How the College Can Achieve Carbon Neutrality

How the College Can Achieve Carbon Neutrality

BY GREGORY PINGS, APRIL 2, 2020
In 2009, Ithaca College committed to carbon neutrality by 2050. It could happen by 2030.

The concern is real; as is the opportunity and the responsibility. The question is whether the higher education sector can do its part to make the low-carbon economy viable. The 2020 Higher Education Climate Leadership Summit answered that question with a resounding “Yes! And here’s how.”

The summit attracted leaders from colleges and universities across the United States, including Ithaca College Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs La Jerne Terry Cornish, and Greg Lischke, IC’s director of Energy Management and Sustainability. Cornish and Lischke discussed Ithaca College’s path toward carbon neutrality in “Executing Your Plan to Zero Emissions,” a presentation at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s annual conference in February. President Shirley M. Collado also attended the summit.

“I’m so pleased that Provost Cornish and Greg could highlight the important work we are already doing here on our campus, and share our roadmap to become carbon neutral by 2030. Our efforts around sustainability are key to our strategic plan, Ithaca Forever, and are critical in ensuring that the college remains a responsible steward of our resources for future generations of students, for our communities, and for our world.”

President Shirley M. Collado

“Ithaca College was one of the first to sign on to the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment in 2009. This move committed us to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050,” Cornish said.  “We’ve slashed our carbon emissions by 50 percent, six years ahead of schedule.”

Whether Ithaca College reaches the finish line depends on how the campus community addresses the following foundational principles.

What Are the Three Buckets of Carbon?

“You can’t measure progress unless you can identify the sources of the problem,” Lischke said. “Three distinct categories of carbon emissions help us wrap our minds around the problem.”

  • Scope 1 emissions are stationary sources, the result of activities that an organization controls. Ithaca College’s biggest Scope 1 contributors are natural gas for the boilers, refrigerant for the cooling systems, and diesel fuel.
  • Scope 2 emissions are indirect emissions from the electricity the college purchases.
  • Scope 3 emissions are from sources that you do not directly control, such as commuting and business travel. These emissions represent the second largest share of IC’s carbon footprint.

How does Ithaca College track its carbon footprint?

Lischke’s team reports carbon emissions to Second Nature.org. The Sustainability Indicator Management and Analysis Platform, an online carbon and nitrogen accounting tool developed by the University of New Hampshire, allows the team to create their reports and analyze the college’s progress.

Name the top three Ithaca College organizations that were essential to IC’s carbon neutrality pledge.

  1. “The President’s Office: Ithaca College is wholly Scope 2-carbon neutral. “That’s a result of our Green-e® certified National Wind energy supplier,” Lischke explained. “Support from President Shirley Collado, and her office, was absolutely vital to make this happen.”
  2. Environmental Studies and Sciences: A faculty-student project, led by Chris Sinton and Jake Brenner, measures carbon sequestration capabilities of the trees and soil on campus. The team estimates that Ithaca College Natural Lands (ICNL) sequesters 2,000 metric tons of carbon per year.
  3. Parking services: Ithaca College’s parking department uses a survey to determine IC’s carbon impact from commuting and travel. Developed in partnership with the Office of Energy Management & Sustainability, the voluntary survey is presented when students, staff and faculty apply for on-campus parking permits. The participation rate tops 90 percent, thanks in part to gift certificates from the Downtown Ithaca Alliance. “Questions about activities such as commuting methods, electric vehicle ownership or business travel allow us to confidently report our Scope 3 emissions to Second Nature,” Lischke noted.

One example of how Ithaca College reduced Scope 1 emissions

Scope 1 reductions are difficult because the weather determines how much natural gas the college uses for heat during the winter, as well as electricity for air conditioning in the summer. On the upside, the Peggy Ryan Williams Center was built with its own geothermal heating and cooling system.

“PRW was constructed with carbon neutrality in mind”, Lischke said. “Therefore we have never had any meaningful emissions from the LEED Platinum building.”  Success with the geothermal system at PRW helps inform future opportunities for other regional geothermal projects under consideration.

An example of how Ithaca College reduced its Scope 3 emissions

While technology solutions, like web conferencing, can reduce the need to travel to conferences and meetings, Lischke pointed out that the college’s Scope 3 emissions are stuck in the range 5,000 to 8,000 metric tons per year. “Most of Ithaca College’s Scope 3 offsets are a result of our two-megawatt solar farm in Geneva, New York and our ICNL carbon sequestration,” he said.

Ithaca College is on track to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, or even as early as 2030. Getting there requires continuing Green-e® certified electricity, replacing ageing gas-fired boilers, and deploying regional geothermal heating and cooling solutions for select buildings on campus.

“I’m so pleased that Provost Cornish and Greg could highlight the important work we are already doing here on our campus, and share our roadmap to become carbon neutral by 2030,” said President Collado. “Our efforts around sustainability are key to our strategic plan, Ithaca Forever, and are critical in ensuring that the college remains a responsible steward of our resources for future generations of students, for our communities, and for our world.”

Source: IC News