Halocarbon gases are among the most powerful greenhouse gases ever emitted. Their global warming potentials are thousands of times greater than carbon dioxide, and their emissions account for 14% of current global warming. Halocarbons are also the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in developed countries. U.S. emission rates have increased nearly 250% since 1990, and unabated global emissions could induce an additional 0.5 ˚C of warming by 2100.
Despite their environmental harm, halocarbons are extensively used as refrigerants. While the production and disposal of some halocarbons are federally regulated, hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) production and use remain largely uncontrolled in the United States. In the absence of stringent federal regulation, private entities have broad discretion in reducing their use and emission of halocarbon refrigerants. We introduce best practices for academic institutions to (1) improve halocarbon use and leakage inventories, (2) reduce halocarbon emissions, and (3) adopt greener refrigeration and air conditioning technologies.
We quantified the halocarbon use and emissions inventories of several Boston area universities. The ratio – and environmental impact – of refrigerant use varies widely between institutions. Annual halocarbon emissions account for less than 2% of a typical institution’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Nevertheless, we estimate the total halocarbon emissions from schools in the Boston Green Ribbon Commission Higher Education Working Group are equivalent to 13,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. Collective efforts to adopt alternatives to halocarbon technology can therefore significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions at campuses.