Sun staff writer
October 26. 2006 6:01AM
Calling global warming a "frightening phenomenon," University of Florida President Bernie Machen announced Wednesday that UF will be among the first universities in the nation to commit to going "climate neutral" in future years.
Machen will sign the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, a pledge to take environmentally conscious steps so that the net impact of university activity will not worsen the problem of climate change. The pact requires universities to publicly disclose progress, but allows each institution to set its own pace in reaching the lofty goal.
Machen, who did not say when UF aims to go climate neutral, used the inaugural Campus and Community Sustainability Conference at UF as the stage to announce the university's pending commitment. The conference, which seeks to share eco-friendly practices, drew more than 400 people from around the state, including representatives from 21 universities and colleges.
To reach the goal of climate neutrality, participating universities will work to cut greenhouse gas emissions, develop new energy technologies and construct "green" buildings that operate with greater energy efficiency.
The climate commitment is a fledgling movement organized by Second Nature and the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, two groups that seek to improve environmental practices at colleges and universities. Anthony Cortese, president of Second Nature, said it's incumbent upon universities - consumers of nearly 6 percent of the world's electricity - to step up and address climate change.
"What the presidents are realizing is this is not simply an environmental issue," he said. "This is about the future of civilization as we know it."
UF is one of fewer than 10 universities that have committed to sign the pact, but Cortese said he expects at least 100 others to follow suit by the end of 2007.
The sustainability conference at UF comes one year after Machen first rolled out concrete plans to make UF a greener kind of campus. Machen said Wednesday that the university is better off than it was last October but remains far from reaching its goals.
"We have done a lot, but we have a long way to go," Machen said.
Machen proceeded to give the audience assembled in the Reitz Union Auditorium the first official "report card" on UF's efforts to become a better environmental steward by cutting emissions and by recycling.
In a growing movement, which Machen says is "sweeping the nation," UF is working to emerge as a leader in the realm of "sustainability." The concept ultimately boils down to preserving natural resources for future generations, which can admittedly prove a tall order for a giant university like UF that consumes vast energy and resources.
Despite the challenges, Machen said Wednesday that UF has made progress, particularly in the area of emissions. UF set out last year to buy only hybrid or alternative fuel vehicles, and the university's fleet now has 12 hybrids and 45 "flex fuel" vehicles that run on gasoline or a blend of up to 85 percent ethanol, commonly called E-85. Ethanol is a biofuel derived from crops.
Even with 500 gallons of E-85 fuel being used per month at UF, the great majority of UF's fleet still runs on traditional gasoline or diesel. Indeed, UF uses a total of 30,000 gallons of gasoline and 8,000 gallons of diesel every month, Machen said.
Machen's discussion of recycling efforts at UF carried a dose of praise paired with the sober acknowledgment that much of the work is still left undone. In a joint volunteer effort with Keep Alachua County Beautiful, UF's Office of Sustainability has recycled at least four tons of plastic bottles and other refuse on game days in Gainesville this year, Machen said. On the other hand, the university put 4.4 million trash bags into landfills last year. The bags alone weighed 163 tons without trash, Machen said with a notable degree of consternation.
In addition to a pending commitment to go climate neutral, UF has already set a goal of producing zero solid waste by 2015. Machen was short on details in his speech about how that will actually be accomplished, but UF's recently created Office of Sustainability is in the process of crafting a master plan that is expected to lay out more specific strategies for this effort.
The sustainability conference continues through tonight, capped off by a speech from journalist and novelist Carl Hiaasen this evening. Hiaasen, a columnist for The Miami Herald and a UF graduate, has written extensively about environmental issues as well as the political corruption that often stifles green efforts.
Hiaasen will speak at 8 p.m. at the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts on campus. http://gainesville.com/apps/pbcs.dll...0356/1078/news