Office of Outdoor Recreation goes carbon neutral
University of South Carolina students celebrated another green milestone Tuesday (April 20), when campus Outdoor Recreation became the nation’s first collegiate office of its kind and the first office on the Columbia campus to announce its plan for becoming carbon neutral.
Every time a light, a computer or a gas-powered vehicle is used, carbon is produced. Together with methane and nitrous oxide, it creates harmful greenhouse gases. Simply put, being carbon neutral means balancing or offsetting these emissions.
For the university’s Outdoor Recreation, that means reducing the 7.7 tons of carbon emissions it generates each year. To do so, staff and students will plant 39 trees each year to offset those emissions, which can fluctuate.
Outdoor Recreation director Katie Coley and a team of students planted peach, plum and cherry trees Tuesday around the fields at the Strom Thurmond Wellness & Fitness Center, where OREC is located. Plans call for more trees in May and November.
“Environmental education and advocacy are core values in Outdoor Recreation,” Coley said. “We wouldn’t have been able to reach our goal of becoming carbon neutral if it weren’t for our incredible staff of 25 student leaders.”
Since Outdoor Recreation opened at the Thurmond Center in March 2009, students have worked to reduce the office’s carbon footprint. Their green efforts have included recycling of plastic, paper and aluminum for the entire center, composting during adventure trips, organic gardening, using all natural cleaning supplies, reducing energy use from lights and appliances and organizing trash pickup on and along the banks of Columbia’s rivers.
“We’ve worked hard to limit our impact,” said Ivy Kaiser, a senior geography major from West Columbia and sustainability manager for Outdoor Recreation. “We teach leave-no-trace ethics to our participants so that they can help us with our environmental efforts. Everyone is really motivated.”
With the support of Coley and help of Michael Koman, director of sustainability at the university, Kaiser, who is president of SAGE (Students Advocating for a Greener Earth), and graduate student Carter Cox wanted to take the next step: measuring carbon emissions and exploring options for becoming carbon neutral.
The pair measured everything from the energy output of light bulbs, computers and telephones to the gasoline used on OREC’s many adventure trips.
Using established formulas by leading environmental organizations (Energy Information Administration, Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy etc.), Koman arrived at the 7.7 tons of carbon generated and concluded that OREC could offset its carbon emissions through a tree-planting program.
“I’m extremely excited for Outdoor Recreation for taking this on and achieving it,” Koman said. “It is always tough being the first one to implement something new. They are setting not only a standard for other units on campus, but ultimately for other universities and the entire state.”
Koman said the University of South Carolina is among 600 colleges and universities in the world to commit to becoming carbon neutral as a result of the President’s Climate Commitment.
He said Carolina is well on its way, having reduced its energy consumption by nearly 30 percent since 2004 and putting in place aggressive plans to reduce energy consumption and emissions.
Koman said Coley and her staff are reinforcing the university’s commitment to carbon neutrality and sustainability.
“By Outdoor Recreation taking responsibility for their small share of the university’s overall emissions, it makes it that much easier for the larger campus to reach its goal,” Koman said. “Not only are they educating Carolina students about the outdoors and sustainability, they’re teaching them how to live sustainably and enjoy the effort.”
Coley has asked Kaiser, Cox and other student leaders in Outdoor Recreation to help her in offering guidance to other campus offices and departments that want to become carbon neutral.
Located inside the Strom Thurmond Wellness & Fitness Center, Outdoor Recreation utilizes the 52-foot climbing wall, organizes a variety of adventure trips (rafting, backpacking etc.) and special events, offers backcountry clinics, manages equipment rental, operates a bike shop and organizes sustainability service projects. To learn more, visit the Web site: http://campusrec.sc.edu/orec/
For more information on sustainability at the University of South Carolina, visit the Web site: www.sc.edu/green.