Tech holds Climate Action Plan Town Hall

GT Sustainability, which is headquartered in the Kendeda Building, oversees Tech’s Climate Action Plan. Their current goal is to reduce the Institute’s carbon emissions by 50% before 2030. // Photo by Tehreem Hussain/Student Publications

The Georgia Tech Office of Sustainability hosted a Climate Action Plan (CAP) Town Hall virtually on Wednesday, Oct 4 when the leading team shared developments on the project. For over an hour, the team shared a presentation on the importance of climate actions, discussed an inventory of Tech’s greenhouse gasses (GHGs), along with talking about their campus-wide action plans. 

The Office of Sustainability works with staff, faculty and students across Tech’s campus to build equitable and sustainable solutions for climate change. Under one of their current projects, the Climate Action Plan (CAP), the office aims to find a financially feasible way to lower GHG emissions on campus. 

When GHGs enter the atmosphere through emissions, they emit infrared radiation from the sun and trap the heat within our atmosphere, making it one of the largest contributors to climate change. The warming of the globe has directly contributed to the intensity of hurricanes and can lead to food insecurity due to crops drying out or fields flooding, which can cause massive displacement and financial insecurity across the world.

Tech launched the CAP around July of 2022 with the ultimate goal of reducing carbon emissions by 50% by 2030. 

“We feel that it is our moral responsibility to address this and to set a plan and action that we can implement and move forward at Georgia Tech and be a leader in this area,” Jennifer Chrico, the Associate Vice President of GT Sustainability, said during the Town Hall. 

The project has been in development since the fall of 2022 and the team has spent the last year strategizing drafts for emission reduction and financial feasibility through task force groups. The Town Hall hosted earlier this month was a part of the office’s plan to share their drafted strategies to receive community feedback before they begin publications and plan implementation in the spring of 2024. 

Chrico opened up the discussion by introducing the process behind strategic alignment and stakeholder engagement. Some of the strategic alignment plans were derived from the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SGD) and Tech’s Sustainability Next program, to name a few and resulted in the creation of nine working groups, an advisory task force,  student engagement plans and updates to leadership. 

“So really increasing on all levels, our work with our local community, prioritizing evidence-based equity, inclusivity and sustainability and managing our built environment, creating a framework for integrating that into the employee experience as well as into our policies, practices and procedures,” Chirico said.

CAP’s next step was determining the amount of GHGs emitted around Tech’s campus from various sources and activities. The effort was led by Jermaine Klontz, the Associate Director of Utilities Management, who classified emissions use into three scopes by their sources and ability to be lowered. Scope 1 focused on emissions owned directly from Tech, Scope 2 examined indirect energy from the generation of purchased energy and Scope 3 included all other indirect emissions. Some of the significant emissions drivers across campus come from the bus fleet, refrigerants across campus, leakage of natural gas, purchase of electricity, Tech’s two energy plants and student/employee commuting. Water use is also a key player in emissions.

“I want to point out to you that we use a significant amount of water, 100 million gallons per year, to support our cooling systems,” Klontz said. 

Moving into the solutions stage, the office next addressed how Tech can create a downward trajectory of emissions use. Abby Bower, the Sustainability Program Support Coordinator and organizer of the CAP Town Hall led the charge of solution-making. 

In terms of building utilities, the office is looking towards implementing campus electrification and is also moving towards implementing energy policy and management consistent with lowering energy and prioritizing maintenance and renewal of energy sources. As mentioned, student and employee commuting is a contributor to emissions as well, and the office plans to work on community outreach, offering incentives and information towards sustainable commuting. 

“We plan to transition to a zero emission campus vehicle fleet, which not only has carbon impacts and GHG impacts but also has huge code benefits when it comes to air pollution and reducing noise pollution,” Bower said. 

CAP is still working towards assessing vulnerabilities and financial planning through a vulnerability assessment but hopes to garner more savings and public interest before the project is moved into the implementation stage in 2024. The office also plans to host more student and community engagement events
such as this at town hall. 

Beyond CAP, the Institute has many other ongoing sustainability efforts with CAP being the first to directly target emission reduction. The Living Campus Plan, Sustainability Next Plan and Zero Waste Plan are also moving parts of the Office of Sustainability. Each program serves a different initiative that contributes to reducing the impacts of climate change on Tech’s campus.