How campuses can measure their nitrogen footprints

SustainabilityIn order to survive, all life, including human life, depends either directly or indirectly on the natural environment. Sustainability is a principle where current requirements are met while the livelihoods of future generations are not threatened. leadership efforts at the University of New Hampshire have contributed to a groundbreaking initiative to measure and reduce the nitrogen footprint left behind by campus activities like food wasteWaste consists of unwanted and thrown away goods that often still have value as fuel or raw material. and energy consumption. The new research is highlighted in the April 2017 special issue of Sustainability: The Journal of Record. The publication outlines research being done at UNH, and seven other institutions, to reduce emissionsEmissions of greenhouse gases, greenhouse gas precursors, and aerosols associated with human activities, including the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, land-use changes, livestock, fertilisation, etc. (IPCC) of reactive nitrogen (all forms of nitrogen except unreactive N2 gas) and prevent negative impacts on such things as water qualityDrinking water quality has a micro-biological and a physico-chemical dimension. There are thousands of parameters of water quality. In public water supply systems water should, at a minimum, be disinfected—most commonly through the use of chlorination or the use of ultra violet ..., air pollution, and climate changeClimate change is a lasting change in weather patterns over long periods of time. It can be a natural phenomena and and has occurred on Earth even before people inhabited it. Quite different is a current situation that is also referred to as climate change, anthropogenic climate change, or ....

“Our goal is to make the nitrogen footprint a sustainability metric that all institutions across the world can track and manage,” said Allison Leach, a doctoral candidate in natural resources and Earth systems science at UNH, a research associate at UNH’s Sustainability Institute, and lead author of one of the featured studies in the journal. “A nitrogen footprint connects our everyday choices, such as food, utilities, and transit, to nitrogen pollution in the environment. Reducing our nitrogen footprint is vital because it can negatively impact not only the environment but also human healthThe health status of millions of people is projected to be affected through, for example, increases in malnutrition; increased deaths, diseases and injury due to extreme weather events; increased burden of diarrhoeal diseases; increased frequency of cardio-respiratory diseases due to higher ..., from effects like smog and acid rainRain is liquid water in the form of droplets that have condensed from atmospheric water vapor and then precipitated—that is, become heavy enough to fall under gravity. Rain is a major component of the water cycle and is responsible for depositing most of the fresh water on the Earth. It ... to global climate change.”

Leach, who is also a guest editor on the special issue, worked with Jennifer Andrews, a projectProject is an intervention designed to achieve specific objectives within specified resources and implementation schedules, often within the framework of a broader program. (Glossary Monitoring and Evaluation Terms; MERG Monitoring & Evaluation Reference Group and UNAIDS) director at UNH’s Sustainability Institute, to integrate the Nitrogen Footprint Tool into the next generation Campus Carbon CalculatorTM, originally developed at UNH in cooperation with Clean Air-Cool Planet. A paper in the journal’s current publication focuses on that work and outlines a newly developed tool that will measure both campus carbon and nitrogen footprints. The online tool will be launched in Fall 2017 and will give accessibility to hundreds of campuses to record and keep track of their own nitrogen and carbon footprints.

“We have found that initiatives to reduce a campus’s carbon footprintGreenhouse gas accounting describes the way to inventory and audit greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. A corporate or organisational greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions assessment quantifies the total greenhouse gases produced directly and indirectly from a business or organisation’s activities. ... can also reduce its nitrogen footprint,” said Leach. “For example, at UNH, using a tool like this to reduce our nitrogen footprint could create local environmental benefits like improving the waterClimate change is expected to exacerbate current stresses on water resources from population growth and economic and land-use change, including urbanisation. On a regional scale, mountain snow pack, glaciers and small ice caps play a crucial role in freshwater availability. Widespread mass ... quality of the Great Bay.”

The journal’s special issue features the first completed university-wide nitrogen footprint results. It brings together authors from eight institutions, including UNH, that make up the Nitrogen Footprint Tool (NFT) Network. The NFT helps estimate emissions of reactive nitrogen resulting from every day institutional activities like campus food service, energy use, transportation, fertilizer on grounds, and research activities. The publication features research, case studies and commentaries that call attention to the nitrogen footprint’s impact and ways individuals and administrators can reduce it with strategies like simple food choices (vegetable protein rather than meat protein) and switching to renewable energyRenewable energy is power generated from infinite sources, such as wind or solar power. Conventional energy is generated from finite sources, such as natural gas or fossil oil..

Research by John Aber, professor of natural resources and the environment, and Andrews is also included in the issue.

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Materials provided by University of New Hampshire. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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