By Claire Davenport
Carbon is a major indicator of climate change. In the last century, the amount of carbon in our air has exponentially risen to a record high of over 400 particles per million — a level reached on Earth only millions of years ago. Yet while carbon emissions have a volume measurable in units of metric tons, calculating the amount any given country, organization or even person is emitting yearly is a difficult task.
When AUC initially decided to measure its carbon footprint in 2011, it faced similar challenges. However, since the first task force was commissioned to assemble this data, the University has lowered its energy consumption by 35% and published six climate footprint reports. “We measure everything in these reports, from our water and electricity use down to our composting and recycling activities,” said Khaled Tarabieh, University architect and associate professor of sustainable design in the Department of Architecture.
AUC is a pioneer in Egypt and the region in terms of measuring and publishing its carbon footprint. The University’s desire to share its knowledge in this area is what inspired the idea to create AUC’s Data Hub for Climate Change Mitigation — a new initiative that is in its initial phase and will bring together AUC faculty from diverse disciplines to share measurement tools with higher education institutions in the region.
As Tarabieh, the project’s principal investigator (PI), noted, “The dream team of Co-PIs is formed of faculty who are experts in their specializations and in what they can contribute to this ambitious project: Nouri Sakr ’13 (computer science), who is a leader in building data hubs; Ali Awni (business), who specializes in operations management and environmental policy; Omar Abdelaziz (mechanical engineering), who focuses on building mechanical and energy systems; Ahmed El-Gendy (construction engineering), whose work centers on environmental and water resources; and Sherif Goubran ’14 (architecture), a sustainability expert and one of the key contributors to AUC’s carbon footprint report.”
Despite AUC holding instructional events with other universities to share how it puts together its climate footprint report, there weren’t tangible results, Tarabieh said. “This is not due to a lack of interest, but rather to a lack of resources for collecting information and conducting data analysis in a validated and institutional way,” he noted.
The data hub overcomes these barriers by allowing AUC to create a centralized database across higher education institutions in Egypt and beyond. AUC faculty members will train other institutions on how to collect their energy data, analyze the information, and pass on insights and learnings. “Through the hub, we will be able to scale the methodologies and best practices we’ve successfully piloted at AUC, equipping other institutions across Egypt and North Africa with the ability to measure their carbon footprints and take action. It will also help us aggregate and assess trends over time as well as across universities and countries while compiling best practices in tackling climate change.”
Data hubs can operate as a mechanism for accountability. Once other institutions are presented with their climate impact, they will have more of an incentive to make a change. Tarabieh believes this will create channels for universities to collaborate in the fight against climate challenges.
“We hope that a data hub like this could ultimately inform how many institutions — banks, hospitals and airports — measure their carbon footprints, drawing on the hub for best strategies to lower their emissions,” he said. “The more measurable data within the hub, the more institutions can learn how best to be energy-efficient and, most importantly, know the areas of their operations to control their daily emissions. This way, sustainability is more than a goal. It becomes a value.”
He added, “For me, this topic isn’t just strategic for our operations but for our future as well. It’s not about competition. It’s about the achievement of a higher level of building performance and data acquisition, and what a consortium of higher education institutions can put together for others to follow.”