Auto commutes drive up campus emissions
Bookmark and Share

Nearly half of SF State’s greenhouse gas emissions come from students and the faculty commuting to and from campus, according to a report released last spring.

But if more people rode bicycles or public transit to school, then they would help the university significantly reduce its impact on global warming, the report’s authors Carlos Davidson and Caitlin Fager said.

SF State’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory from 1990-2006 calculated the amount of greenhouse gases the university emitted directly and indirectly during each of those years. Students, faculty, staff and others collaborated on the inventory, which counted emissions from activities such as energy generation, energy use, transportation and solid waste disposal.

The inventory report was co-authored by Carlos Davidson, director of environmental studies, and Caitlin Fager, recycling coordinator. Its completion met a requirement of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, to which President Robert A. Corrigan signed SF State in May 2007. The commitment requires that a climate action plan responding to the report’s findings be completed by May 2009.

“It’s an important first step to reducing emissions,” Davidson said. “You have to know where the big sources are.”

Without doing that benchmark research, “it’s really hard to tell where the [emissions] are coming from,” Fager said. Finding that about half of SF State’s emissions came from commuting “despite it being an urban school” surprised her, she added.

The main findings
In 2006, SF State put the equivalent of about 61,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air, which is a 47 percent increase since 1990. About 49 percent of those emissions came from commuting to and from school, while energy generation and use accounted for about 45 percent, according to the report.

One of the main reasons emissions have increased dramatically since 1990 is simply growth in housing and full-time students. “From 1990 to 2006, university square footage increased by 25 percent from 2.9 million to 3.6 million” while the number of full time equivalent students rose by about 4000, according to the report.

SF State’s overall energy use increased 12.5 percent from 1990-2006 “due to campus growth,” the report stated. Use per square foot, however, decreased “likely in part due to energy efficiency efforts on campus, such as improved co-generation efficiency and more efficient lighting.”

Growth in emissions from transportation since 1990 — by 26 percent for students and 36 percent for faculty and staff — also came “mainly due to the increase in numbers of each group,” according to the report. The most popular mode of transportation to SF State in 2006 was driving: about 23 percent of students, faculty and staff drove alone and 19 percent carpooled. About 37 percent rode public transit and 17 percent walked, while only about 2 percent rode bicycles to school, according to the report.

To reduce the university’s emissions, the report recommended exploring opportunities to install solar panels on campus, further increasing energy efficiency and convincing more students and faculty to carpool, ride public transit or ride bicycles to school.

SF State responds
The report also recommended changing energy providers, blaming the current one for the single largest increase in SF State’s emissions within the time frame. In 1998, the California State University schools switched from Pacific Gas and Electric, which “has a large percentage of hydro and nuclear generation,” to Arizona Public Service, “which generates a large share of its electricity from coal and natural gas,” the report stated.

The switch increased the amount of greenhouse gases SF State emitted indirectly to generate electricity by 272 percent, according to the report, which recommends switching back to PG&E or another provider that makes electricity cleaner.

Already, SF State “has ended its contract with Arizona Power, and a new deal is in the works,” Davidson said.

“The chancellor’s office right now is looking for a different provider for all CSUs. We should see a big dip in our emissions,” Fager said.

In an effort to encourage bicycling to and from campus, the university is also building new bicycle racks to be installed within a few weeks, Fager said.

One way SF State could encourage more students to ride public transit would be to give them all transit passes, Davidson said. Students in his Campus Sustainability course researched the idea and discovered that University of San Francisco and some other universities reached agreements with transit authorities to offer discounted passes to undergraduates. “It can make a phenomenal difference,” he said.

How Students Can Help
Creating something like a universal transit pass for undergraduates “goes way beyond individual behavior. In the other campuses, it’s been a student movement that’s pushed for it,” Davidson said. Concerned students should talk to student government or campus environmental groups such as ECO Students and get involved, he said.

“As a student, you have the opportunity to do something more far-ranging and impactful,” Davidson said. “It’s the students who have to step up and say ‘we want this.’”

Fager said she is looking for “students to find where we’re using energy on campus, how we’re using it, and how we can use it more efficiently.” For those who would like to fight global warming but may be too busy to work at the Recycling Center: “ride MUNI or BART, bike to school, bring your own reusable bag, bring a refillable water bottle, buy local and turn off the lights,” she said.

William Rutledge, an environmental studies major that worked on the emissions inventory, said students can help by “paying attention” to avoid wasteful practices “like leaving your computer on all night to download a music file.”

Concerned students should join a campus group such as ECO Students, said Rutledge, who is a member. The group will have a mixer at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 10 at the Seven Hills Conference Center.
To view the entire report, visit







Email Address:

URL (optional):


Remember personal info:


Copyright © 2008 [X]press | Journalism Department - San Francisco State University