Rice sets plan to be climate-neutral by 2038

Rice will mark Campus Sustainability Day Oct. 22 to celebrate efforts in making the university greener today and for coming generations of Owls. A significant step in the latter was achieved this past year when Rice adopted a plan to guide the university’s sustainability efforts and set the goal of becoming climate-neutral by 2038.

Richard Johnson


“Rice is committed to becoming climate-neutral as a university, which means reducing our emissions of greenhouse gases over time until we reach a point of zero net emissions,” said Richard Johnson ’92, director of Rice’s Administrative Center for Sustainability and Energy Management. “In other words, no impact on global warming.”

In October 2007, Rice President David Leebron signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), the initiative that is leading higher ed’s response to global warming.

As part of that commitment, Rice had to create a “climate action plan” (CAP), which it completed in September 2013. The CAP sets a 25-year trajectory for Rice to become climate-neutral and sets an interim goal for Rice to reduce emissions by roughly 20 percent over the next 10 years.

Among the strategies for achieving those reductions are:

  • Building-level energy-efficiency retrofits.
  • Adherence to stricter standards for energy efficiency for new construction.
  • Utility plant-level efficiency investments and operational adjustments.
  • On-campus renewable energy investments.
  • Greener power procurement.
  • Continued decarbonization of electricity in Texas.
  • Use of carbon sequestration value of the Rice Management Company’s Rice Land Lumber Company property in Louisiana.
  • Continued monitoring of potential electricity procurement opportunities that allow Rice to obtain greener electricity at no increase in cost.

“It’s important to note that this CAP is cost-neutral in the sense that it relies on efficiency and infrastructure projects that have a compelling economic payback or measures that otherwise deliver value to the university,” Johnson said.

According to Johnson, students played an important role in helping to develop the action plan and its related strategies and projects. “Developing a plan to become carbon-neutral as a university is an excellent learning opportunity for our community, and especially for our students,” he said. “Since 2007, students in the chemical engineering class Engineering Solutions for Sustainable Communities, which I co-teach with Dr. Kyriacos Zygourakis, have calculated the university’s carbon footprint and identified potential strategies to mitigate Rice’s emissions, several of which we are moving forward with now.” Johnson noted that other classes in the schools of Engineering, Architecture and Social Sciences, as well as the Environmental Studies Program, have also participated in developing solutions to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions at Rice.

“In the last few years, sustainability has become a key part of so many areas of the Rice undergraduate curriculum that I’ve had the luxury of engaging an ever-widening group of students in creating real solutions to real challenges that we face on the Rice campus,” Johnson said.

Rice offers approximately 80 classes focused on sustainability and sustainability-related challenges, and another 90 courses that include sustainability as a component. Together, these courses span 38 of Rice’s 69 academic departments and comprise about 7.5 percent of all undergraduate and graduate course offerings.

“We know that globally (mankind) cannot sustain continued net increases in greenhouse gases in our atmosphere without risking major disruptions to our environment and the species — including humans — that depend upon its stability,” Johnson said. “And yet, we are challenged by the lack of any sort of regulatory certainty on how to move forward. This is a moment where Rice can move forward with what we know how to do best: Begin implementing sensible solutions in our campus operations that reduce Rice’s emissions over time; educate our students and our community about climate change, energy and the environment; and continue to develop solutions through pathbreaking research.”

With the climate action plan now in place, Facilities Engineering and Planning is proceeding with building-level energy-efficiency projects for several buildings, including Keck Hall, Space Sciences and Dell Butcher Hall.

“These projects, when completed, will not only save energy, but also reduce our greenhouse gas emissions,” Johnson said.

In addition, Rice’s first major solar project is underway at Jones College. The 50-kilowatt system of photovoltaic panels will be installed on the roof of the south wing of Jones College to supplement energy use of the building.

Rice is participating in the ACUPCC not only because it’s a learning opportunity for the Rice community and student and because it’s economically sensible, but because it’s the right thing to do, Johnson said. “We don’t know all the answers, but we do have the first steps,” he said.


About Jennifer Evans

Jennifer Evans is a senior editor in the Rice's Office of Public Affairs.