Managing university’s forests is another key piece of carbon-neutrality goal

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Colgate campus

Colgate manages 1,059 acres of forested land in addition to the trees on campus.

It’s not news that Colgate is committed to sustainability, but it might be surprising to hear that, unlike many other higher education institutions, Colgate has launched management practices for its on- and off-campus forests to reduce the university’s carbon footprint, another important step toward achieving carbon neutrality by 2019.

“Most campuses are completely ignoring their forests, and don’t count them at all in the analysis of their carbon footprints,” explained John Pumilio, Colgate’s director of sustainability. “We can’t get through this climate crisis, as a country or as a planet, without preserving and properly managing our forests.”

In addition to its 575-acre campus, Colgate owns 1,059 acres of forested land, including off-campus sites such as the Bewkes Center, Beattie Reserve, Parker Farm, Johnnycake Hill, and more.

The university’s goals for managing this land includes using it for research and teaching; outdoor recreation and aesthetic value; conservation of ecosystem services and biodiversity; and timber production.

The careful management of the forest will sequester approximately 1,500 tons of carbon from the atmosphere per year, according to Pumilio.

The first steps of the forest sequestration project were implemented in 2013, when measurements were taken from 174 sample plots of trees to determine the amount of carbon stored there.

In 2018, the same plots will be measured again, allowing the sustainability office to determine the actual sequestration of the forest since 2013, and how much carbon has been taken from the atmosphere since then.

As part of this project, Colgate’s forest has been certified by the American Tree Farm System for long-term sustainable management, with the goal to maintain the forest so that it can exist indefinitely.

Along with regular measurements of sequestration, the sustainable management of the forest also includes careful logging processes.

“Harvesting select trees can be healthy for forests,” said Pumilio, “and when we do harvest trees, we do it in the most environmentally friendly way.”

The sustainability office is also taking these harvested trees into account when analyzing the university’s carbon footprint, keeping track of how much carbon was stored in them, how the timber is going to be used, and how its use, such as for furniture or paper, dictates whether that carbon is stored or released into the atmosphere.

There have been 27 carbon-reducing projects implemented on campus since the President’s Climate Commitment was signed in 2009, promising carbon neutrality by 2019.

Projects have included the installation of low-flow shower heads in residence halls, the installation of ENERGY STAR® rated laundry machines, lighting upgrades in Sanford Field House, a solar thermal array on Broad Street, a heating plant upgrade replacing oil with natural gas, and the renovation of buildings to be LEED certified.

Colgate’s current carbon footprint is approximately 13,000 tons.

Pumilio said that the on-campus projects, in combination with investments in carbon offsets, would lead Colgate to carbon neutrality. For example, Colgate is currently offsetting approximately 5,000 tons of carbon a year by investing in a reforestation project in Patagonia, Chile.