship and by putting what we learn into action. This is the essence of principled and responsible university leadership. I am confident that the recommendations we ultimately implement will catapult us to a leadership position in sustainability."

To view the full report and recommendations, go to: Comments and suggestions can be sent to


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