Carbon Neutral Commuter and offset program aims for emission education

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Carl Blankenship

For the past three years the Office of Sustainability at Appalachian State has offered a program to eliminate the carbon emissions created by your daily campus commute for a few dollars.

If you contribute $8 to the Carbon Neutral Commuter program the Office of Sustainability will take that money and invest it in their partnership with Sterling Planet, a commercial offset and green energy credit company.

Commuting emissions compose about 20 percent of the university’s total carbon footprint, about 13,771 metric tons of carbon annually. Non-commuting travel emissions compose another 10 percent of the footprint, meaning travel accounts for about 30 percent of the school’s footprint.

Sterling Planet has several offset programs, but the university opted for a methane destruction, which involves wicking methane off landfills and destroying it before it can be absorbed in the atmosphere.

Jim Dees, the data and assessment specialist for the Office of Sustainability, said methane destruction is an efficient way to offset atmospheric carbon due to its high density and large production at landfills.

Landfills produce methane as a byproduct of anaerobic respiration from bacteria breaking down compounded trash en masse.

“When we look at the cost effectiveness of different offset methods these commercial ones are way more efficient in terms of bang for your buck,” Dees said.

12.5 percent of commuters is much more than was expected. Dees said Sterling Planet gave an estimation of 5 percent participation when the program was set up. That number is down from 17 percent last year.

“People here really have an appetite for this sort of thing,” Dees said.

Dees said offsets are an important part of sustainability with regards to emissions. The university actively tries to reduce emissions and improve efficiency everywhere it can, but remaining emissions must be offset as the school moves toward carbon neutrality.

Carbon Neutral Commuter’s success has inspired Dees and graduate assistant Sarah Hooper to create a far reaching offset program that will address emissions from every area of the university, not just commuting.

The program is still in its developmental stages, but it will isolate emissions into three categories: travel, energy and efficiency. Dees said the program aims to educate about carbon-efficient living and offsets to promote the same values beyond Appalachian.

“It’s something we feel a great sense of urgency about,” Dees said. “The doomsday clock is ticking and we need to do this.”

Hooper said education is the first step toward carbon neutrality.

“If people don’t know what they’re doing how can they lower their emissions?” Hooper said.

Director of sustainability Lee Ball said the Office of Sustainability wants to get people thinking about how they connect to sustainability.

“We want people to know why it’s important,” Ball said. “Why should be thinking about driving less or driving a vehicle that has less of an impact?”

Dees said he wants to see students graduate from here educated on reducing emissions.

“If we went carbon neutral tomorrow, or by next Thursday, it would be great, but it would be a very small impact globally,” Dees said. “But if we are cranking out students year after year after year after year for the next 25, to 30, to 40 years that understand it’s death by a thousand cuts, if we can stop the bleeding at some point and get our student base to leave this university knowing carbon pollution is an issue and we need to do everything we can to avoid that, that’s where I see the impact.”