Pacific Lutheran University

Pacific Lutheran University is piloting an educational and participatory program to begin mitigating one of the largest contributors to PLU’s carbon emissions – study abroad airmiles. When the new president reaffirmed PLU’s commitment to carbon neutrality by 2020 by signing the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), the study abroad and sustainability offices partnered to meet this goal in a meaningful manner. Global education is a pathway to distinction at PLU. We pride ourselves on affording students such opportunities to gain perspective, and we have programs on all 7 continents. However, as a result our study away program contributes 19.4 percent of the university’s total carbon footprint at over 3,700 MTCO2e.

Since 2007, PLU’s CO2 inventory has shown a 17 percent decrease. To reach carbon neutrality by 2020, PLU has invested heavily in facility upgrades that will lower natural gas usage. But in order to reach neutrality, we knew we would need to invest in a third party offset. The concern was that traditional offsets would not meet the need for education and connection in students who were travelling. To address this, PLU sought the help of Earth Deeds. Earth Deeds is a developing organization that is redefining the false concept of offsetting one’s carbon footprint by reframing it as “onsetting.” Their focus is increasing carbon consciousness by providing tools to measure, manage and reduce our ecological impact and support community-based sustainability projects. Such projects are not necessarily certified by a third party nor are they measurable in terms of carbon neutrality. Rather, the projects have a meaningful and positive environmental impact on the local community.

By developing educational modules to be offered during study away orientation, groups calculate their individual and collective carbon footprint. The group determines their financial goal for onsetting and then donates to a sustainability project in a community that PLU students are affiliated with. In addition, Earth Deeds helps build users’ vocabulary to better understand the carbon footprints of everyday activities and make more informed choices while studying away.

During the academic year 2014-2015 we will pilot off and onsetting program for study away airmile carbon mitigation in all semester study away programs. Earmarking a portion of a per student carbon mitigation fee for traditional offsets at $6/mT will meet the ACUPCC expectation of measurable impact. Since the true environmental cost of our carbon impact is currently set at $36/mT by the Whitehouse SCC report, PLU will charge a total of $21/mT during the pilot. We hope that the innovation and overextension of the minimum offsets will create the desired carbon consciousness in our students. This is the forefront of responsible travel because of the students’ involvement in the educational process when dedicating the remaining funds to sustainability projects.