Five UCSB graduate students claim they can save the university $5 million with a plan that pledges to vastly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from campus by 2020.

The Campus Climate Neutral (CCN) project was developed by Fahmida Ahmed, Jeff Brown, David Felix, Todd Haurin and Betty Seto, graduate students from UCSB’s Donald Bren School of Environmental Science and Management. By 2020, Haurin said, the plan should cut UCSB’s emissions back to the level they were at in 1990.

Haurin said the group spent several months studying 15 years worth of data and will present its findings tomorrow to Chancellor Henry Yang and the Campus Planning Committee.

Seto said the CCN follows Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Environmental Action Plan.

“Having UCSB adopt the governor’s goals is our main priority,” Seto said. “California at large can meet these goals and save energy. The fact that we can save money and conserve energy confirms the growing body of literature in this area.”

The group details their findings in a report entitled “Changing the Campus Climate: Strategies to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions at UCSB.” The plan includes four stages, with the cheapest changes being a part of the first stage and the more expensive projects listed in the later stages.

According to the brief, one of the first things UCSB can do to reduce gas emissions is to buy smaller vehicles that use less gas whenever current university trucks are replaced.

“They have to buy new ones anyway, so it doesn’t cost any more,” Haurin said. “If the truck engine dies, you need a new one anyway. So UCSB can buy lighter, more fuel-efficient trucks for the fleet.”

The brief states that the second stage would require UCSB to invest money in more economical air systems for campus buildings. The third stage involves upgrades to lighting around campus and the fourth stage aims to cut vehicle use at UCSB.

While the first few projects will not cost the University anything beyond what it would already pay, some of the later projects will have significantly higher costs. However, Haurin said, the plan will save UCSB a great deal in future energy costs.

“In less than two years, [savings from] improved air circulation systems will already pay for the new machine and also will save greenhouse gas emissions,” he said. “It takes a little bit of sacrifice, but then you get it back from those quick returns. You’re still saving $5 million by 2020 in today’s dollars. We know there are budget constraints. They’re not going to put up solar panels tomorrow because it’s too expensive. Their best bet is to keep doing what they’re doing with these efficiency projects, which have a quick return on money.”

Money for such projects could potentially come from numerous sources, including The Green Initiative Fund (TGIF) – a nearly $3 lock-in fee on this spring’s campuswide ballot – and rebates from Southern California Edison, Haurin said.

Haurin said the group’s research also took into account that UCSB’s student population will grow by about one percent per year – amounting to nearly 300 more students each year. In 2004, UCSB emitted approximately 46,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide – an average of 2.25 metric tons per student for the year.

“Two-thirds of emissions come from purchased energy, one-third from natural gas and a negligible amount from transportation fleet vehicles,” Haurin said.

Haurin and Seto both said UCSB needs a formal Office of Sustainability, which Seto said is currently an unofficial part of UCSB.

“We feel really strongly about having an Office of Sustainability,” Seto said. “If we could formalize the office, it would really show that we are committed to environmental responsibility.”

Haurin said emission reduction is important in order for UCSB to reduce its impact on the environment, and also to be a model for other schools in cutting down on waste and emissions.

“No other school in California has taken this stride to tackle this problem,” he said. “Basically, if the chancellor agrees to take on the governor’s goals, we’ll be a good example for the state [as to how] we can save energy and it can be done at a profit.”