UF succeeds in making its events carbon-neutral


University of Florida President Bernie Machen speaks to a crowd about the state of sustainability during UF's Earth Day festivities on Friday.

Matt Walsh/Correspondent
Published: Friday, April 1, 2011 at 8:24 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 1, 2011 at 10:40 p.m.

University of Florida events from commencement to this weekend's Dance Marathon are now carbon-neutral, thanks to offsets that fund local energy-efficiency and tree-planting projects, according to UF.

UF President Bernie Machen touted the carbon-neutral events Friday as part of his sixth annual state of sustainability address. He also highlighted university initiatives such as using green-building techniques in construction, installing solar panels on campus buildings and doing retrofit projects funded by the federal stimulus.

“If you took the campus map and threw a dart anywhere on it, you would likely hit an area that has been impacted by our sustainability efforts,” he said.

The speech was part of UF's Earth Day festivities, held early this year because the end of the semester conflicts with the April 22 national event. UF sustainability director Anna Prizzia presented awards to students and employees involved in environmental initiatives and a drive was held to collect unwanted electronics and other items.

The offsets are part of UF's pledge to be carbon-neutral by 2025 and reduce carbon emissions at least 3 percent below 2005 levels within the next two years. Prizzia said purchasing offsets for energy use in campus events is a small but significant way to address the issue.

“We can't stop hosting these events ... but we also know that there's an impact,” she said. “Letting people know there are ways to continue living their lives and still be responsible about their impacts on the environment is really important.”

Carbon offsets involve gauging an activity's carbon emissions that contribute to climate change and paying for projects that sequester or reduce an equivalent amount. Critics have argued that offsets sometimes fund poorly monitored projects and may hinder progress in cutting emissions by making it less expensive to buy offsets than improve efficiency.

UF purchases these offsets through the Neutral Gator initiative, run by the local nonprofit Earth Givers. The group charges $12 to offset each ton of carbon, funding projects that most recently included the planting of 650 longleaf pines last week at the Alachua Conservation Trust's Prairie Creek preserve.

“To me it's about more than creating these offsets,” said Jacob Cravey, executive director of Earth Givers. “It's collectively working to restore these lands.”

The group has also done energy and water efficiency retrofits at the Village and Forest Green public housing complexes in northeast Gainesville. Cravey said the group followed up with residents and worked to ensure they implemented measures that save them money while saving energy.

“You can't do a project and walk away,” he said.

Machen said the effectiveness of UF's conservation efforts is demonstrated by a reduction in energy use in the past year, despite an increase in building space. The university reduced energy use by nearly 4 million kilowatt hours from the previous year, while adding more than 800,000 square feet of building space.

Prizzia said projects to reduce energy use on campus are important to meeting the university's goals of reducing carbon emissions.

“We have to make sure we're not just offsetting our way out of this,” she said.

Contact Nathan Crabbe at 338-3176 or nathan.crabbe@gvillesun.com.

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