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May 12, 2008 | by  | in Opinion |
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Victorian Theses: Towards Carbon Neutrality

Tushara Kodikara has just finished his MSc thesis in Environmental Studies entitled ‘Assessing How Victoria University Can Become Carbon Neutral’. His thesis provides an overview of the process the university might go through in order to achieve carbon neutrality. “It’s more a plan to develop a plan.”

One of his research objectives was to look at what other universities have done. Over 500 US universities have pledged to become carbon neutral, and Kodikara suggests that Victoria may not compare favourably with overseas universities in prospective students’ minds if the university does not approach neutrality, and also that being the first New Zealand university to pledge to become neutral may gain corresponding benefits over other New Zealand universities. He draws an analogy to Meridian Energy, who appear to have adopted this business strategy, and are often chosen over the alternatives based on their green policies.

He uses a model to measure the costs and benefits of carbon neutrality (or any other issue with a social element) known as the corporate social responsibility model. The model looks at potential long-term benefits of adopting socially responsible policies, in addition to the simple cost/benefit analysis normally used in business to find out if a policy is affordable.

He also points out that with the planned carbon emissions scheme, every year that the university continues as it is now will cost it; and if it decides to go carbon neutral in ten years time, that’s ten years worth of credits it needn’t have paid for. The first step on the road to a carbon neutral university would be to analyse Victoria University’s carbon footprint. The next step is to form a committee made up of staff (including academic staff) and students, and a member of the University Council, as a drive in the University Council will provide top-down support to ensure the project doesn’t lose interest.

The third stage is to find appropriate carbon offsets – investing in reputable companies whose business either reduces carbon emissions or absorbs greenhouse gases – and to find ways to alter behaviour patterns on campus.

Kodikara has identified three different degrees of emissions: Scope One, which is emissions released directly from campus, like the university’s boilers; Scope Two, which is emissions directly related to the university, but produced off-site, like electricity generation; and Scope Three, which is emissions indirectly related to the university, such as students’ travel to campus and academics’ flights to overseas seminars. Kodikara noted that the vast majority of Victoria’s emissions are from Scope Three, and that Scope Two carbon neutrality would probably not prove very expensive to the university at all.

Kodikara has submitted his thesis, but has not yet had the opportunity to present his work in another forum. However, he is attempting to reduce it to article-length and hopes to find publication in The Journal of Sustainability in Education.

Tushara Kodikara holds a BSc in chemistry from the University of Waikato. He was the VUWSA Environmental Officer in 2007.

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