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Sustainable UofL

Commitment to a Sustainable Future. It's Happening Here.

New free, electric LouLift shuttle between Belknap Campus and downtown!

Breathe easy – you’ll never need to drive downtown again!

LouLift free shuttle from Belknap Campus to downtown. TARC’s free, all-electric ZeroBus has been renamed LouLift with extended service stretching from Central Ave to the Galt House downtown.

LouLift shuttles now run daily every 20 minutes (30 minutes on weekends) along 3rd St. from the Patterson baseball stadium to the Speed Museum, connecting Belknap campus directly to Old Louisville & downtown destinations such as Central Park, Simmons College, Spalding University, LFPL Main Library, the Convention Center, and the KFC Yum! Center.

LouLift Route 1 Map“With one of the largest all-electric fleets in the country, we’re proud to announce LouLift as an environmentally friendly way for passengers to move about Downtown Louisville for work or play,” said Transit Authority of River City (TARC) Executive Director, J. Barry Barker.

The redesign of the fare-free ZeroBus service, in partnership with the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau (LCVB), provides improved access between downtown hotels and businesses and major destinations, including the University of Louisville and the Speed Art Museum.

TARC’s nine blue and green ZeroBus vehicles are getting a new black, white and silver color scheme prominently displaying the LouLift logo.

New stops have been added at Churchill Downs, the University of Louisville’s Belknap Campus (at Eastern Pkwy), the Speed Art Museum, St. James Court and other attractions south of Breckinridge Street. The design change to LouLift is being phased in on buses, shelters and stops over the next few weeks.  This approach avoids service interruptions as the old design is removed and the new one applied to each bus.  The new design is scheduled to be on all the buses by July 1, 2018.

LouLift will operate on the same two corridors that the ZeroBus served:  Main-Market and Fourth Street.  The Main-Market Route #77 operates in a loop, west on Main and east on Market between Wenzel and 10th streets from 6 a.m. – 8 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. on Saturday. Since June 3, the Main-Market Route #1 has operated between Churchill Downs on the south and the Galt House turnaround on the river on weekdays from 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. and from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

Arrival times on weekdays are every 10 – 20 minutes. On weekends, buses will arrive every 15 minutes on Route #77 and every 30 minutes on Route #1.

“The new LouLift brand helps communicate the free all-electric bus service that is available to residents and visitors alike in a simple and iconic way. As our destination continues to grow, one of our primary initiatives has been to make sure our visitors have a user-friendly transportation alternative,” said Karen Williams, President & CEO of the Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Mayor Greg Fischer said, “The new name and the new stops are great additions to our city, and so timely, as they make it easier for so many of our families armed with Cultural Passes to get to participating sites. Overall, it’s another great boost to the renaissance of downtown.”

“We are excited to see this service come to fruition, providing a convenient way to access more of Louisville’s top attractions, including the Kentucky Derby Museum and Churchill Downs,” Kentucky Derby Museum President and CEO Patrick Armstrong said. “LouLift creates a new level of connectivity for Louisville, allowing us an opportunity to immerse more guests into the history of the Kentucky Derby.”

TARC rolled out the ZeroBus service in Januar 2015 to replace historic replica trolleys, becoming one of the first transit agencies in the country to add all-electric buses to the fleet.

Residents and visitors are also encouraged to catch a free LouLift on the first Friday of every month and visit galleries, shops and restaurants along Main, Market and 4th Streets during the Republic Bank First Friday Hop. For more information about the Republic Bank First Friday Hop, please visit firstfridayhop.com.

For more information on LouLift, please visit ridetarc.org/loulift or contact TARC Customer Service at 502-585-1234.

Though LouLift is a free service to UofL visitors and everyone, the entire TARC system is free to all UofL students, staff, and faculty. Just show the driver your UofL ID as you board any TARC bus!

More information about all UofL Transportation Alternatives is online here.

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Join us Tuesday for Envirome Institute Launch!

Please join us TUESDAY 6/19 10:30am-1pm at UofL’s Grawemeyer Hall lower level for the launch of UofL’s brand new Envirome Institute. There’ll be free food and a chance to meet our new President, Dr. Neeli Bendapudi!

Envirome Invitation 6-19-18

UofL Serviceberries are ripe for the picking!

UofL ServiceberriesUofL Serviceberry Harvest!
Friday, June 1st, 1pm, leaving from Garden Commons at the Cultural Center
Louisville’s delicious, abundant, native serviceberries (aka Juneberries) are ready to be harvested and enjoyed! Join us at the Garden Commons this Friday at 1pm to go on a mini-adventure to the University’s prolific service-berry spots and score some awesome, superfood fruit.

Serviceberries are small, purple, blueberry-like fruits that are in the almond family and thus have a slightly nutty taste. They are native to Kentucky, commonly planted as street or landscaping trees. The fruits are delicious fresh, can be frozen or dried, and make for an excellent pie!

Get ’em while they’re good!

On Belknap campus, some of the best spots for foraging are:
• Duthie Center (Speed School) north side of the building.
• Third Street, just south of Eastern Pkwy and the railroad. On the east side of the street, across from Reynolds Lofts there are very productive trees lining the sidewalk.
• Third Street, from Ekstrom Library south past the Grawemeyer Oval, there are some pretty productive trees between the sidewalk and street.
• At the Urban & Public Affairs Garden, behind Bettie Johnson Hall, there are a dozen trees all along the brick alley.Native Serviceberry Trees along alley behind Bettie Johnson Hall.JPG

UofL’s Carbon Emissions Rise, Reinvestment Needed

UofL has released our 2017 Greenhouse Gas Emissions Report, documenting that emissions actually increased 11% in 2017, a troubling reversal of progress in the last year during which the university’s financial crisis resulted in a 100% budget cut for Climate Action Plan implementation.

Background: In 2008, UofL became a signatory to the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, which is now known simply as the Carbon Carbon Commitment LogoCommitment. As a member of the Climate Leadership Network, the University of Louisville is committed to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions with the ultimate goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 at the latest. After benchmarking our carbon footprint with our 2008 Greenhouse Gas Emissions Baseline Inventory, on September 15, 2010, UofL released its Climate Action Plan, a comprehensive roadmap for reducing our emissions down to net zero. A summary of the Plan and a link to the full document can be found here. The Sustainability Council coordinates UofL’s Climate Action Planning as well as the reporting of our greenhouse gas emissions.

Our efforts to implement our Climate Action Plan had been paying off for many years, as we made progress toward our goal of climate neutrality. However, on May 1, 2018, UofL released its 2017 Greenhouse Gas Emissions Report, which documents that, following significant improvement in 2016, our emissions actually increased 11% in 2017, knocking us off track from achieving our first milestone goal of a 20% emissions reduction by 2020 from our 2008 baseline. In 2016, we stood at an 18.69% reduction from the 2008 baseline. In 2017, we are back down to a 13.51% reduction. We must cut emissions another 6.5% to achieve our goal of a 20% reduction by 2020.

This is a troubling development, but it is not unfamiliar territory for UofL. We have been here before and we have righted our ship before. We saw a similar increase in emissions from 2013 to 2015, and took action to reverse the trend. In 2016, by continuing to invest in efficiency and behavior change, the university was able to achieve a 7.2% reduction of carbon emissions in one year. This was a vital investment for the sake of our students’ futures, and, indeed, for our common future on this one shared planet.

Our efforts to implement our Climate Action Plan had been paying off, thanks to sustained investment of resources and attention in fiscal years 2011-2017.  However, a troubling reversal of progress occurred in the last year during which the university’s financial crisis resulted in a 100% budget cut for Climate Action Plan implementation. A renewed investment of resources and leadership can get us back on track in the years to come.

Fortunately, over the long-term, we have reduced our greenhouse gas emissions, even as we continue to grow in terms of physical size, campus population, and budgetary expenditures.

From 2006 to 2017, we estimate that UofL’s net carbon emissions have declined nearly 20% from 236,101 to 189,022 metric tons/year.

Yet this is no time to rest on our laurels. In fact, the most important finding of this inventory is that renewed investment will be required to make further progress and to meet our targets.

UofL has made progress, but must reinvest if we are to achieve our first milestone goal of a 20% reduction in emissions from our 2008 baseline by 2020. In 2017, we stood at an 13.51% reduction from the 2008 baseline, meaning that we decreased emissions by 29,518 metric tons of CO2 equivalent per year since 2008. According to the EPA’s greenhouse gas equivalencies calculator, this translates to:

  • Taking 6,321 cars off the road, or 72,348,039 miles of driving, or 3,321,481 gallons of gasoline burned;
  • 10,285 tons (or 1,471 garbage trucks) of waste recycled instead of landfilled;
  • Emission from 3,187 average U.S. homes’ annual energy use;
  • 161 rail cars worth of coal burned;
  • 987,885 incandescent lamps switched to LEDs; or the
  • Carbon sequestered by 34,768 acres of U.S. forests in one year (or 764,993 tree seedlings grown for 10 years).

While this reduction is important and laudable, this is no time for complacency. We must remain vigilant, committed, and willing to invest resources in order maintain our progress and to ensure a sustained effort toward our ultimate goal of climate neutrality by 2050. We must continue to invest in emissions reduction, to innovate solutions that work in our unique urban setting, and to prioritize efficiency, behavior change, transportation alternatives and renewable energy.
UofL Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Source 2017
The most important steps that UofL needs to take in the near-term are:

  1. Reduce driving through a Transportation Demand Management Plan that invests in and incentivizes alternatives, caps parking, & transitions UofL from highly subsidized annual permits to market-rate, pay-per-use parking.
  2. Invest in large-scale renewable energy, behavior change, and energy efficiency measures beyond the scope of the existing performance contract.
  3. Explore carbon offsetting and sequestration solutions that would benefit our campus, community, and region.

The reductions we’ve been able to achieve over the years have occurred in spite of the continued growth of our university in terms of budget, employees, students, land, and building space. We’ve documented reductions across the board in terms of emissions per student, per capita, per square foot of building space, and per dollar of operating budget.

UofL Greenhouse Gas Emissions per capita 2006-2017.pngUofL has been on a bit of a roller coaster ride as we try to reduce our carbon footprint. Though our 2017 Report documents a sharp increase in emissions, our 2016 Greenhouse Gas Emissions Report, showed an encouraging decline following the two-year rise in emission documented in our 2015 Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory. That bad news, however, came on the heels of a very encouraging 2013 Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory, in which we estimated that emissions had dropped over 22% from 2006 to 2013 (from 246,929 to 191,823 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emitted annually, an amount equal to taking 11,600 cars off the road).

Register for Bike Together Day & National Bike Challenge to Win A New Bike

May is Bike Month and Friday, May 18th is Bike To Work Day!

28377673_1871855082848205_8186975106352240505_n.jpgRegister your intention to get around on two wheels, and you could win a free bike at Louisville’s Bike Together Day celebration at 4th St. Live on Friday, May 18th from noon-1pm.

Register for Bike Together Day here. Connect on Facebook.

LTR_NBC_2280x250_2018UofL is also participating in the National Bike Challenge this summer and the UofL Sustainability Council & Get Healthy Now want you to pedal along with Team UofL!

You could win a $400 voucher to a local bike shop or other fabulous prizes by logging your rides for fun or transportation.

Register for the National Bike Challenge here.

A wealth of handy resources for UofL Bicyclists can be found on our website here.

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Shrinking Emissions & Expanding Minds at the University of Louisville

by Justin Mog, PhD
Assistant to the Provost for Sustainability Initiatives
University of Louisville

The University of Louisville (UofL) took a bold step forward in 2008, when former President James Ramsey signed the university onto the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, now known simply as the Carbon Commitment[1].

The Climate Leadership Network

As a member of the Climate Leadership Network[2], UofL is moving forward toward carbon neutrality along with over 600 other signatory institutions of higher education. Each signatory is responsible for publicly reporting their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and developing a Climate Action Plan to draw down those emissions to net zero. Each school gets to decide what will work for them in terms of strategies and timelines. In that sense, the Commitment is not proscriptive or one-size-fits-all, which is vital to finding truly sustainable, adaptive, locally-appropriate solutions to the climate challenge.

One of the special difficulties for academics in this work is to remain humble in our approach – i.e. to not presume we have all the answers for how others can achieve sustainable, carbon-free solutions. This tendency is compounded for those of us highly motivated by the growing sense of crisis, as the signs of climate destabilization pile up from California to Kentucky to Puerto Rico and beyond. With mounting scientific evidence stoking our anxiety, we fear that time is running out for humanity and swift action is necessary for our survival.

Yet there are no easy answers to the challenge, all institutions are slow to change, and scholars have cautioned for decades that genuinely sustainable solutions must be ‘slow baked’ from within – tailored to the unique internal cultures, resources, and circumstances of a particular institution or community – rather than imposed from without.[3] As change agents, we must remain aware of this and pace ourselves for the marathon race toward carbon neutrality, rather than burning ourselves out in a desperate sprint to try to get there as quickly as possibly by whatever means necessary.

That is not to say that the crisis is not real, nor that we can afford to take a leisurely, lackadaisical approach. On the contrary, we must remain focused, set goals, consistently measure and report our progress toward them, and utilize performance management strategies to learn and grow from our inevitable mistakes along the way. In sustainability, perhaps more than any other field, it is essential that institutions of higher learning become learning institutions that are willing to try new things, to perhaps fail, to critically examine our experience, and to grow wiser in the process.

The Climate Leadership Network gives colleges and universities the structure and framework necessary to take a focused, thoughtful approach toward reducing carbon emissions through consistent public reporting, planning, and mutual support. Through the Network, we can support and learn from each other’s efforts while holding each other mutually accountable for making progress. Given the non-proscriptive nature of the Commitment, if we take it seriously, we cannot help but become deeply engaged in the process and, by extension, institutions that learn over time.

Structuring for Sustainability

This has certainly been the case for us at UofL. To begin with, it was the signing of the Commitment in 2008 that launched UofL’s sustainability initiatives from a fairly loose, ad hoc set of grassroots efforts to a focused, coordinated strategy for continuous improvement. Sustainability was immediately written into the university’s strategic plan with metrics for monitoring progress based upon the newly emerging, comprehensive Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) developed by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).

In the same year, the university’s former Executive Vice-President & Provost, Shirley Willihnganz, convened a new university-wide Sustainability Council with broad representation from faculty, staff, administrators, and students across UofL. One year later, at the Council’s recommendation, the university created a new, full-time, PhD-level staff position to act as UofL’s sustainability coordinator, a position the author has served in since its inception in 2009. Now with the support of this full-time staff member, the Council continues its work as the primary coordinating and advisory body for sustainability initiatives across the university. It has always had active committees structured around the STARS categories and it manages both UofL’s STARS and GHG reporting, as well as the development and implementation of our Climate Action Plan.

The mere fact of making a good faith effort to document the emissions from a university serving over 22,500 students with over 7,000 employees on three campuses is bound to involve a wide variety of stakeholders participating in the process and paying attention, perhaps for the first time, to the pollution associated with everyday life and business as usual. Compiling UofL’s initial, benchmark GHG emissions report was the author’s first task as the new Assistant to the Provost for Sustainability Initiatives in 2009. It is now an annual process that pulls in data from all corners of the university, touching everything from facilities and grounds to purchasing, transportation, study abroad, dining, and solid waste. In ideal times, it is also an effort that engages students directly in learning about carbon emissions sources and university functions.

UofL’s Climate Action Plan

The University of Louisville is committed to reducing GHG emissions with the ultimate goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 at the latest. On September 15, 2010, UofL released its Climate Action Plan[4], a comprehensive roadmap for achieving this goal. The Plan is a living document that continues to evolve and grow as we learn from our efforts and expand our capacity to take action throughout a four decade process of adaptive management on the road to climate neutrality. Engaging students, faculty, researchers, staff and the broader community in this process has been and will continue to be vital to its success and to our broader educational and research mission. This Plan lies at the heart of our sustainability initiatives, and it involves many steps that will help us achieve our strategic goals as well as our climate commitment. It is also the right thing to do in a world of dwindling fossil fuel resources and worsening climate crisis.

Our Plan contains sections on:

  • Energy Conservation and Efficiency
  • Renewable Energy
  • Transportation
  • Behavior Change
  • Carbon Sequestration
  • Carbon Offsets
  • Green Purchasing
  • Master Planning
  • Green Building
  • Composting & Horticultural Practices
  • Recycling
  • Food
  • Financing Options
  • Implementation Structure and Tracking Progress
  • Communication, Education and Engagement

Through a broad, comprehensive approach designed to make simultaneous progress in all of the above areas, we intend to achieve not only the ultimate goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, but interim goals along the way. The Plan established the following target goals for university-wide reductions in annual greenhouse gas emissions from our 2008 benchmark[5] estimate of 192,788 Metric Tons of Carbon Dioxide Equivalent (MT eCO2):

Goals Timeframe Reduction in net GHG emissions  from 2008 Target maximum net annual GHG emissions

(MT CO2e)

Short Term 2010–2020 20% 154,230
Mid Term 2021–2030 40% 115,673
Long Term 2031–2050 100% 0

FIG. 1 UofL's Path to Carbon Neutrality - Climate Action Plan
FIG. 1 – UofL’s Climate Action Plan outlines strategies for achieving climate neutrality by 2050.

Our plan for making progress toward climate neutrality is dynamic and multifaceted. We recognize that sustainability demands progress on multiple fronts and that lasting change cannot be achieved without coordinated efforts campus-wide. That said, it is clear that not all steps leading UofL down a path toward climate neutrality are equal in terms of cost, savings, impact on emissions, educational and awareness-raising value, or other co-benefits. To illustrate the point, the following table summarizes the variability in estimated carbon impact from just a handful of the over 75 specific steps outlined in our Plan:

A sample of projects from UofL’s Climate Action Plan
Project Estimated emissions reduction

(MT eCO2 per year)

Progress towards goal

(% reduction in GHG emissions from 2008)

20% renewable energy by 2020 22,284 11.5%
Implement phase 2 of energy savings performance contract on Health Sciences Center & Shelby campuses 17,419 9%
Convert from coal to natural gas fuel at Belknap Steam & Chilled Water Plant 4,222 2.2%
Create dedicated bike lanes to connect campus to neighborhoods 3,283 1.7%
Increase fuel efficiency of the university fleet by 15% 136.3 0.7%

Prioritizing Projects

Deciding which specific actions to prioritize at any given time has been a central challenge for the Sustainability Council as we work to implement the Plan. Like most institutions, we have tended to start with the ‘low-hanging fruit’ of fairly straight-forward technical fixes that will not only reduce emissions, but save money over time. Efficiency measures are a sensible place to focus initial attention. UofL’s three-phase, $52 million energy savings performance contract with Siemens Building Technologies Inc.[6] has been a prime example of these early efforts. Every one of the associated projects was guaranteed by Siemens to pay for itself in energy savings over the roughly 13-year life of the contract. Many of the projects also reduced maintenance costs for the university and increased comfort and functionality of campus facilities. What follows is a summary of these efforts to enhance efficiency at UofL:

  • UofL’s annual utility bill (electric, gas, water and sewer) has historically been over $19.5 million. In recent years, we’ve spent nearly $1 million every month of the year on energy ($11.7 million for electricity and gas in 2011). There are tremendous cost savings and environmental benefits to be gained from using energy and water more efficiently on campus.
  • UofL has made massive investments to retrofit its existing facilities in order to increase the efficiency of our operations, reduce costs, consume less energy and water, and produce less pollution as a result.
  • Our $52 million investment in efficiency stretched over three phases from 2009-2017. The project involved upgrades to over 88 buildings (6.2 million square feet) on all three UofL campuses. These improvements are projected to directly save the university over $4.4 million every year and reduce our annual carbon dioxide emissions by over 46,000 tons (the equivalent of removing 7,690 cars from the road).
  • With these improvements, UofL expects to reduce its utility bill by about $12,086 per day.
  • These efforts have already produced documented results. In FY 2011-12, for example, we documented that Belknap Campus alone reduced fuel use 48%, electricity use 27%, and water use 31%. Efficiency-minded campus users helped us exceed our engineers’ expectations. They had predicted fuel use to decline nearly 40% and electricity use to drop at least 20% annually.[7]
  • Examples of UofL’s efficiency retrofits include:
  1. Efficient lighting: Installed 117,483 fluorescent lamps, 41,714 ballasts, and 1,729 exterior induction lamps. Reduces lighting energy consumption by 14% for an annual savings of over $915,000.
    FIG. 2 Energy Efficiency Retrofit Examples
    FIG. 2 – George Kirwan, UofL Physical Plant, shares some examples of efficient lighting and insulation jackets installed at UofL with a student at the 2011 Campus Sustainability Day fair. Photo credit: UofL photographer Tom Fougerousse
  2. Insulated steam valve jackets: 1,152 installed. Reduces heat loss at the valve by 90%. Saves over $327,000/year.
  3. Occupancy sensors for lighting: Installed 2,011 occupancy sensors to automatically shut off lights in vacant rooms. Reduces lighting energy consumption by 20-40%, saving over $97,000/year.
  4. Low-flow shower heads: 616 standard shower heads were replaced with efficient 2.0 gallon/minute heads. Reduces water use by an average of 11%, saving over $34,000/year.
  5. Low-flow faucet aerators: Installed 20,426 pressure independent aerators. Reduces water consumption at sinks by an average of 58% for an annual savings of over $159,000.
  6. Efficient motors: Replaced 259 motors with new models that use an average of 5% less energy for an annual savings of over $35,000.
  7. Energy efficient belts for motors: Replaced 213 standard V-style belts with non-slipping synchronous belts with variable frequency drives. Cuts energy use by an average of 8% for a savings of over $46,000/year.
  • History of the Project:
    In October 2009, UofL and Siemens began work on a $21.7 million, 13½-year performance contract to increase efficiency on Belknap Campus.
    – In 2010, a second phase performance contract was agreed for the Health Sciences Center, Shelby campus, and a few more Belknap projects, involving another $23.8 million in retrofits.
    – On Feb. 5th, 2015, UofL trustees authorized spending up to $10 million more for a third phase of the contract.[8] In June 2015, implementation work began on $5.4 million in improvements in lighting, heating, electrical systems, water conservation and other areas, expected to lead to another $457,600 in annual cost savings.
  • Beyond the performance contract, UofL continues to invest in energy efficiency improvements as opportunities arise. Recent projects include:
    1. In summer 2017, Campus Housing upgraded to new Energy Star washing machines and dryers that consume 40% less water and 25% less electricity than the original machines which are located in all UofL residence halls.
    2. In spring 2017, UofL began a pilot test of eTemp[9] energy-saving devices on four of our commercial refrigeration units.
    3. In May 2017, UofL replaced lighting with high-efficiency, cooler, brighter LEDs in portions of the Baptist Campus Center, the lobby of the Playhouse, and in the dining area of the Ville Grill, where 240 42W bulbs were replaced with 26W LEDs. At the Ville Grill alone, this cut lighting energy use 38% for a savings of $1268/year (2.8 year payback) before even accounting for reduced load on HVAC.
    4. In 2018, UofL will use a matching federal pedestrian transportation improvement grant to improve the quality and efficiency of outdoor lighting with LEDs installed along additional Belknap campus pathways, including the Humanities canopy lighting.

Unfortunately, most of these efficiency enhancements remain invisible to campus users and were installed outside of normal business hours for the sake of expediency. While these efforts did little to disrupt campus operations, they also did little to disrupt the mindsets of our students, faculty, staff, and guests. In that sense, UofL has done a good job in reducing our carbon footprint and a poor job in raising awareness and educating the general public about why this is important and how it can be achieved. This seems like a particularly significant shortcoming, given that we are, at core, an educational institution and that the greatest challenges of tackling global climate disruption seem to be around changing minds rather than changing technologies.

While we need to lead by example, a university’s most important role in addressing climate change ultimately comes down to the contributions it makes in terms of educating people, researching sustainable solutions, and influencing society, rather than reducing its own, small contribution to global GHG emissions. UofL has been making important strides in these directions, as well. Prime examples include:

  • The Conn Center for Renewable Energy Research[10] launched in 2009,
  • The Kentucky Pollution Prevention Center[11] established in 1994 to help Kentucky’s businesses, industries and other organizations enhance their sustainability,
  • The expanded reach of the UofL Sustainability Council’s Green Threads faculty workshop[12] to weave sustainability into any department’s curriculum, and
  • The launch of our new interdisciplinary Master’s degree in Sustainability (2015) and undergraduate Major in Sustainability (2017).[13]

The challenge before us now is to connect these efforts better such that our initiatives to reduce UofL’s carbon footprint are also designed from the outset as efforts to educate about climate change and its solutions, to study new ways forward, and to engage more people in the process. These types of projects are captured by the concept of Campus as a Living Laboratory for Sustainability, an initiative the UofL Sustainability Council has begun to focus more explicitly on in recent years[14]

But this challenge of connection means not only changing how we install new technologies (so that they are visible, educational, and possibly even research-oriented), but also a reprioritization of steps in our Climate Action Plan towards those which raise-awareness and influence behavior. A renewed focus on transportation choices makes particular sense at this time, given that commuting and flying represent an increasingly large portion of UofL’s total carbon footprint (up to 30.4% in 2016) and that tackling transportation addresses personal habits and behaviors and, thus, cannot be altered without educating and engaging the entire campus population.

 Getting UofL to Think Outside the Car

Changing commuting habits has been one of the thorniest sustainability issues for UofL, but in 2012, we finally began to crack that nut through a popular, innovative program that has flipped the incentive structure on its head. Through UofL’s innovative Earn-A-Bike Program[15], all students, faculty, and staff who are willing to forgo a campus parking permit for at least two years are eligible to receive a $400 (sales tax exempt) voucher to local bike shops. Vouchers are distributed annually after participants return any current permits and receive mandatory training in bike safety and transportation cycling. Though it has been suspended in 2017-18 due to the university’s extreme financial crisis, the program operated for five straight years and our intention is that it will resume. The program gained national attention in October 2014, when UofL won the AASHE Award for Best Case Study from a Large Four-Year or Graduate Institution[16].

The questions before us as we developed this program were thus: In a highly car-dependent campus culture, would people be willing to give up their right to parking in exchange for a free commuter bike? What other improvements to our transportation system are necessary precursors to getting our campus community ‘thinking outside the car’? These were the questions behind the experiment in changing commuting habits that we have been running at UofL. The university was prodded into radically rethinking its long-standing accommodation of car commuters by a new Campus Master Plan[17] revealing that three more costly parking decks would be required to meet growing demand, and a President’s Climate Commitment, which helped us discover that 22% of university greenhouse gas emissions are due to commuting alone. Meanwhile, our city had been slipping to the bottom of the American Fitness Index[18] and other health rankings. Something had to be done.

FIG. 3 Earn-A-Bike TrainingFIG. 3 – Instructor, Mary Beth Brown, from Bicycling for Louisville, and UofL’s Justin Mog welcome participants to a mandatory training session for Earn-A-Bike recipients in August 2016. Photo credit: Riley Kneale.

We launched the Earn-A-Bike program in August 2012, as part of our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to encourage students and employees to use bicycles for transportation. The goals of the program include:

  • Reducing the vehicle miles traveled to campus (and associated pollution);
  • Reducing the number of vehicles that must be parked on and around campus;
  • Increasing health and activity levels within the UofL community;
  • Reducing the costs of education by saving money that students and employees would otherwise spend on gas, parking, and other automobile expenses;
  • Reducing traffic congestion and accidents; and
  • Rewarding individuals for not driving to campus.

The Sustainability Council fleshed out the initiative as a key component of UofL’s Climate Action Plan and Bicycle Master Plan; and it administers the program today.

Enthusiasm for the Earn-A-Bike program has been outstanding. In its first five years, a total of 3744 people applied and 1908 vouchers were distributed. With no advertising, nearly 800 individuals stepped up to say they were willing to give up their right to a permit in the program’s very first year. By 2015, a record 850 individuals applied for the program. With demand exceeding supply, we developed a system for prioritizing recipients based upon driving history and the likelihood of enduring transportation behavior change. The program was launched along with a whole suite of transportation improvements, including free transit service, carpool matching and incentives, campus car-sharing and bike-sharing programs, and new bike parking, lanes, and do-it-yourself fix-it stations[19]. Success of the program is monitored by targeted participant surveys (see, for example, Figure 4) and by more broad-based periodic campus commuting surveys designed to gauge changes in transportation choices and willingness to consider alternatives.

FIG. 4 Changes in 2015 Earn-A-Bikers Commuting HabitsFIG. 4 – Results of the 2015 Earn-A-Bike program participant survey showed a dramatic shift from driving alone to bicycling, in addition to other modes.

The Earn-A-Bike Program was written into the university’s annual base budget as a priority short-term project in our Climate Action Plan. Of the $183,000 annual Climate Action Plan budget requested by the Sustainability Council for the first five years of Plan implementation, $175,000 was dedicated for the Earn-A-Bike Program. Rather than distributing vouchers immediately, the first year of funding was invested in improving campus infrastructure to make the university more bicycle-friendly. Over 600 new bike parking spaces were added on all three of our campuses, with high-quality bike racks installed within fifty feet of nearly every building entrance. Five do-it-yourself bike fix-it stations with pumps and tools were installed around campus, and the first marked bike lanes were installed on campus pathways (including some path widening and curb ramps to better accommodate bikes). First year funds were also used to equip several UofL staff with work bikes and to launch a campus bike share program which now offers free daily bike checkout from eleven campus locations. Since then, annual funds have been used to:

  • Provide about 400 bike vouchers worth up to $400 ($160,000);
  • Hire instructors from Bicycling for Louisville for the ten mandatory orientation and bike safety sessions held each fall for all voucher recipients ($500);
  • Print Louisville bike maps for distribution to all participants ($1000); and
  • Maintain our bike share fleet, bike fix-it stations, and other bike infrastructure ($13,500).

Small state grants have also been used to help fund bike education on campus.

The results of a longitudinal study of campus commuting behaviors and willingness to consider transportation alternatives demonstrate that significant progress has been made since the launch of this program. The university’s baseline transportation survey in 2010 revealed that nearly everyone (79% of employees; 65% of students) drove to campus alone and very few chose to bicycle (2% of employees; 4% of students). However, it also demonstrated encouraging interest levels in a variety of transportation alternatives, which we then incorporated into our Climate Action Plan and have now implemented through integrated programs designed around those initial findings. In 2013 and 2015, we surveyed again to explore the impacts these programs were having on how people get to campus and what might still be keeping some clinging to their car keys. Figure 5 summarizes the results. We continue to monitor changes in commuting behaviors and adjust our programs accordingly.

FIG. 5 UofL Commuting Trends 2010 to 2015
FIG 5. – Shifts in mode share for UofL commuters over time indicate a steady decline in driving as student’s primary commuting behavior. Though employees showed a similar trend initially, more have returned to driving in recent years.

In addition to altering commuting patterns, the program has also generated tremendous goodwill for the university and the Sustainability Council. It is, by far, the most popular and most widely recognized sustainability initiative at UofL. It has also generated the most press, with local, regional, and national media stories[20]. Our efforts to encourage and support cycling has also led to UofL being named the most bicycle-friendly university in Kentucky, receiving a Silver rating from the League of American Bicyclists in November 2013 and again in 2017[21].

Our experience demonstrates that success in altering commuting behaviors is predicated upon building maximum flexibility into the program and providing the campus population with a great diversity of sustainable solutions. Simply giving away bikes will never be enough. We had originally planned to save money and create a visual impact by ordering UofL-branded bikes in bulk and then distributing them, but we soon realized that, as with any sustainability solution, bicycles are not one-size-fits-all. Frame size is not the only issue. In the planning stages, we invited students, faculty, and staff to test-ride and evaluate a variety of commuter bike styles and we quickly discovered that comfort is highly personalized and not subject to consensus or majority opinion. We also realized that some applicants to the program may already have a bike and would prefer to get their bike fixed up and/or properly equipped for year-round commuting with lights, fenders, baskets, racks, bags, raingear, spare parts, tools, lubricant, etc.

The voucher program not only allows us to meet the highly varied needs of our students, faculty, and staff, but it allows us to directly support the local bicycling community by investing the funds in area bike shops rather than sending the money to a distant manufacturer. After the first year of the program, with only one out of three partner bike shops offering refurbished bikes, we decided in the second year to add two more partner shops which sell used bikes – a more sustainable and cost-effective option.

The Earn-A-Bike program itself, however, is not only the only thing we had to make flexible in order to truly change commuting behaviors. From the outset, it has been self-evident that we need to provide the university community with a full package of transportation alternatives, including free bus transit, bike share, car share, online ride-matching/carpooling incentives, vanpools, and even attractive, affordable housing close to campus for students and employees. To get commuters out of their cars effectively, universities must realize that transportation decisions are based on a constellation of factors, which change throughout the years, seasons, and even days. We must design a full package of transportation alternatives that can meet the changing needs of our campus community. Though we have yet to tackle it effectively, the university has also learned that the next step in changing commuting behaviors is to adjust the disincentives for driving alone. Incentivizing alternatives is only part of the solution. Widespread change will require us to gradually reduce the quantity of convenient parking, increase parking permit rates, and ultimately move away from a system of year-long permits to more shorter-term, daily or hourly market-rate parking fees that allow for driving when necessary, but do not habitualize driving as the default mode through sunk costs.

Progress toward Climate Neutrality

FIG. 6 UofL Greenhouse Gas Emissions 2006-16
FIG. 6 – Despite some vicissitudes, UofL has been successful in its early efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

UofL’s efforts to implement our Climate Action Plan have been paying off for many years, as we make progress toward our goal of climate neutrality. Each spring we document our progress anew and on May 1, 2017, UofL released its latest annual Greenhouse Gas Emissions Report[22], which documents that UofL’s emissions continue to decline overall, despite an increase observed from 2013 to 2015. Thanks to continued vigilance, UofL reversed that trend and, in 2016, the university was able to achieve an overall reduction of 7.2% in carbon emissions from 2015. By continuing to invest in efficiency and behavior change, we have reduced emissions further. This was a vital investment for the sake of our students’ futures, and, indeed, for our common future on this one shared planet.

Over the long-term, we have reduced our GHG emissions, even as we continue to grow in terms of physical size, campus population, and budgetary expenditures.

From 2006 to 2016, we estimate that UofL’s net carbon emissions dropped nearly 25% from 236,101 to 177,704 metric tons per year.

We have also documented that UofL is well on its way to achieving our first milestone goal of a 20% reduction in emissions from our 2008 baseline by 2020. In 2016, we stood at an 18.69% reduction from the 2008 baseline. UofL decreased emissions by 40,836 metric tons of CO2 equivalent per year since 2008. According to the EPA’s greenhouse gas equivalencies calculator[23], this translates to:

  • Taking 8,262 cars off the road, or 97,869,829 miles of driving, or 4,595,026 gallons of gasoline burned;
  • 12,960 tons (or 1,851 garbage trucks) of waste recycled instead of landfilled;
  • Emission from 4,312 average U.S. homes’ annual energy use;
  • 217 rail cars worth of coal burned;
  • 1,447,572 incandescent lamps switched to LEDs; or the
  • Carbon sequestered by 38,656 acres of U.S. forests in one year (or 1,058,312 tree seedlings grown for 10 years).

FIG. 7 UofL Greenhouse Gas Emissions Sources 2016
FIG. 7 – By 2016, emissions from purchased electricity had shrunk to just over half of UofL’s total GHG emissions, with transportation now accounting for nearly one-third of emissions. This suggests a need for renewed attention to changing transportation behaviors such as driving alone to campus and flying for university business without investing in carbon offsets.

While this reduction is important and laudable, we certainly cannot rest on our laurels. We must remain vigilant, committed, and willing to invest resources in order maintain our progress and to ensure a sustained effort toward our ultimate goal of climate neutrality by 2050. We must continue to invest in emissions reduction, to innovate solutions that work in our unique urban setting, and to prioritize efficiency, behavior change, transportation alternatives and renewable energy.
The most important steps that UofL needs to take in the near-term are:

  1. Reduce driving through a Transportation Demand Management Plan that invests in and incentivizes alternatives, caps parking, and transitions UofL from highly subsidized annual permits to market-rate, pay-per-use parking.
  2. Invest in large-scale renewable energy, behavior change, and energy efficiency measures beyond the scope of the existing performance contract.
  3. Explore carbon offsetting and sequestration solutions that would benefit our campus, community, and region.

FIG. 8 UofL Greenhouse Gas Emissions per capita 2006-16
FIG. 8 – UofL has managed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, even while the university continues to grow in terms of population, physical size, and budget.

The reductions we have been able to achieve over the years have occurred in spite of the continued growth of our university in terms of budget, employees, students, land, and building space. We’ve documented reductions across the board in terms of emissions per student, per capita, per square foot of building space, and per dollar of operating budget.

This encouraging news followed the two-year rise in emission documented in our 2015 Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory[24]. That bad news, however, came on the heels of a very encouraging 2013 Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory[25], in which we estimated that emissions had already dropped over 22% from 2006 to 2013 (from 246,929 to 191,823 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emitted annually, an amount equal to taking 11,600 cars off the road).

While the reductions to date are certainly worthy of note and should be celebrated, they still do not represent a steep enough decline to achieve our goal of climate neutrality by 2050. We must continue to innovate and strive for even greater reductions in years to come. And we must do so in a way that educates and inspires our campus population to take action in their own lives.

 

Dr. Justin Mog joined the University of Louisville administration in August 2009 as the university’s first Assistant to the Provost for Sustainability Initiatives. He earned his B.S. in Environmental Studies & Geology from Oberlin College (OH) and his M.S. and Ph.D. in Land Resources from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Institute for Environmental Studies. In 2017, he was awarded the Joan Riehm Memorial Environmental Leadership Award for Sustainable Environmental Leadership in Public Service from Louisville’s Partnership for a Green City.
FIG. 9 Justin Mog profile - Louisville Magazine (March 2016)FIG. 9 – Dr. Justin Mog is a life-long bike commuter who has never held a driver’s license. Photo credit: Louisville Magazine (March 2016)

Original Publishing: Sustain: A Journal of Environmental and Sustainability Issues, Issue 38 (Spring/Summer 2018), p. 16-25.

References Cited

Alinsky, S. D.  1971.  Rules for Radicals:  A Practical Primer for Realistic Radicals.  New York: Random House.

Allen, W. J., O. J. H. Bosch, R. G. Gibson & A. J. Jopp.  1998.  Co-learning our way to sustainability:  an integrated and community-based research approach to support natural resource management decision making.  Pages 51-59 in S. A. El-Swaify & D. S. Yakowitz (editors).  Multiple Objective Decision Making for Land, Water, and Environmental Management.  Proceedings of the First International Conference on Multiple Objective Decision Support Systems (MODSS) for Land, Water, and Environmental Management:  Concepts, Approaches, and Applications.  London: Lewis Publishers.

Buenavista, G., I. Coxhead & K. Kim.  2001.  Assessing the impact of a participatory, research-oriented project – results of a survey.  Pages 232-257 in I. Coxhead & G. Buenavista (editors).  Seeking Sustainability:  Challenges of Agricultural Development and Environmental Management in a Philippine Watershed.  Los Baños, Philippines: Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development.

Bunch, R.  1982.  Two Ears of Corn:  A Guide to People-Centered Agricultural Development.  Oklahoma City, OK: World Neighbors.

Davies, R.  1998.  An evolutionary approach to organizational learning: an experiment by an NGO in Bangladesh.  Pages 68-83 in D. Mosse, J. Farrington & A. Rew (editors).  Development as Process:  Concepts and Methods for Working with Complexity.  London: Routledge.

Freire, P.  1970.  Pedagogy of the Oppressed.  New York: Herder and Herder.

Koffa, S. N. & D. P. Garrity.  2001.  Grassroots empowerment and sustainability in the management of critical natural resources:  the Agroforestry Tree Seed Association of Lantapan.  Pages 197-217 in I. Coxhead & G. Buenavista (editors).  Seeking Sustainability:  Challenges of Agricultural Development and Environmental Management in a Philippine Watershed.  Los Baños, Philippines: Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development.

Lane, J.  1995.  Non-governmental organizations and participatory development:  the concept in theory versus the concept in practice.  Pages 181-191 in N. Nelson & S. Wright (editors).  Power and Participatory Development:  Theory and Practice.  London: Intermediate Technology Publications.

Lightfoot, C., O. de Guia, Jr. & F. Ocado.  1988.  A participatory method for systems-problem research:  rehabilitating marginal uplands in the Philippines.  Experimental Agriculture, 24(3): 301-309.

Mosher, A. T.  1978.  An Introduction to Agricultural Extension.  New York: Agricultural Development Council.

Pretty, J. N.  1995.  Participatory learning for sustainable agriculture.  World Development, 23(8): 1247-1263.

Rubin, S.  1995.  A Basic Guide to Evaluation for Development Workers.  Oxford: Oxfam.

Uphoff, N., M. J. Esman & A. Krishna.  1998.  Reasons for Success:  Learning from Instructive Experiences in Rural Development.  West Hartford, CT: Kumarian Press.

Waters-Bayer, A.  1989.  Participatory Technology Development in Ecologically-Oriented Agriculture:  Some Approaches and Tools.  Network Paper No. 7.  London: Agricultural Administration Unit, Overseas Development Institute.

Footnotes

[1] http://secondnature.org/what-we-do/climate-leadership/

[2] http://secondnature.org/who-we-are/network/

[3] See Alinsky  1971; Allen et al., 1998; Buenavista, Coxhead & Kim, 2001; Bunch, 1992; Davies, 1998; Freire, 1970; Koffa & Garrity, 2001; Lane, 1995; Lightfoot, de Guia & Ocado, 1988; Mosher, 1978; Pretty, 1995; Rubin, 1995; Uphoff, Esman & Krishna, 1998; and Waters-Bayer, 1989.

[4] http://reporting.secondnature.org/cap/cap-public!700

[5] http://reporting.secondnature.org/ghg/ghg-public!121

[6] http://louisville.edu/energysavings

[7] http://uoflnews.com/post/uofltoday/energy-saving-project-outpaces-its-goals

[8] http://louisville.edu/uofltoday/campus-news/trustees-extend-energy-saving-project

[9] http://www.getetemp.com/video

[10] http://conncenter.org/

[11] http://kppc.org/

[12] http://louisville.edu/sustainability/education-research/green-threads

[13] http://louisville.edu/sustainability/education-research/academic-programs

[14] http://louisville.edu/sustainability/education-research/LivingLab

[15] http://louisville.edu/sustainability/operations/earn-a-bike-program

[16] http://louisville.edu/sustainability/uofltoday/campus-news/earn-a-bike-program-wins-national-honor

[17] http://louisville.edu/updc/masterplan

[18] http://www.americanfitnessindex.org/docs/reports/2011_afi_report_final.pdf

[19] http://louisville.edu/sustainability/operations/transportation

[20] See, for example:

[21] http://uoflnews.com/releases/uofl-again-named-bicycle-friendly-university/

[22] https://sharepoint.louisville.edu/sites/provost/Sustainability/Shared%20Documents/UofL-GreenhouseGasReport-2016.pdf

[23] https://www.epa.gov/energy/greenhouse-gas-equivalencies-calculator

[24] http://reporting.secondnature.org/ghg/ghg-public!3828

[25] http://reporting.secondnature.org/ghg/ghg-public!3027

Get FRESH all summer!

IMG_6343.JPGThanks, everyone, for helping make our 2018 RELAUNCH of the Belknap Farmers Market such a success!

We will close for the summer and reopen with a FALL market Aug. 15 – Oct. 24 (same time & place: Wednesdays 11am-2pm at the Red Barn).

To keep enjoying farm-fresh local food all summer long, please subscribe to one of our Community-Supported Agriculture delivery services, with pickup sites at Belknap Campus and the Health Sciences Center.

Options include Granny’s Delights (contact: Russ Gritton 502-203-7136, rgritton@bardstowncable.net) or Barr Farms CSA.

 

Help Us Unlock A Match! If we raise $5000 for our Student Sustainability Fund then Just Money Advisors will match it with $5,000 more!

Growing Our Future: Student Sustainability Fund

UNLOCK A MATCH: When we raise $5,000 for the Student Sustainability Fund, Just Money Advisors, a Louisville-based company, will give $5,000 towards the fund!  Gifts of all sizes will help unlock this matching gift!**

The University of Louisville is committed to integrating sustainability into everything we do – from how we manage our facilities, finances and people to what we teach in the classroom and what we research in the lab. Our vision is to create a university that is itself a living laboratory for sustainability and a campus community that leads by example and educates as much by what we do as by what we say. Our goal is to make decisions which reflect a balanced consideration for environmental, social and economic responsibility and to continually learn as we go.

We invite you to learn more and support our newest initiative, the Student Sustainability Fund here

Lighten Your Load Rescheduled to Wednesday, April 18th – Will Now Share Space With Belknap Farmers Market!

Our Lighten Your Load! event was slated to happen today, however due to cold weather and snow flurries we have decided to reschedule the event to Wednesday, April 18th from 11-2pm on the Red Barn Patio.

The Belknap Farmers Market will also be taking place in this space on April 18th! Come by the Red Barn for delicious fruits, vegetables, and more as well as to drop off anything you might otherwise be throwing away as you move out!

 

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