By the 2024 centennial of James B. Duke's $40 million bequest, which turned Trinity College into Duke University, the campus will have brought its environmental impact to nil. The benefactor, who founded what is now Duke Energy to supply power to regional textile firms, would no doubt be incredulous.
The university's plan is aimed at reducing emissions in a variety of ways. The steam plant on Campus Drive, which was powered by coal until it closed in 1978, is scheduled to reopen in January—and run on natural gas. The central steam plant, on West Campus, which burns natural gas, oil, and recycled oil in addition to coal, will be converted by 2012 to what's known as a "peaking" plant, meaning it will be able to adjust to fluctuations in demand. Together, the conversions will cut Duke's coal consumption by 70 percent.
Other projects will alleviate the impact of university travel, from employees' use of commercial airlines to their reliance on private automobiles for the daily commute. Duke will also upgrade its motor fleet, which includes the campus bus system, to be more energy efficient. Each of these modes of transportation contributes to the estimated 300,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases emitted by the university annually.
Some changes have already taken place. Since 2003, all new buildings on campus have met the standards set by the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system.
Duke will mitigate the effect of emissions it cannot reduce by investing in "carbon credits" for projects such as capturing methane from agricultural operations and specialized forest management that avoid, reduce, or sequester greenhouse gas emissions elsewhere. The university will concentrate on local or regional projects to minimize its carbon footprint, as well as improve the environment in the region.