Air Travel Mitigation Fund
Centre's Air Travel Mitigation Fund was adopted in November 2009 by the International Program Committee. In its essence, the program allows students and faculty to purchase carbon offsets, contributing money toward carbon-reducing initiatives that counterbalance emissions that cannot be reduced or avoided (such as those generated via plane rides to study-abroad locations). Students studying abroad—as 85 percent of them do—are asked to contribute varying amounts based on the air miles they travel.
For many years, transforming students into global citizens has been a primary focus at Centre. International studies have been a focus in classrooms, convocations and, of course, overseas study opportunities. "Educating students to be citizens of the world, men and women who are globally engaged and prepared to respond to opportunities from all parts of the world," is part of the College's Strategic Plan.
Yet it has also become increasingly clear that the economic and social disruptions resulting from climate change may be one of the greatest global challenges. And by making it possible for every Centre student to study abroad—at countries both near the U.S. and far away—the College has increased greenhouse emissions via increased air travel.
"At Centre, we value international study and we value minimizing environmental impact," says chemistry professor Dr. Preston Miles, chair of the President's Climate Commitment Advisory Committee. "And those values are absolutely in conflict. But if they can't be resolved in a college environment, where can they be resolved?"
The 2010-2011 school year was the first in which students were asked to voluntarily contribute to the fund. And the students themselves played a central role in determining how the first year's funds would be spent.
Instead of making one large purchase, however, a panel of students and faculty decided that for the first Air Travel Mitigation Fund investment, a collection of occupancy light sensors was the best option. An inexpensive motion sensor light fixture was chosen, one that could be installed in dormitory housekeeping closets—rooms where students and staff members often found lights turned on when unoccupied. Forty sensors were then purchased and installed in residence halls around campus.
The results have already been encouraging. Using conservative estimates of savings (which assumes that the closet light bulbs were being left on one-fourth of the time), the initial investment of $1,000 will save $609 and 95 tons of carbon dioxide in the first year of use.
Using another conservative estimate, which postulates that the actual service life for the motion sensors is identical to the warranty period, the project will have a 180 percent return on investment.
The Future of the Fund
During the current school year, Centre students will travel 170,648 miles in the sky; their voluntary funds to offset the accompanying carbon emissions could fund an even grander project in the coming years, one that would be visible to all on campus.
Students studying abroad are asked to donate money to the fund based on the air miles they will travel to reach their destinations. Those who are traveling to nearby Caribbean locations, such as Merida, Barbados, or the Bahamas, are asked to contribute $10. Those studying abroad in Europe are asked to contribute $20. Students heading to the Middle East and Japan are asked to contribute $30, and those flying to New Zealand and China are asked to contribute $40. Students wishing to contribute to the fund may pay their trip leaders, and those students are encouraged to take part in the voting process for the next project paid for by the fund.