Grad students find multiple ways for KU to be more energy efficient

Placing a carbon tax on parking passes, having vending machines turn on only when people walk by them and investing in wind farms — these are some of the suggestions that have come out of a Climate Action Plan at Kansas University.

A class of 12 graduate students spent the past semester collecting data on the university’s carbon footprint and then looked at ways to reduce those carbon emissions.

On Thursday afternoon, students from the “Energy, Ecology and Community in Kansas” seminar presented their recommendations on how the university could combat climate change through its operations, research and teaching.

More than 600 higher education institutions across the country have signed on to the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment.

Kansas University is not one of them. But students did examine the sustainability policies of about two dozen other schools that have made significant efforts toward reducing carbon emissions.

Students told a roomful of faculty, administrators and peers that the changes they selected were among the “low lying fruit.”

“We tried to develop something actionable … but with something manageable,” student Joe Nickels said.

By next year, the university is expected to spend $7 million in energy costs alone. To reduce that bill, the class suggested the university better monitor buildings’ temperatures when they are not in use, place solar panels on suitable surfaces, replace light fixtures with more efficient ones and upgrade storm windows and awnings.

As part of their course work, students should conduct energy audits of campus facilities, the plan states. It also noted that the school also should better educate incoming freshmen on alternative transportation options and offer more public transportation to commuters. And, the plan encouraged KU to change its purchasing policy to promote buying the most efficient — not the least expensive — vehicles.

“This is just a baseline to get started,” student Kara Lock said at the end of the presentation.

The university’s administration, which is in the midst of a turnover with Chancellor Robert Hemenway and Provost Richard Lariviere set to resign, would have to approve the plan, instructor Kelly said.

“Students have to push this really hard to make this happen,” Kindscher said.