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Carbon Neutrality FAQ

By Sustainability Office on March 15, 2018

Colgate is committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2019. To reach this goal, we are exploring a variety of options to offset the emissions we can’t yet reduce. The below answers to some of our most frequently asked questions will help you to gain a better understanding of what carbon neutrality is and why it is important to Colgate:

What is a carbon footprint?

A carbon footprint is the amount of carbon and/or greenhouse gas emitted directly or indirectly by an entity. Each member of the Colgate community has their own carbon footprint associated with things like travel, home energy use, purchasing and food. You can calculate your personal carbon footprint here. Colgate University also has a carbon footprint, encompassing emissions from waste, building heating and cooling, fertilizer use, electricity, business travel, employee commuting and paper procurement. Many of these emissions are associated with the use of fossil fuels. These greenhouse gas emissions from our campus and our personal lives contribute to global climate change.

What is the difference between gross emissions and net emissions?

Our gross emissions are the total emissions produced by Colgate’s buildings and business functions. Our net emissions represent our campus emissions after taking offsets into consideration.

What is Colgate’s Carbon Footprint?

In Fiscal Year 2017 Colgate emitted 13,233 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MTeCO2). Since 2009, we have reduced our net campus carbon footprint by 8,632 MTeCO2, representing a 51% reduction. 2017 State of Sustainability Report

What does it mean to be Carbon Neutral?

To be carbon neutral is to have zero net emissions. This means offsetting whatever emissions we cannot reduce organically.

What has Colgate already done to reduce its carbon footprint?

Colgate has reduced its gross carbon emissions by 21% since 2009. This is a result of building and renewable energy projects like the geothermal heat exchange system beneath the Chapel House and the solar thermal array installed at 100 Broad. Peer-to-peer education programs have also helped to change behavior across campus and reduce emissions.

Why can’t we reduce all of our emissions to zero? Why do we need to offset to be carbon neutral?

Some forms of emissions are nearly impossible to eliminate without extraordinary cost or disruption to the university’s academic mission. For example, over 40% (6,147MTeCO2)  of our campus’ gross emissions comes from commuting and business (air and ground) travel. Travel is essential for faculty research, admission, and institutional advancement. So, to compliment emission reduction strategies on campus, Colgate has resolved to invest in carbon offsets.

What does it mean to offset emissions?

An investment in carbon offsets is an investment in a project or program that reduces or eliminates emissions elsewhere. Common offset projects include investments in renewable energy, methane capture, and reforestation projects.  In recent years, the practice of offsetting emissions has become commonplace for a variety of institutions and is seen as an environmentally responsible decision. Colgate’s existing Patagonia offset program aims to restore a forest in Chile. Additional trees and sustainable land management practices allow the forest to sequester more carbon from the atmosphere. Colgate’s financial investment facilitated additional carbon sequestration, allowing us to account for this carbon reduction.

Do carbon offsets actually make a difference when it comes to climate change?

Yes, in fact, carbon offsets are a very useful climate change mitigation tool. By investing in carbon offsets, an organization invests in something that will benefit the environment by either reducing or eliminating emissions. Carbon offsets projects and programs also go through a verification process. Many times, offsets go through a third-party validation and verification process through organizations like the American Carbon Registry. There is also an emerging peer review model used to verify some carbon offset projects.

Why is Colgate’s Carbon Neutrality date so soon? Why not wait?

As outlined in our 2011 Climate Action Plan, Colgate decided to respond to the ongoing and increasing threat of climate change by setting a 2019 carbon neutrality date. Our institution recognized that climate change is happening now and agreed that we need to begin taking responsibility for our emissions. In 2019, we will begin to hold our institution financially accountable for our carbon footprint. In doing so, offset costs factor into decision-making processes, creating an incentive to further reduce our gross campus emissions. 

Why is it important for Colgate to achieve carbon neutrality?

The Thirteen Goals of a Colgate Education reflect the values of our institution and sustainability is a key theme throughout. We cannot expect our students to develop a respect for the environment if our institution does not model the same behavior. Colgate can uphold its value of environmental stewardship by addressing climate change with a sense of urgency.

What happens after 2019?

We will be carbon neutral in 2019, but that doesn’t mean our work is done. We will continue to focus on reducing our gross campus emissions through the new Green Revolving Loan Fund, student programs, and continued employee education. We will make community resilience and climate preparedness a top priority and continue to build a culture of environmental and social responsibility at Colgate.

Visit colgate.edu/carbon for more information about Colgate’s commitment to carbon neutrality. Learn more about the carbon offset options we are exploring here.

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