by Niles Barnes, Projects Coordinator, AASHE

(This article appears in the May, 2010 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)

As readers of The ACUPCC Implementer know all too well, signatories are required to report on their greenhouse gas emissions within a year of signing the ACUPCC, and then every other year thereafter. After the Climate Action Plan is submitted, the GHG reports alternate with bi-annual progress reports which provide the opportunity to compare actual results to the initial goals laid out. Many campuses find the task of doing a greenhouse gas emissions inventory fairly straightforward, and there are a number of resources available to assist them, including Clean Air – Cool Planet’s Campus Carbon Calculator, The Climate Registry, and hundreds of other campuses to look to for examples. The process itself typically results in a great final product and a valuable educational experience, particularly when students are involved. Usually, the only area that tends to cause heartburn and anguish is measuring those often elusive Scope 3 emissions sources.

Campuses participating in the ACUPCC are required to include emissions from Scopes 1 and 2 in their inventories as well as two types of Scope 3 emissions: air travel paid for by or through the institution and regular commuting to and from campus by faculty, staff and students – as laid out in the ACUPCC Implementation Guide, which references the current version of the WRI/WBCSD “GHG Protocol.” The GHG Protocol, developed by World Resources Institute (WRI) in partnership with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), is the most widely used international accounting tool for quantifying GHG emissions, and it provides the accounting framework for most GHG management programs and initiatives.

Recently, the World Resources Institute (WRI) released a revised draft guide for accounting for Scope 3 emissions under the GHG Protocol. Sixty corporations – but (unfortunately) no campuses are currently testing the draft. A review of the proposed standard indicates that in addition to quality improvements, the new standard would also increase the workload for campuses seeking to report Scope 3 emissions in accordance with the updated GHG Protocol. The largest proposed change is the requirement that in order to be in compliance, an entity must report all scope 3 emission sources that combined make up at least 80% of the total emissions from those scope 3 sources.

According to the ACUPCC Program Team, the proposed changes to the GHG Protocol will not impact the ACUPCC reporting sources, and there are no plans to modify the scopes covered by the ACUPCC.  The ACUPCC will continue to refer to the current version of the GHG Protocol in the event of a new version being released unless the ACUPCC Steering Committee decides to modify the scope of emissions sources covered. This type of change would only take place after extensive input and support from the ACUPCC signatory network.

Still, this new draft framework could have important implications for campuses if they wish to continue tracking Scope 3 emissions sources in accordance with the updated GHG Protocol. It also provides an excellent opportunity for representatives from the higher education sector to share our knowledge and experience from wrestling with these issues and putting them into practice with other sectors in society. Implementation liaisons are encouraged to review the new proposed Scope 3 Accounting and Reporting Standard and submit comments for the next open comment period in June. As Matthew St. Clair, Sustainability Manager for the University of California Office of the President, recently observed, “Scope 3 tracking can be hard to standardize and UC would welcome any improved rigor in the WRI Protocol as long as it is rigor in methodology and not just more time consuming”.

Dave Newport, Director of the Environmental Center at CU Boulder recently helped to organize an ad hoc group of campus carbon personnel to review the new standards. Campus implementation liaisons interested in participating in this group are encouraged to contact Dave directly. “The more WRI hears from campus sustainability professionals, the better chance that this vitally important method can be made more workable,” reports Newport.  Campus liaisons may also choose to be on the stakeholder advisory group for the GHG Protocol to receive updates on the new standards and to provide feedback by signing up here.