Colorado College Achieves Carbon Neutrality

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Colorado College has achieved carbon neutrality, a goal it set in 2009 when it committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2020. After a decade of work, the target has been met — even as the college increased its building footprint by more than 10% during that time. CC is only the eighth institution in North America, and the first in the Rocky Mountain region, to achieve this goal.

Colorado College stands out among other schools that have reached carbon neutrality in an important way. CC has the greatest emission reductions on campus while buying fewer offsets than any other US campus. This means the milestone has been achieved primarily by steep reductions in the college’s carbon footprint on campus.

Colorado College has done this in a replicable and scalable way, meaning nearly any other institution could apply the strategies used by CC to achieve its goal of carbon neutrality. Offset market development also is critical, but only after working to reduce on-campus emissions as much as possible.

Colorado College embarked on its journey to carbon neutrality in 2009, when then-president Richard F. Celeste signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), now known as the Second Nature Carbon Commitment. Celeste chose not to sign in 2007, preferring first to have more information in hand, including the college’s carbon footprint and the efforts necessary for it to reach carbon neutrality, including reducing the college’s emissions of greenhouse gases, cutting energy use, using more renewable energy and emphasizing the importance of sustainable energy sources.

Since the college’s baseline year in 2008, CC has reduced on-campus emissions by 75%. Colorado College achieved neutrality through a variety of initiatives, including efficiency upgrades, building renovations, campus engagement, on-site renewable energy and local renewable energy purchases, reducing its carbon footprint even as its physical footprint expanded by 10% with the alliance with the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center in 2017. Between the Fine Arts Center and the Bemis School of Art, CC added more than 142,000 square feet to its building footprint.

Because climate change is linked to and influenced by many different factors, achieving carbon neutrality impacts far more than just the college’s operations. Many of the initiatives the college is undertaking, including adding more sustainability courses and finding new ways to make the college more accessible to students from diverse geographic, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, increase students’ literacy and understanding across majors and strengthen the institutions that build the resilient society that will be needed to adapt to impacts from climate change.

Some of the college’s major initiatives have included:

  • A behavioral change program involving 14 weeks, 14 habits and a 14% reduction in electricity, heat and water use. CC saved nearly $100,000 in utility costs through the “aCClimate14” effort.
  • Colorado College’s first high-performance energy design guidelines were written for new and renovated buildings.
  • Tutt Library became the nation’s largest academic net-zero energy library following a massive underground geothermal energy project and major renovations.
  • East Campus Housing opened with sustainable architecture and energy systems.
  • Numerous solar PV installations were constructed on and off campus, originally initiated by a student in 2008.
  • CC has worked with Colorado Springs Utilities over the past decade to find ways to partner and meet its goals. This helped lead to the addition of the 255 megawatts of solar in current and planned projects for the utility.

To account for remaining emissions, which include difficult-to-avoid emissions such as college-related air travel, study abroad, commuting, and wastewater, Colorado College is investing in carbon offsets — innovative projects that reduce or eliminate greenhouse gas emissions elsewhere. Specifically, CC has invested in a methane destruction project at the Larimer Country landfill in Northern Colorado. This project prevents methane (CH4), a very potent greenhouse gas, from entering the atmosphere, and instead uses the CH4 to generate electricity directly to the Larimer County community.

The Larimer Country landfill project has opened doors for future carbon related markets, reduced air pollution in the Front Range by adding renewable energy to the gird and supports the local community of Larimer Country. By looking at off-campus solutions for a portion of the emissions, Colorado College was an early adopter in creating and developing carbon markets and projects for the future, with the added bonus of meeting its aggressive 2020 goal.

Although CC has met its carbon neutrality goal, it does not mean the work is finished. President Tiefenthaler and the Board of Trustees have put together a Climate Change Task Force, led by Provost Alan Townsend to take on a “What’s Next” project looking at operations, leadership beyond CC, academics and the co-curricular, and the endowment.

Colorado College also is looking at options to not simply purchase carbon offsets, but to invest in developing new projects that are more socially and environmentally responsible, thereby benefiting its core academic mission, developing markets as part of the solution to climate change and providing positive social benefits for the community and region.

Source: Environment + Energy Leader