Climate Action Offsetter: Mercyhurst University

July 15, 2014

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written by Mercyhurst University

Mercyhurst University is a fully accredited, four-year, Catholic comprehensive institution, founded in Erie, PA, by the Sisters of Mercy in 1926. With our commitment to sustainability, Mercyhurst has been working on a variety of initiatives both for our campus, but also for the community.

One of Mercyhurst’s overarching sustainability goals is carbon neutrality. We have been working with the American University and College Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) since 2007 on monitoring annual carbon emissions while trying to decrease emissions where and when we can. In addition to actually decreasing carbon emissions, in 2003 Mercyhurst began purchasing Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) to help offset the carbon emissions produced through electricity consumption. In 2010, the purchase of RECs was increased to offset 100% of our electricity consumption. In 2014, the university’s sustainability committee decided to add carbon offsets to help offset transportation emissions which include commuter transportation and staff business or research trips. The carbon offsets are purchased from Blue Ridge Landfill, a landfill located near Chambersburg, PA, which captures the methane released from trash decomposition and uses it to produce electricity; this allows Mercyhurst to help support a local carbon offset project. Both the RECs and carbon offset purchases are funded in part by the Student Sustainability Fund, used only for campus sustainability projects. The cost of the offsets from Blue Ridge Landfill combined with the RECs was only a little more than last year’s purchase of just the RECs, which made the decision all that more easy to make. Between the annual RECs purchase and the new carbon offset purchase, Mercyhurst University now offsets 65% of the Erie Campus’s annual emissions.

Mercyhurst has been working on instituting and maintaining a fantastic recycling program on our campuses. Recycling has been condensed to single-stream, which should make recycling easier and more convenient for our students. In addition, all of our dumpsters on campus have been painted blue for recycling and green for trash to make recycling in the upperclassman housing area easier as well.

To assist with our efforts to reduce solid waste, the university’s Erie Campus installed two Earth Tubs in the fall of 2012, funded in part by the students, through their green fee, and through the university operations. The composters are a partnership between the Sustainability Office and Parkhurst Dining Services, the university’s dining services provider. The reason for composting is a simple one; it helps to close the loop on our food use. At Mercyhurst, we understand that we cannot move from the disposal of food waste in a landfill to composting all of it; it will be a slow process until we smooth out all of the wrinkles with the collection process and also until we have the ability and space to collect all of the food waste.

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Our students have also contributed to our sustainability work by literally greening campus. The Senior Class of 2010 gifted a green roof to the Erie Campus, which was installed on the Ceramic Lab in our Zurn Hall. Two students during the spring and summer of 2013, planted an edible landscaping and perennial garden along the Mercy Walkway as a dedication garden to Sister Maura Smith for all of her contributions to the university’s environmental education and conservation efforts. Our largest garden effort, the Mercyhurst Farm, is heading into its fifth season, though it has moved from Girard, PA at our West Campus to North East, PA. at our North East Campus. The farm is run through the efforts of a full-time garden manager, student workers over the summer, and volunteers. All of the vegetables are grown organically and the food is either sold to our employees and students or the community, or donated to Second Harvest Food Bank.

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Out in the community, we are working just as hard to educate about the need to live sustainable. We work with the Erie School District through education programs during the regular school year and during the summer. Topics include energy and water conservation, how to start a school garden or a a recycling program, and the idea of LEED buildings. We are also working with the Sisters of Mercy Erie Motherhouse with their Sustainability Task Force and their list of priorities, which include energy monitoring, energy conservation, and sustainability education for the sisters who live in the motherhouse. Our most recent effort was assisting with their recycling, and we were able to get bins donated from Busch Systems International, the company from whom we purchase our recycling bins.

For more information check out our website, contact the Sustainability Officer, or Like Us on Facebook.