Commute and Climate

Midway through this summer, biology graduate Trace Redmond ’13 wanted to know how K faculty and staff got to and from work. He was being paid for his curiosity, all part of his work as the summer 2013 energy intern on behalf of the College’s sustainability efforts. His work included completion of a “greenhouse gas inventory,” just one small piece of the College’s Climate Action Plan, which K developed when it signed in June 2007 the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment. The plan calls for regular progress reports by the College on its effort to reduce climate-affecting emissions to an eventual goal of carbon neutrality.

Redmond has been busy setting up data collection infrastructure that would allow the College to establish baselines and measure progress in areas like greenhouse gases, waste tracking, water use, and storm water management. It’s a complex array of information that needs to be tracked over time in order to guide the College to those efforts that will make the most difference in achieving cost-effective operations that also have no ill effect on the climate.

Redmond makes three classifications of emissions–direct, indirect, and upstream. “Direct” are emissions the College releases–for example, exhaust from fleet vehicles. “Indirect” emissions released by vendors to provide products we purchase–electricity, for example. “Upstream” refer to those emissions that are even a bit more indirect, including air travel for study abroad and faculty and staff commuting, the subject of Redmond’s summer survey.

Response rate was excellent–176 people, more than 50 percent of employees. He kept the survey simple to encourage participation and ensure consistent measurement of change in future years. The survey showed that 83 percent of faculty and staff drive to campus one or more days a week. Average commutes by car per week, and average commute distance were 4.4 commutes and 15.8 miles, respectively. From those figures Redmond calculated that faculty and staff drive almost 913,000 commuter miles per year, requiring nearly 38,000 gallons of gas and releasing 336 metric tons of carbon dioxide. Said Redmond, “To offset our commuting emissions from one year, 8,608 tree seedlings would need to grow for 10 years.”

Redmond’s tenure as energy intern ends this month. He career pursuits include consulting on greenhouse gas emissions or quality assurance work in the brewing industry.