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Duke Plans to Become Climate Neutral by 2024

Goal coincides with 100th anniversary of founding indenture

Duke University has released a plan to become climate neutral by 2024, which coincides with the 100th anniversary of James B. Duke signing the indenture of trust that established the institution.

The university developed the plan as part of the American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment, which President Richard H. Brodhead signed in 2007. Earlier this month, Duke's Board of Trustees reviewed and endorsed the goal of achieving climate neutrality.

A copy of the plan is available online at

"Duke has long been a major center for the study of the environment, and we are committed to being a leader in best practices in responding to climate change," Brodhead said. "There are many uncertainties in this field, so we will continue to assesses our progress and change our plan as needed as we go forward. But it's time to get moving toward this important goal."

In 2007, Brodhead appointed a committee of faculty, staff and students led by Executive Vice President Tallman Trask III and Dean William Chameides of the Nicholas School of the Environment to develop the plan. The group inventoried Duke's greenhouse gas emissions by source and made recommendations for reducing or mitigating these through the year 2050.

"This plan represents a bold statement about Duke putting into practice its sustainability ideals and advancing knowledge in the service of society," Chameides said. "Duke's commitment to these important environmental issues began well before the signing of the pledge in 2007, and the impact of the work we have set before us will hopefully be part of a global effort to improve the lives of those who come after."

The university's current inventory represents about 300,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, most of which come from energy and transportation uses, which includes commuter travel, air travel and the campus fleet of buses.

"The reductions require that we make smarter choices about energy use, transportation, and other facts of daily life," Brodhead said. "We must challenge ourselves to be more thoughtful about our habits and imaginative about needed changes."

Duke will mitigate the impact of emissions it cannot reduce by investing in "carbon credits" for projects such as methane capture from agricultural operations and specialized forest management that avoid, reduce or sequester greenhouse gas emissions elsewhere.

"Duke's plan will specifically target regional offsets rather than distant ones," Trask said. "This will help us address our carbon footprint as well as improve the local environment and quality of life here in North Carolina."

Duke has launched the Duke Carbon Offsets Initiative to serve as a catalyst for potential offset projects such as the development of an innovative waste management system to capture methane gas and mitigate other pollution from hog farms in North Carolina. Campus officials hope the venture will spur innovation and further research in this emerging market.

Chameides said these offset projects will provide academic opportunities for faculty and students. They also will leverage Duke's interdisciplinary strengths by bringing together the university's expertise in environment, law, engineering, business and public policy, among others.

"These projects will also help us achieve one of the goals of the Climate Action Plan, which is to ensure all students at Duke graduate with the knowledge and understanding of climate change and sustainability," he said.

Operationally, Duke has already made significant strides to become more energy efficient. Later this year, it will reopen its historic East Campus steam plant, which it has converted to run on natural gas. Burning this cleaner fuel will enable Duke to cut its overall coal consumption by 70 percent by using its West Campus steam plant, which burns coal, recycled oil and natural gas, to manage peak demand.

And since 2003, all new buildings on the Duke campus have met the standards set by the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED rating system. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and future capital projects will adhere to those standards as well, Trask said.

"We have already made significant investments and improvements in energy efficiency by developing and renovating as many LEED-certified buildings as any other university in the country," Trask said. "We will continue to advance these institutional efforts as resources become available."