Green Campus Spotlight: PSU emissions under review
Author: Campus Sustainability Office
Posted: June 2, 2014

A recent assessment revealed the greenhouse gas emissions associated with all goods and services purchased by Portland State in fiscal year 2012 totaled 42,984 metric tons of CO2-equivalent gas, or MTCO2e, roughly the same as the emissions from 9,049 passenger vehicles, or energy use from 3,922 homes for one year. 

These supply-chain emissions are embodied in all the stages that make up a product’s life cycle—from the natural resources that are extracted to manufacture the product, to the transportation required to distribute it. These emissions make up about half of the University’s total greenhouse gas emissions for 2012. While the greenhouse gasses are not emitted directly on PSU’s campus, they represent part of the University’s total emissions profile because they are generated by the supply chain of goods and services that PSU purchases to support day-to-day business operations.

The assessment was conducted by the staff of Community Environmental Services (CES) on behalf of PSU’s Campus Sustainability Office, with project funding from the Institute for Sustainable Solutions. First, total University purchases were categorized by type of purchase and then analyzed with a life cycle assessment tool that converts dollars spent to an estimated carbon emissions total, based on the impacts of various sectors of the economy. CES chose to use Oregon DEQ’s Consumption Based Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory to complete the assessment. According to the DEQ website, this tool “estimates the emissions—both in-state and elsewhere—associated with consumption by Oregon residents, businesses, and governments. More than half of these consumption-based emissions occur in other states or nations.”  Moving forward, the Campus Sustainability Office plans to continue to use the DEQ’s tool to estimate emissions from purchased goods and services because it represents a more accurate emissions estimate for Oregon. 

Of all the purchasing categories inventoried in this assessment, those with the most impact included infrastructure improvements (maintenance, renovations, and construction in existing buildings) and University travel. These categories had high emissions impacts either because they represented a significant portion of total University expenditures in 2012, are emissions-intensive sectors, or both.

Jenny McNamara, PSU’s Sustainability Manager said,  “It is important to keep in mind that some of these purchases, like those associated with renovating our older buildings, may have a significant impact on our emissions in the short term, but often result in efficiency improvements over time … reducing our carbon footprint in the long run.”

In many cases, reducing the impacts associated with all purchased goods and services can be achieved by choosing different products, or more importantly, buying less in the first place. Simply put, buying fewer items less frequently, reusing existing materials and products, and choosing more durable and repairable products all contribute to lower lifecycle impacts for purchased items. The Campus Sustainability and Contracting & Procurement Services Offices are working together on a sustainable procurement policy for campus aimed at guiding purchasing in a way that accounts for the lifecycle impacts of purchased goods and services, as well as promoting bulk purchasing of certain items.

PSU’s total greenhouse gas emissions for 2012 were 80,469 MTCO2e; aside from purchased goods and services (45 percent), other large sectors include campus electricity use (23 percent), natural gas combustion (8 percent), commuting (13 percent ), and travel (10 percent).  

For PSU’s Climate Action Plan completed in 2010, a high-level assessment of supply chain emissions was done, indicating 42,950 MTCO2e (41%) of emissions came from purchased goods and services for fiscal year 2008, roughly the same as the calculation for 2012. Gross emissions from 2008 however, totaled 105,803 compared to 2012’s 80,469 MTCO2e.

This most recent analysis provides a complete picture of the University’s emissions profile for the first time since the 2008 assessment and allows for an apples-to-apples comparison to our baseline. As a signatory of the American College and University President’s Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), PSU tracks these emissions every other year, so stay tuned for the fiscal year 2014 assessment coming out this fall. 

Community Environmental Services is a research and service unit within the Center for Urban Studies at Portland State University. CES has provided high quality research, technical assistance, data collection and educational outreach services for more than 20 years in the areas of solid waste minimization, recycling, and program evaluation. 

The Campus Sustainability Office aims to ensure continuous improvement in resource conservation at PSU by facilitating collaboration, benchmarking sustainability performance, and aligning operations, policies, and planning with the University's sustainability goals. 

The Institute for Sustainable Solutions is the hub for sustainability at Portland State, supporting curriculum development, student leadership, and research that contribute to a just, prosperous, and vibrant future for our region and the world.