Education

University of Kentucky pledges to reduce carbon emissions by 25 percent

In 2011, the UK Greenthumb student group built a mock wind turbine on UK’s pile of coal on South Upper Street near its facilities building. UK President Eli Capilouto credited Greenthumb and other student groups when pledging to reduce carbon emissions by 25 percent by 2025.
In 2011, the UK Greenthumb student group built a mock wind turbine on UK’s pile of coal on South Upper Street near its facilities building. UK President Eli Capilouto credited Greenthumb and other student groups when pledging to reduce carbon emissions by 25 percent by 2025. Herald-Leader File Photo

University of Kentucky officials have pledged to reduce carbon emissions on campus by 25 percent by 2025.

The announcement by President Eli Capilouto last month credited student organizations, who have pressured the administration to do more to address climate change for several years.

“We have been building a strong model for sustainability on this campus for more than a decade,” Capilouto said. “Now, with the leadership of our students, faculty and staff — particularly the President’s Sustainability Advisory Committee — we are ready to take this next, important step forward.”

The student organization Greenthumb first started pushing the administration to do more in 2012. Greenthumb is part of the Kentucky Student Environmental Coalition, a statewide network of environmental groups at 22 campuses.

“It has been really awesome to see the hard work of past and current student members of Greenthumb pay off,” said Greenthumb coordinator Taylor Renfro. “It’s important to know that as students we have a voice. I hope that this inspires other students and student organizations to keep working towards their goals of higher standards for their university.”

As part of the effort, which has a long-term goal of carbon neutrality, facilities officials will implement new technologies and energy conservation methods and a newly formed Faculty Sustainability Council will examine sustainability research and education.

UK’s Office of Sustainability will report yearly progress on the goal.

“This commitment will bring together and elevate many of our sustainability initiatives through the common thread of their emissions reduction impact and will challenge us to develop new initiatives,” said Shane Tedder, UK’s Sustainability Coordinator. “This also highlights to our students that climate change is an issue they will be challenged to address regardless of the career path they choose.”

In recent years, UK has used more natural gas than coal, reversing historic trends. In 2014, according to UK, the campus burned 10,000 tons of coal, compared to nearly 40,000 tons in 2008. Also in 2014, UK burned 1.4 million decatherms of natural gas, compared to about 300,000 in 2008.

Cutting coal usage at UK is a delicate task, given the prominence of big UK donors such as Joe Craft, a coal magnate who donated the majority of funding for basketball and football practice facilities, as well as the dorm used by basketball players. Craft stipulated that the dorm be named Wildcat Coal Lodge as part of his gift.

UK also has installed numerous energy-saving products across campus, including geothermal heating and cooling in two new residence halls, and solar photovoltaic systems in two classroom buildings.

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