Second Nature announces a new initiative engaging higher education institutions across the nation to shape guidance and innovation with respect to carbon offsets:

The Offsets Advisory Council.

Attend the next meeting of the Offsets Advisory Council
September 28, 2023
1:00pm ET

Carbon offsets are an important part of many Climate Action Plans. As campuses take diverse approaches to meeting climate goals, questions and tensions abound when it comes to creating a sound offsets strategy. This advisory council is being convened to address these complexities. The Second Nature Offsets Advisory Council will be the space for experts within higher education to coalesce around topics of carbon pricing, offset purchasing, land management and inventorying of carbon stocks, and non-additional sequestration, among other topics. 

We recognize that faculty and staff often have limited capacity for this type of work, so our priority is to make meaningful strides in the evolution of offsets guidance and innovation with minimal commitment from advisory council members. Initially, the council will meet once per month as the group collectively determines its top priorities. If needed, the council can subdivide into smaller working groups where there is energy and leadership to continue deeper work around specific topics within the offsets sphere. We hope to recruit a diverse range of academics from a variety of disciplines and institutions.

Join the Offsets Advisory Council

Why an Offsets Advisory Council? Why now?
Since the beginning of the climate commitments in higher education, carbon pricing and offsets have been one way in which campuses have progressed toward sustainability goals. Campuses have taken a range of approaches. These include purchasing offsets on the voluntary market, leveraging internal carbon pricing or developing offset projects from major energy emissions reductions endeavors to fund sustainability projects, inventorying carbon stocks in campus landholdings to better manage emissions or understand sequestration, and developing unique carbon offset protocols and peer-reviewed offset projects. All of these approaches come with complexity.

Meanwhile, the ecosystem of the voluntary carbon market has been rapidly evolving, and the private sector produces start-ups at lightning speed, all promising to serve offset producers and purchasers. Higher education is in a unique position to interact with this reality, in a way that challenges its major pain points while also leveraging opportunities for innovation. The commitment to education, research, and workforce development within higher education can result in tangible, usable, credible, and influential progress within the voluntary market. 

Second Nature has worked with leaders within higher education on offsets resources in the past, and that work has led to sound guidance and education in this nascent space. In an effort to update and further develop that work, Second Nature hired a Carbon Offsets Fellow in November 2022 to facilitate current programming around offsets and develop an advisory council to determine real time and future needs. 

Second Nature’s Offset Advisory Council objectives are to make space for Second Nature to hear feedback from campuses about their offsets experiences and processes, create interactivity between campuses around some of the tougher questions that arise within the sphere of offsets, and ultimately to coalesce the expertise and innovative leadership within higher education to shape guidance and best practices going forward.

What does it mean to be an advisory council member?
The group meets once per month to discuss topics related to offsets. These meetings are a combination of peer presentations and open discussion. Second Nature plays a facilitating and listening role, and will incorporate information shared in both presentations and discussion into future programs and resources for higher education. 

The monthly meetings are drop-in, and are recorded for members who cannot attend. Second Nature maintains an email list of all council members to make space for discussions and resource sharing in between meetings. 

In addition to the monthly meetings open to all, there is a core council (currently 15 people) made up of members who agree to attend all or most of the monthly meetings, and to provide additional support to Second Nature in synthesizing the council’s determinations for the development of Second Nature’s updated Guidance for Higher Education on Carbon Offsets, to be published at the end of 2023. 

Who will be on the Council?
Members will hail from a broad range of institutions, including public and private colleges and universities, Historically-Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), and community colleges. Some initial members have been identified either because of their noted expertise in offsets or offset-related research or practice. Other initial members have been identified based on their SIMAP reporting as either purchasers of carbon offsets on the voluntary market or campuses tracking non-additional sequestration from institutional landholdings. Members include academics as well as sustainability directors and staff.

What are the goals of the Advisory Council? 
Broadly speaking, the Advisory Council will work to achieve the following goals:

  1. Make space for sharing feedback about campus’ experiences and processes with respect to offsets 
  2. Create interactivity within higher education for discussion, debate, and consensus around complex issues within the offsets umbrella
  3. Develop updated guidance and determine priorities around higher education’s interaction with the voluntary market.

These initial goals have been developed around known opportunities within the topic of offsets in higher education. The group itself will establish its own priorities, and may determine different or additional objectives.

Offsets Advisory Council Events: 

March 23, 2023: Should Institutions of Higher Education Participate in the Voluntary Carbon Market? 

Voices from Campuses on how offsets factor (or don’t) in their climate action and decarbonization goals. We will hear from Megan Litke, American University, Rebecca Edler, College of the Menominee Nation, and Ben Auger, George Mason University, followed by open discussion and Q&A. 

April 27, 2023: Increasing Transparency in Offsets Reporting and Tracking

Allison Leach will present how offsets reporting currently works within the SIMAP platform, along with options for making reporting more transparent, followed by an open discussion period where campus leaders can ask questions, share ideas or needs for additional or different functionality, and explore the relationship between best practices and reporting norms. 

May 25, 2023: Purchasing: Evaluating Cost v. Quality of Offsets
Matt St. Clair and Barbara Haya will share the UC System plan for vetting and engaging with offsets, as well as challenges they have faced, followed by Q&A and open discussion wherein we will also explore the newer, third-party auditors that are vetting projects, and the prospect of a buyer’s alliance within the higher education community. 

June 22, 2023: The Offset Network: An Innovative Framework for Higher Education
Members of the Executive Committee of Second Nature’s Offset Network describe the work that has been done to develop an innovative, education-driven, quality offsets framework for higher education, and what is needed to expand impact and scale the program meaningfully. 

July 27, 2023: Co-Benefits: Communicating Value Beyond Carbon Offsets
Maddie LoDico of Colby College and Joy Baker of Furman University will share their experience weighing budgetary and GHG reporting goals with environmental, student service, and community impact goals. Followed by an open discussion where we will consider the qualitative value of offset explorations, and how to communicate and center these in climate action strategy. 

August 24, 2023: Land Use Carbon Accounting: Management of Campus Landholdings
John Pumilio (Colgate University), and Meredith Rutherford and David Frostclapp (Cornell University) will present about how they are working to improve campus land management through a carbon lens, and demonstrate the impact of land on overall institutional GHG accounting. We will discuss their approaches, outcomes, and challenges faced. We will also consider implications for campus land management initiatives as a result of the forthcoming Land Sector Removals Guidance from the GHG Protocol.

September 28, 2023: Selling: Campus Offset Project Development
We will hear from Tracey Osborne (UC-Merced) about a land-based carbon offset project she has co-developed with indigenous communities in the Ecuadorian Amazon,  and from Bob Koester (Ball State University) about Ball State’s campus-wide energy efficiency project, which has sold offsets through Second Nature’s C2P2 program. The speakers will share their victories, lessons learned, and challenges faced, followed by Q&A and an open discussion. 

October 26, 2023: Leveraging Teaching and Research to Contribute to the Offsets Conversation
Deborah McGrath of Sewanee University of the South, along with others (TBD) will share how they have used carbon offset study and curriculum development to champion workforce development, offset protocol improvement, research, offset project creation, and community co-benefits. Followed by open discussion and brainstorming about how offset-related teaching and research can become more integrated and impactful.  

November (date TBD; recurring date falls on Thanksgiving): Higher Education’s Role to Influence the Offsets Ecosystem 
Based on our conversations so far, and reflections from Second Nature’s Carbon Offsets Fellow’s past year of work, we will discuss the role of higher education as a whole in the carbon offsets economy. We will explore questions such as: Should higher education consider partnerships with private sector entities in the carbon space? Are educational institutions adequately supplying the nascent market with qualified workers and thought leaders? What roles might higher education serve or improve to provide counterbalance to the many pain points of the carbon offsets economy? 


How do I join?
Joining the Advisory Council simply requires that you fill out this form. Once you have joined, you’ll be added to the list. If you have any questions, please reach out to Meredith Leigh, Second Nature’s Carbon Offsets Fellow, at [email protected].

Join the Offsets Advisory Council Now