Plan's Goal: Carbon Neutrality by 2036

Published on February 22, 2017

Eastern Kentucky University has completed a comprehensive Climate Action and Resiliency Plan to strategically and economically reduce its carbon footprint to zero by 2036, in accordance with the Second Nature Climate Commitment.

The plan calls for the University to reach its goal via a variety of mitigation strategies, including:

·         implementation of geothermal heating/cooling throughout campus.

·         improvements in central plant and building efficiencies through Energy Savings Performance Contracts (ESPC).

·         greater efficiencies in steam and chilled water.

·         energy efficiency guidelines for new buildings.

·         the purchase of renewable energy credits and carbon offsets.

·         reduction in water consumption.

The entire plan may be viewed at

According to Sustainability Manager Patrick McKee, EKU’s plan is the “most aggressive” of any public university in the Commonwealth, yet cost efficient. The plan requires an initial investment that will be paid back over 15 years, with an additional savings of $5.2 million by 2036.

EKU “is seeking to work toward carbon neutrality with a reasonable, financially sound model that incorporates as many existing processes and facilities as possible,” said Barry Poynter, vice president for finance and administration. “In fact, when considering our key mitigation strategies, this plan makes sense for our University independent of the carbon savings.

“Our approach is sensitive to the current budget realities,” Poynter continued. “As noted in the plan, investments toward achieving carbon neutrality can have a relatively short payback period, and can continue earning and producing additional savings. I think this approach is an excellent example to set for our community as we commit to being even better stewards of our resources.”

In a “Letter from the President” that prefaces the plan, EKU President Michael Benson said that sustainability is “sometimes defined too narrowly or wrongly viewed through a lens of political partisanship. The truth is that rethinking and retraining to accommodate sustainable behaviors is more than just an environmental win; oftentimes, it simply makes good fiscal sense.

“Given the budgetary challenges we now face in public higher education, it is more important than ever that we meet our current resource needs without hindering the ability of future generations to do the same.”

One challenge at Eastern is aging buildings that are typically not energy efficient. The University is in the midst of the most ambitious campus revitalization initiative in its history, including new academic buildings, residence halls and other student-centered facilities, several set to open in 2017 and others within the next few years. The new structures are constructed with energy efficiency in mind; older buildings must be retrofitted to achieve similar results.

“We continue to push ourselves to make buildings more energy efficient and sustainable,” said Paul Gannoe, associate vice president for facilities services and capital planning. “HVAC renovations at Telford Hall (built in 1969), the use of insulated concrete forms on the new residence halls, and building automation improvements in dining and the new wellness center are a few examples of how we can build greener, more sustainable environments for our students. These improvements not only help us conserve energy, but they provide a more pleasant, comfortable environment for living and learning on campus.”

The University’s commitment to environmental stewardship was illustrated in 2013 when it opened the first LEED Gold-certified residence hall on a state university campus in Kentucky. (LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, as determined by the U.S. Green Building Council.)

As part of an effort to ensure that the “Campus Beautiful” description often applied to EKU refers to more than just attractive landscaping, the University has also begun to take steps to reduce vehicular emissions through ridesharing and improved “walkability” and “bikeability” across campus, divert as much as waste as possible from landfills, institute “green” purchasing policies, and use more locally-grown and organic foods in campus cafeterias.

The plan also addressed the subject of coal as an energy source.

“Given Kentucky’s heavy reliance on coal, it is reasonable that a reduction in the prominence of fossil fuels in America’s energy infrastructure would profoundly affect the state’s economy and employment trends, especially in eastern Kentucky,” the plan read. While EKU’s specific plan does not call for the elimination of coal as a source for energy in its central heat plant, McKee noted, “EKU is well positioned to take a leadership role in climate change education, modeling positive change, and helping Appalachia deal with the economic impacts of shifting away from coal.”

 McKee emphasized that implementation of the plan will require the active engagement of the entire University community.

“University leadership, faculty, staff and students all share in the responsibility of reducing EKU’s carbon footprint,” he said. “We must work together to lead by example.”