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Colgate’s Climate Action Plan Update

By Sustainability Office on August 6, 2013
By Jack Eiel '15

By Jack Eiel ’15

In January of 2009, Colgate University committed to carbon neutrality by signing the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC). In 2011, President Herbst and our Senior Administration approved Colgate’s Sustainability and Climate Action Plan with a 2019 carbon neutrality (net carbon footprint of zero) date. This aggressive date firmly establishes Colgate as a national leader in higher education.

As of 2013, nearly 700 colleges and universities have committed to carbon neutrality. While four colleges have already achieved carbon neutrality, most are hoping to achieve carbon neutrality by 2025, 2030, or even as far off as 2050. As a result, when Colgate achieves carbon neutrality in 2019, we will be among the first in the country to achieve this important goal.

In order to reach our goal, the Sustainability Office – working with numerous faculty, staff and students from across the university – has identified 27 projects that will advance sustainability while reducing our carbon footprint. Projects range from a multi-million dollar heating plant upgrade to low-cost, high-impact behavior change initiatives such as the Green Raider and Green Office Programs.

Currently, about half of the projects have been implemented (or are in the process of being implemented) and the results are impressive. We have already reduced our campus carbon emissions by over 20% from 17,353 tons of emissions in 2009 to 13,817 tons of emissions in 2012. This is a result of reductions in fuel oil consumption, electricity use, water use, paper use, and landfill and food waste. Altogether, these savings have trimmed about $500,000 off of our annual operating budget. The plan is not only good for the environment and our educational mission, but is also good for our bottom line.

Along the way we have learned that small changes can have huge impacts. For example, print release stations, double-sided printing, and printing only when necessary has cut our paper use in half since 2009 (saving over 2.4 million sheets of paper annually). We have also installed over 500 low-flow showerheads on campus saving an estimated 5 million gallons of water per year!

In order to achieve carbon neutrality, Colgate also needs to invest in carbon offsets. Carbon offsets are off-campus projects that can help us neutralize emissions we cannot immediately eliminate. For example, air travel and commuting emissions represent more than one-third of our campus carbon footprint that cannot be eliminated without major impact to our operations or academic mission. Instead, we have the option of investing in off-campus renewable energy or reforestation projects that sequester or eliminate carbon in the atmosphere on our behalf.

In 2010, Colgate partnered with Patagonia Sur in an innovative forestry-based carbon offset program. Each year, roughly 10,000 native trees are planted in the “Colgate Forest” in Patagonia, Chile sequestering about 5,000 tons of carbon annually. Investing in this offset project not only restores native habitat in an ecologically sensitive region of the world, but also helps to create local jobs while ultimately neutralizing our emissions associated with air travel.

As a result of implementing on-campus projects coupled with investing in carbon offsets, our overall campus carbon footprint in 2012 has been reduced to 8,817 tons of emissions (13,817 tons of gross emissions minus 5,000 tons of forestry-based offsets).

In the coming years, we will be looking to eliminate our final 8,817 tons of emissions by implementing a new suite of on-campus projects while also looking to further invest in additional carbon offsets.

Interested in learning more about Colgate’s Climate Action Plan? Visit our website or contact us directly at sustainability@colgate.edu.

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