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The first higher education institution in the Middle East and North Africa to calculate its carbon footprint, the American University in Cairo (AUC) has measured its own impact on the environment with the aim of reducing the university’s energy consumption and helping combat climate change.
In a country said to be especially vulnerable to global warming, it’s essential that organizations and individuals start taking measures to reduce carbon emissions and find solutions for the causes, experts say.
World Bank data published last year highlighted that the carbon emissions of the average Arab have doubled in the past three decades, even though the region’s population emits just under five percent of global carbon emissions.
“The Arab world’s carbon emissions are growing so rapidly that an average Arab person will emit more than the average human by 2015,” according to Carboun, a British environmental organization.
A carbon footprint measures the quantity of greenhouse gases, expressed as the “carbon dioxide equivalent,” that an organization emits into the atmosphere over a period of time.
“A carbon footprint offers a means to identify carbon emission sources, and to evaluate progress in the reduction of these emissions,” AUC’s report explains.
The study focused only on the New Cairo campus, built on 260 acres of land, where the bulk of the university’s activities now take place. AUC’s emissions amounted to 55,433 metric tons of carbon dioxide, equivalent to 128,882 barrels of oil burned, and 9.3 metric tons of carbon dioxide per full-time student.
Richard Tutwiler, director of the Desert Development Center, says the research team expected higher emissions per capita, “given AUC’s reliance on commuting to New Cairo, the extensive use of air conditioning, and the low faculty and staff to student ratio, which distinguish us from many universities in the United States.”
The results show that the main contributors to the footprint are heating, ventilation and air conditioning, domestic water, commuting and lighting.
“The principal activities generating Egypt’s carbon emissions on the macro level are broadly comparable to AUC’s, in that just over 40 percent of Egypt’s total emissions come from two sectors: power generation and road transport,” according to the report.
The Desert Development Center and the Office of Sustainability collaborated to produce the study, and calculated the carbon emissions for the fiscal year 2011, using as a reference the Clean Air-Cool Planet Carbon Calculator — a software program designed by an American NGO often used on college campuses.
But the model had to be adapted to accommodate the specifics of AUC and Egypt.
“We had to modify the coefficients while keeping the basic formulas and structure of the model, as this is essential for meaningful comparisons. We also added a module for water supply, given AUC and Egypt’s dependence on the Nile River,” the study reads.
The main recommendations to reduce the carbon footprint included the reduction of air conditioning, heating and ventilation, eliminating overcooling and overheating rooms and areas, and implementing a wiser use of lighting, paper and water.
Since transportation is the second source of carbon emission, the university is also developing a system encouraging carpooling.
“Our goal is to reduce the university’s energy consumption by one-third from fiscal year 2011 over three years,” says AUC Sustainability Coordinator Marc Rauch.
Greenhouse gas emissions have also been reduced by some aspects of the campus design, by the utility plant that uses natural gas instead of oil or diesel and by cogeneration, a process wherein water used in the heating and domestic water system is heated by the waste heat generated during the creation of electricity. This made the university’s total carbon footprint 2.5 percent smaller than it would have been otherwise, according to the report.
The carbon footprint report is one of the steps taken by AUC toward the implementation of sustainability measures on campus.
As Tina Jaskolski, research coordinator at the Desert Development Center, tells Egypt Independent, studies on water consumption and waste management started in 2009 at the New Cairo campus, with the creation of the water conservation committee.
In 2010, awareness-raising events were promoted by the sustainability committee, which is open to students, faculty and staff. The interest in sustainability projects has culminated in the establishment of the AUC’s first sustainability strategy in January 2011 and the Office of Sustainability in September 2011.
“I believe that an important step toward a more sustainable AUC,” Jaskolski points out, “is knowing how we are doing in regard to our research consumption, waste production and management, as well as our carbon emissions.
“Measuring our carbon footprint and knowing how much CO2 we, as a university community, actually emit is an important step towards reducing these emissions in the future.”
Knowing the impact the university has on the environment is not only important to AUC’s operations and finances. As Rauch explains to Egypt Independent, “Setting an example by analyzing and taking steps to reduce AUC’s carbon footprint is important for Egypt because the country has a special vulnerability to global warming.”
“We hope not only to reduce our own carbon footprint, but to convince others to do likewise, thereby contributing to the long-term sustainability of Egyptian society,” Rauch says.
Tutwiler says the methodology developed by AUC could help other universities in the country become more carbon neutral and sustainable. As part of this plan, AUC has applied to the European Union for funding to extend the carbon footprint methodology developed during this study for use by Egyptian national universities as part of their climate studies and climate change academic programs.
“Since the creation of the [Desert Development Center] more than three decades ago, AUC has championed what would become known as sustainable development,” AUC President Lisa Anderson says in the introduction of the report, “and today, with the publication of the first carbon footprint report by a university in the Middle East and North Africa, we challenge ourselves and our communities to measure our impact and manage it responsibly.”
This piece was originally published in Egypt Independent's weekly print edition.