Changing the climate


For anyone living in Chicago, the lack of snow this winter was certainly a surprise. It’s all thanks to one thing: climate change.

In 2017 alone, many areas across the United States saw warmer conditions this past winter. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. saw its second warmest February on record and sixth warmest winter of all time. 

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), humans are the ones to blame for this change.

The future doesn’t look too bright either. In a special report released Mar. 31, 2014, “severe and pervasive” impacts face the world in the centuries ahead.

Since humans are responsible, they’re also the ones trying to change the fate of the dying Earth everyone calls home.

Earth Day is on April 22 this year, and is one of the ways 192 countries across the world aim to inform people on environmental and climate literacy.

For the other 364 days of the year, higher education institutions around the country such as DePaul, are committed to reducing carbon emissions. In June 2016 DePaul University, with help from the Carbonless Community, prepared and released a report to the public. The Carbon Footprint Update Report outlines ways DePaul will create more sustainability in the years ahead.

The DePaul Sustainability Network, alongside the Student Government Association (SGA), leads the way in research and planning for climate change adaption at DePaul. With implementation from facility operations, the university has already invested in energy efficient lighting and a better waste recycling program.

“In recent years we began to migrate to LED technology, which is present in all newer buildings and being retrofitted into older buildings, replacing the T8 retrofits as well as other light fixtures and systems,” Vice President of Facility Operations Bob Janis said.

In 2017 LED or light emitting diode technology is one of the most energy efficient and rapidly developed lights on the market. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the widespread use of LED lighting could save $30 billion by 2027, and would cut down energy consumption by more than 340 terawatt-hours.

“The effect one individual has won’t be as important as a big school or big business,” DePaul senior Aaron Cerron said. “If a big organization with a lot of people takes the initiative and starts that kind of a program, it can almost have a domino effect where others will follow suit.”

In a partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), universities and colleges around the country have joined together toward sustainable energy. The EPA monitors green power usage in kilowatt-hours. DePaul, as of March 2017, is one of only two schools in the Big East who has contributed to the green energy report. The Big East Conference is number six out of more than 30 conferences.

While natural gas heats DePaul’s facilities, facility operations use sustainable resources to help balance and reduce the overall carbon output. Some buildings have also adapted environmentally friendly rooftops.

“We replace roofs regularly based on life cycle and condition,” Janis said. “When we do replace them, we increase the thermal insulation values, plus we install light color (typically white or silver) membrane for sun reflectivity.”

DePaul has reconstructed the roof on the student center building to a white roof, which returns the sun’s heat back into the atmosphere. Prior to this, the building had a black tar roof and posed as a large emitter of carbon. DePaul’s new School of Music building on its Lincoln Park campus will have an environmentally friendly roof and share some of the same features as other buildings.

The university is also supplementing their sustainability efforts with green-planted ceilings for some of its facilities. However, facility operations face some complications in the retrofitting of older buildings with green technology updates.

“You’ll notice that if you go into McGowan South they have the double flush toilet systems,” Dr. Barb Willard, associate professor in the College of Communications and chair of Communication Studies at DePaul, said. “We also have the water bottle refill stations. So, all of that, are efforts that have been on the part of facility operations.”

Facility Operations also donated $250,000 to Student Government Association (SGA), which then used this contribution for indoor green efforts, such as 91 water refill stations across all campuses. These stations contribute to tens of thousands of water bottles saved.

SGA has also concentrated its efforts in the Quad at the Lincoln Park campus. Bike racks, solar panels, windmills and USB solar powered outlets are just some of the ways DePaul creates a greener environment.

According to DePaul’s Office of Mission and Values, efforts in reducing the university’s carbon footprint are rooted deep in Catholic and Vincentian values. This decision to become a sustainable campus comes from the age-old Vincentian question, “What must be done?” For years, the DePaul Sustainability Network, Facility Operations and SGA have worked alongside one another to create a sustainable, environmentally friendly campus that can give back to its surrounding neighborhoods and the Earth itself.

“If you look in Genesis, right from the very beginning it talks about our relationship of stewardship with the earth,” Dr. Mark Potosnak, an associate professor of environmental science and studies in the College of Science and Health at DePaul, said. “There is a really strong thread of Catholic faith centered around people that found inspiration for God in the wilderness.”

This strong sense of faith and belief in Catholicism and DePaul’s Vincentian values have led the university to create an Institutional Sustainability Plan called “What Sustains Us?” This is the fifth report in a series of sustainability reports for the university. This plan explains DePaul’s purpose and charge for its continuous efforts.

The report is framed around the question, “In what ways does the focus on sustainability function to build DePaul’s capacity to be an agent of social transformation?” This is a report where religion and science come together to help with the “social transformation” of becoming a greener campus.

“There is also a social justice angle,” Potosnak said. “Climate change is, again this is an idea central to our faith, to be charitable. Climate change is caused by people that are affluent, but the one’s that feel the effects first are the vulnerable. Essentially, you are robbing from the poor when you produce carbon.”

Although DePaul has increased its efforts into reducing its carbon footprint, it still has some way to go to reach its goal of reducing carbon emissions by 80 percent in the year 2040. The university’s student body has a large part in helping their school with that responsibility.

“It is vital to have all departments coming together,” Janis said. “Simple things such as all turning off lights when they leave their offices, residence halls or apartments, unplugging electrical devices such as TV’s, hair dryers, cell phone chargers and other appliances when not in use. We are all in this together toward helping to make a difference.”