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The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

Forthcoming Climate Action Plan, context behind high emissions

By+Maya+Oclassen
By Maya Oclassen

Unlike colleges and universities, climate change does not take a spring break. 

While DePaul students were likely catching up on sleep and preparing for one final quarter of classes before summer, university leaders continued to consider ways to make DePaul a more sustainable and accountable community by drafting a climate action plan. 

On Friday, March 29, The DePaulia obtained an email from Vice President of Facility Operations Rich Wiltse to the Chicago chapter of the Climate Reality Project — an international climate action and advocacy organization — detailing existing sustainability efforts and some context behind what the city of Chicago’s benchmarking data identified as six high-emitting buildings in the city belonging to DePaul. 

The buildings listed as high-emitting are McGowan North, McGowan South, the Lincoln Park Student Center,  Centennial Hall, the Holtschneider Performance Center and The DePaul Center. 

Wiltse emphasized that despite expanding its geographic footprint, DePaul has not increased its carbon emissions since 2002 due to what he said were significant investments in improving building efficiency at DePaul. 

“We view this baseline as a foundation to be built upon, which is why DePaul set an aspirational goal years ago to offset up to 80% of its CO2 emissions by 2040,” Wiltse said in the email. 

He said a big part of meeting this aspirational goal is through purchasing renewable energy certificates (REC), which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) describes as renewable energy instruments or procedures installed in the organization or invested in elsewhere. 

Wiltse’s email noted that DePaul has purchased increasing amounts of RECs through 2026, which he said will offset about 55% of DePaul’s anticipated electricity consumption by that time. 

Maintaining and increasing the university’s use of solar was also noted as a point of sustainability progress in Wiltse’s email to Climate Reality Project. 

“In November 2023, DePaul became an anchor tenant in Illinois Shines, a state-administered incentive program to support the development of new solar projects,”  Wiltse said in the email. “Upon enrolling the Loop Campus accounts, over 90% of DePaul’s on-campus power consumption will be attributable to community solar once the underlying projects are fully developed.”

Reasons for high-emissions benchmarking data

Wiltse’s email to the Climate Reality Project explained why some of DePaul’s buildings were listed as high-emitting on the city of Chicago’s 2021 emission benchmarking data. 

Wiltse emphasized that the benchmarking data showing DePaul as a high emitter was from 2021, in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, when many buildings in Chicago were vacant while DePaul remained open and operational. Additionally, increased safety precautions such as better filtration and HVAC systems led to more energy usage per building than others in the city. 

“All of these necessary safety protocols translated to significant increases in utility consumption, while many traditional office buildings and other non-essential businesses were continuing to scale back-office hours and in-person interactions toward maintaining social distancing,” Wiltse said in the email. 

He cited research laboratories and “around the clock” heating and cooling systems as reasons for McGowan North and McGowan South’s high emissions. As for Centennial Hall, Wiltsse described this building as mixed-use, in that it is a dorm, office space, cellular tower hub and formerly held a Whole Foods Market, which closed in 2022. In 2021, however, Whole Foods Market was still operational on the first floor of DePaul’s Centennial Hall, requiring significant energy expenditures to accommodate large freezers and kitchen supplies. 

Though Wiltse listed many legitimate attributions for DePaul’s high-emitting buildings, Wiltse and university leadership say they want to work with students and other members of the DePaul community to create more guidelines and strategies for becoming more sustainable. 

“DePaul is committed to engaging with the Student Government Association, President’s Sustainability Committee, Just DePaul and others in developing a climate action plan. We will share more information on this process, including how students can get involved, in the coming months,” Sherri Sidler, DePaul’s executive vice president, said in a statement to The DePaulia. 

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