Measuring Progress

From Reporting to Dynamic Assessment

Many will be familiar with the adage: “what gets measured gets managed” (Peter Drucker). It’s a good beginning to many projects, and helps to build clarity around expectations and goals right from the beginning. In the Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments, for example, we have repeatedly heard how important it is that reporting remain a fundamental component of the work. Not only does it focus attention periodically, but forces you to consider progress against clear benchmarks and towards clear goals.

As we move into the second decade of the Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments however, there are lessons and considerations that can now be introduced as well. Much like standardized testing at K-12 schools, there is significant value in getting a snapshot understanding of a few key variables that indicate achievement against objective benchmarks. But similar to standardized testing there are also important limitations and additional considerations:

  1. The goal should not become about the reporting. The work of sustainability and climate action often integrates many components. Benefits can be created across numerous areas in social, economic, and environmental categories. Therefore, it’s important to use reporting as a tool for gauging progress and providing some communication of success, but remembering that it will not fully define progress nor provide the only tool for communication. Signatories are encouraged to consider reporting as a periodic opportunity to evaluate and assess rather than a major end in itself. As we know from the standardized testing analogy, some education has become more about ‘teaching to the test’, rather than about broadly facilitating learning, but the standardized test is only one method of evaluating students. Many schools and teachers employ ‘formative assessment’ as well. This means that the student is constantly evaluated; teaching methods, material, and learning environments can improve adaptively as more is understood about the student’s strengths and preferences for learning. The reporting goal at Second Nature is intended to bridge the gap between necessary, objective reporting that delivers a summary of progress against benchmarks and also to facilitate iterative learning and adaptive implementation. In 2016, the reporting platform will be upgraded to facilitate more opportunity around the latter intent.
  2. There are benefits that go beyond measurable targets: Just because what gets measured gets managed, it doesn’t follow that the only things worth managing are those that can be measured. In other words, some of the biggest benefits are intangible and qualitative and they should not be given short-shrift. In order to keep the reporting element manageable and helpful, we are not requiring a report that is lengthy. We also don’t expect that progress on campuses will be limited to the things that we request as part of the Commitments reporting. For some of these less tangible elements (e.g. the awareness around sustainability in students, the lifelong learning potential of students, the diffusion of sustainability mindsets or principles beyond the campus, the reputation of the college, the leadership in the community etc), it is possible to develop indicators that give you some insight into part of the equation, but these indicators may not find their way into a reporting framework.
  3. Difference and Diversity: All campuses have a different balance of priorities and perspective. Planning, implementation, and activities should reflect these priorities and diversity, and celebrate the unique characteristics of the place and community. Reports often don’t reflect these elements very well, and that’s ok. They are but one tool in the box.

So, while reporting is critical, and we fully support it through the commitment requirements, we will be folding the reporting component into a broader context of annual evaluation. The annual evaluation of progress required as part of the Commitments, is aimed at driving creative solutions, communicating progress against clear benchmarks, and iterative learning. The required reporting for the Carbon Commitment is not changing significantly, however, over the next couple of years (2015-2017), we will be recreating the reporting platform as a tool  (and guidance) to accommodate a broader opportunity to learn and assess, and to facilitate more flexibility, particularly as more campuses engage with resilience. If you wish to be part of a team to evaluate reporting (goals, requirements, tools), then please contact us: [email protected]


Data Tracking and Rapid Assessment

Institutional Data for all Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments

This information is not required to calculate emissions or resilience indicators but is very useful for understanding foundational components, and forms the basis of the Implementation Profile Second Nature’s reporting platform. These data can be used to construct baselines for comparison with future emissions reductions or create benchmarks to compare with peer institutions. While this is specifically what we collect in the Second Nature reporting platform, you may want to consider other types of institutional data that could be useful as you track emissions reductions and resilience improvement. More information on when and how to report these components for the Commitments can be found in the Commitments Implementation Guide.

  1. Demographic Information: Tracking the number of faculty, staff, part-time students, full-time students, and summer students, creates a per capita emissions value that can be used to understand how emissions change as the campus grows. This data is needed for commuter calculations as well. This is also useful to understand the scale of solutions for emergency management, and building inclusive processes to generate adaptive capacity for resilience.
  2. Physical Size Information: Recording building and research space will allow the calculation of emissions intensity which can be used to track efficiency and changes in emissions as new buildings are added. It will also also be useful for calculating usable community or emergency space/energy requirements.
  3. Budget Information: Data on the operating budget, research budget, and energy budget is very useful when developing climate action plans or sustainability projects.
Typical Units Typical Sources Typical Campus Contact
Demographic Information # of faculty, staff, students Employee Records; Student Registrations Human Resources; Registrar; Commuter Student Office
Physical Size Gross square feet Building Plans Facilities Office; Planning Office; Campus Architect
Budget Information $ spent on energy; research; operations Financial Records CFO; Accounting Office; Facilities Office; Provost

Carbon Accounting & Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventories

Conducting  carbon accounting – and creating a greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory – is the primary metric for measuring progress towards carbon neutrality and more importantly for understanding your institution’s emissions contribution to climate change. It should be the guiding basis for decision-making around carbon reduction strategies. Understanding which sources of emissions pose the greatest challenges will help direct your action to critical areas. Having a clear inventory of emissions will help predict the potential impact of proposed projects and strategies for reductions. In the absence of this data, resources and efforts can be inefficiently applied to mitigation efforts. This can limit the impact on emissions reductions and programs undertaken for their perceived educational, social, or economic value can be overestimated.

The carbon accounting process is often thought of as only the creation of a GHG inventory – the collecting of the required data and the preforming of the emissions calculations. This is, however, only one stage in the iterative process. A full process can be thought of in 3 stages:

  1. Design of the process
  2. Assessment of emissions
  3. Planning mitigation

In the first stage, you should consider who will conduct the inventory, who will collect the data, what data are available, who is responsible for tracking and providing the necessary data. These decisions may necessitate the allocation of resources or changes in procedures in order to be successful. For example, if energy use is not being tracked on a consistent basis, this is an indicator that the facilities management or billing practices of your institution will need to be altered if sustainability goals are to be successfully implemented. The resulting shifts in “business-as-usual” can be as important for the overall implementation of sustainability as any individual projects accomplished. Such shifts can adapt the thinking and practice of the organization making future actions easier and more successful.

The second stage involves the collection of required data and the use of a carbon calculator to produce an emissions inventory. See Inventory Calculations for more details about this stage.

The final stage is often overlooked or taken for granted, but it is the key reason for conducting the process: carbon accounting is intended as a decision-making tool. If the results of the inventory are not being used as a critical factor in deciding which policies and projects to enact on campus your calculation has little value. Significant effort should be given to reviewing the results of your inventory, discussing it and its implications with key decision-makers, and explaining the results to community stakeholders. An inventory is really only as valuable as its ability to alter policy and practice to a less carbon-intensive way of operating.

These stages demonstrate the need for creating an iterative process. Tracking of important data will improve over time, practices will be improved to be more able to track critical indicators, your inventory team will become more experienced and comfortable working together, etc. Thinking about emissions impacts and planning for carbon neutrality will become more integrated into the normal decision-making processes of the campus. These kinds of goals are the intention of creating an inventory process. A process that cannot be easily and quickly be replicated in the future, a team that needs to be newly recruited or trained each cycle, a single person being responsible for generating data about the operations of a different department (because that department is not tracking their own operations), or excessive time being taken up in the completion of the process, are all indicators that carbon accounting has not yet become a standard way of operating on your campus.

Signatories of the Climate and Carbon Commitments agree to conduct a greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory within one year of signing and then to update that inventory annually. See the Commitments Implementation Guide for specific information about reporting.


What does a GHG Inventory include?
A Greenhouse Gas (GHG) inventory will provide a general diagnosis and a measuring stick to determine success or failure in your efforts to reduce GHG emissions. The inventory does this by establishing and quantifying your campus’ carbon footprint in terms of metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year (t CO2e/yr). Metric units are used because of the international nature of GHG emissions accounting. GHG emissions are quantified in terms of “CO2e” or carbon dioxide equivalent which indexes the climate impact of the six different GHGs into a standard unit.


The greenhouse gas inventory results help to guide the development of a Climate Action Plan. In combination with financial analysis, the identification of the emissions-reduction potential of various project ideas can illuminate initiatives that generate emissions reductions with lower marginal abatement costs and create operational savings. These activities are great places to start, as they free up your operational resources to put toward projects with higher marginal abatement costs over the long term. There will likely be a myriad of options to choose from, and in the institutional context it is appropriate to evaluate these options in light of the question: how can we prioritize at an increasingly detailed level among the options?

A campus GHG emissions inventory is also an awareness raising tool. It allows green campus advocates to equate energy-wasting activities to the problem of climate change by quantifying the consequences in terms of GHG emissions. This can be a big wake up call for your campus. Given increasing public awareness and concern about climate change, making this connection about something that is often hidden can motivate behavior change.

In the sections below, there are more details on how to conduct the inventory and what to measure.

Planning The Inventory

Before beginning an institutional GHG emissions inventory, you must determine the time period over which you wish to evaluate your emissions. To allow for comparability and aggregation of data, you are to calculate and report your emissions over the period of one year, as is standard practice. To simplify the data collection process, you may calculate your emissions according to your fiscal or academic year, rather than by calendar year. Whichever time period you choose, you should use the same time period consistently. To aid the carbon neutral planning process, you will need to understand your emissions trajectory over time. Therefore, your should endeavor to calculate, to the extent practical, your emissions from years prior to participation in the Commitments. Each signatory can decide for itself how far back it needs to track its emissions in order to understand its emissions trajectory.

You also need to decide who will complete your baseline and annual GHG inventory report. Institutions have conducted successful greenhouse gas inventories using a number of different approaches. One common approach is for sustainability offices and personnel (including student interns) to take the lead on the project. Sometimes sustainability committees complete the inventory. Another successful approach is to make the inventory an outcome of a class project. Some institutions hire an outside consulting firm to do the work while others complete the inventory in-house. While there may be advantages and disadvantages to either approach, we recommend you complete the inventory in-house whenever practicable as this ensures some continuity in expertise from year to year.

Completing the inventory in-house also provides an opportunity to engage students, faculty, and staff at a level that is difficult to match when hiring an outside firm. The process of collecting institution-wide data, and communicating results and goals encourages collaboration, builds community, and fosters institutional pride. Conducting a GHG inventory in-house provides educational opportunities for those establishing the scope and boundaries of the inventory, performing calculations, and writing the final report. Because the inventory is completed on an annual basis over the course of many years, the long-term institutional awareness and cost savings associated with completing the inventory in-house can be significant.

There is a learning curve for anyone completing their first GHG inventory, but the knowledge gained including where data is collected, who manages it, and how to track it for future years makes subsequent inventories considerably easier and take less time. A basic, first-time inventory can take an individual up to four months to complete. Once a standard procedure, including data collection methodology, management, and organizational structures, is well-developed an inventory process can take as little as a matter of a few weeks.

Despite these in-house beneftis, you may still elect to contract your GHG inventory calculations to a 3rd party vendor. Many Energy Service Companies (ESCOs) provide this service in conjunction with energy retrofit projects. If the GHG inventory is performed as a class project, or by an outside contractor, it is still beneficial for a full-time employee of the campus to be familiar with the data, process, and protocols in order to verify the results.

Regardless of how the report is completed, it is important that the protocol and methodology remain consistent from year to year. The process of completing an annual inventory will be much more efficient for colleges and universities that carefully record their protocol, lessons learned, and best-practices of completing an inventory from the prior year.

For this reason, we recommend that you create an institution-specific, step-by-step guide for how to complete an inventory at their school, capturing the successful processes you used when you completed your first one. Once a step-by-step guide is created, the methodology and protocol can be consistent no matter who conducts the inventory from year-to-year.

Tracking Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Consistent with GHG Protocol standards, you are expected to track and report emissions of the six greenhouse gases covered under the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6). The main focus should be on CO2 since emissions of PFCs or SF6 are unlikely to originate on campus, and emissions of CH4, N2O, and HFCs are likely to represent only a small percentage of an institution’s total emissions.

You are expected to calculate the emissions of each gas separately, and aggregate them into units of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e) on the basis of each gas’s global warming potential (GWP). GWP refers to the total contribution to global warming over a certain time horizon resulting from the emission of one unit of gas relative to one unit of carbon dioxide. For example, if methane has a global warming potential of 21 over a 100 year time horizon, it means that over a period of 100 years, 1 ton of methane has the same impact on climate change as 21 tons of carbon dioxide and thus 1 ton of methane would count as 21 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.

While each of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment Reports contains updated global warming potentials for the six Kyoto gases, international convention and many GHG programs continue to use the GWPs contained in the IPCC’s Second Assessment Report for consistency. For purposes of the Commitments, you may choose to use GWPs from the Second Assessment Report, or the most up-to-date GWPs from the IPCC (see box). All GWPs should be over a 100 year time horizon.

To help delineate direct and indirect emission sources, improve transparency, facilitate fair comparisons, and provide utility for different types of organizations and different climate policies and goals, the GHG Protocol defines three “scopes” for GHG accounting and reporting purposes.

Scope 1 refers to direct GHG emissions occurring from sources that are owned or controlled by the institution, including: on-campus stationary combustion of fossil fuels; mobile combustion of fossil fuels by institution owned/controlled vehicles; and “fugitive” emissions. Fugitive emissions result from intentional or unintentional releases of GHGs, including the leakage of HFCs from refrigeration and air conditioning equipment as well as the release of CH4 from institution-owned farm animals. Scope 2 refers to indirect emissions generated in the production of electricity consumed by the institution. Scope 3 refers to all other indirect emissions – those that are a consequence of the activities of the institution, but occur from sources not owned or controlled by the institution.

  • Scope 1: Direct Emissions – Scope 1 emissions are those that are physically produced on campus (e.g. on-campus power production, campus vehicle fleets, refrigerant leaks). These sources are “owned or directly controlled” by your institution.
  • Scope 2: Indirect Emissions – Scope 2 emissions are mostly associated with purchased utilities required for campus operation. They are indirect emissions resulting from activities that take place within the organizational boundaries of the institution, but that occur at sources owned or controlled by another entity.
  • Scope 3: Induced Emissions – Scope 3 includes emissions from sources that are not owned or controlled by the campus, but that are central to campus operations or activities (e.g. non-fleet transportation, employee/student commuting, air travel paid for by your institution).

Consistent with the GHG Protocol standards, you need to account for and report on emissions from Scopes 1 and 2. In addition, as specified in the Commitment, signatories agree to report some Scope 3 emissions, specifically those from air travel paid for by or through the institution and regular commuting to and from campus, to the extent those data are available. For purposes of the Commitment, commuting is defined as travel to and from campus on a day to day basis by students, faculty, and staff. It does not include student travel to and from campus at the beginning and end of term or during break periods.

Emissions from commuting and from air travel paid for by or through the institution are the only Scope 3 emissions sources that signatories are required to report on. However, you are strongly encouraged, to the extent practical, to investigate and report on additional Scope 3 emissions, especially those from sources that are large and can be meaningfully influenced by the institution. Other Scope 3 emissions sources that you may choose to include in your inventory include, but are not limited to: waste disposal; embodied emissions from extraction, production, and transportation of purchased goods; outsourced activities; contractor owned-vehicles; and line loss from electricity transmission and distribution.

GHG accounting is continuously being refined, especially as it relates to Scope 3 emissions. It is good practice to stay informed with the new thinking and updates in regard to GHG accounting included in the Greenhouse Gas Protocol and we will occasionally update our guidance according to new developments.

You are encouraged to track and report their emissions to the fullest extent practical. However, you may designate small emissions sources that are difficult to track as de minimis and exclude them from the inventory, provided that the emissions sources collectively comprise less than 5% of the institution’s total GHG emissions. Institutions declaring certain emissions sources as de minimis should use rough, upper-bound estimates to ensure that these emissions sources do in fact contribute less than 5% of the institution’s total emissions. The estimations and assumptions used to determine de minimis emissions should also be described within the institution’s GHG inventory.

For example, non-agricultural applications of chemical fertilizers may comprise less than 5% of most institutions’ total emissions, and assuming that this had been confirmed using rough upper-bound estimates, you could choose to exclude these emissions from your inventory.

Inventory Calculations

The actual calculations of emissions is generally accomplished with an inventory calculator. The inventory calculators summarize the emissions totals in CO2e, based on the emissions factors and GWP described above. This summary helps to compare emissions sources to determine the largest sources of global warming pollutants and thereby identify areas of greatest opportunity for GHG emissions abatement.

Many calculators exist for conducting GHG inventories. Part of the process of creating the inventory is determining which calculator to use. You may use any methodology and/or carbon calculator that is consistent with the standards of the Greenhouse Gas Protocol of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and the World Resources Institute (WRI). The GHG Protocol is the most widely-used international accounting procedure for quantifying GHG emissions, and it provides the accounting framework for nearly every GHG standard and program in the world.

Most signatories make use of the Sustainability Indicator Management and Analysis Platform (SIMAP), formerly the Campus Carbon Calculator, which was designed by a former non-profit institution, Clean Air-Cool Planet, and the University of New Hampshire (UNH). SIMAP tailors the Greenhouse Gas Protocol to specifically meet the needs of most campuses. UNH maintains SIMAP and can provide support and instruction on the use of the tool.

There are other available calculators that other signatories utilize. You may be legally required to report your emissions to a state or federal agency and use the same calculator to fulfil your requirements under the Commitments. This is encouraged since it reduces the amount of duplicated effort. As long as the calculator follows the Greenhouse Gas Protocol and reports all six GHGs covered by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, it will meet the requirements of the Commitments. Many of these regulatory reporting requirements only cover Scope 1 emissions, so Scope 2 and the required Scope 3 emissions required by the Commitments would need to be tracked separately.  

Critical Data

These items are the basic, minimum data sets that will be needed to construct a useful greenhouse gas inventory. These emissions usually account for the majority of your direct emissions and are the most likely sources to be the focus of efficiency or conservation projects.

  1. Scope 1 – On-Campus Stationary Sources: These emissions are calculated from the amount of fossil fuels burned in boilers, central heating plants, on campus power plants etc. This energy is typically used to heat/cool buildings or to directly generate electricity used on campus. The data needed would be the type and amount of each type of fuel purchased and consumed on campus: natural gas, fuel oil, coal, etc.
  2. Scope 1 – Direct Transportation (Mobile) Sources: These emissions are generated by the fuel used in campus owned vehicles. This is the amount of gasoline and/or diesel fuel used by the campus fleet.
  3. Scope 2 – Purchased Energy: These are emissions produced off-campus by burning fossil fuels to generate energy (typically electricity) that is purchased by the campus. The required data would be the amount of electricity purchased by the campus.
Required Data Typical Units Typical Sources Typical Campus Contact
On-campus Stationary Campus Fuel Consumption Therms of natural gas; Gallons of fuel oil; Tons of coal; etc. Utility Bills; Heating Plant Records; Boiler Records Energy Manager; Heating Plant Manager; Facilities Office; Accounting Office
Direct Transportation Fleet Fuel Consumption Gallons of gasoline; Gallons of diesel Utility Bills; Fleet Maintenance Records Transportation Office; Fleet Manager; Accounting Office
Purchased Energy Electricity Purchases Kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity Utility Bills; Electric Meters Facilities Office; Utility Manager; Accounting Office

Required Scope 3 Data

These items are needed to meet the requirements of the Commitments (through 2016). These emissions usually account for the majority of campus indirect emissions. These sources are most likely the focus of commuter outreach or incentive programs or transportation demand management strategies.

  1. Scope 3 – Directly Financed Air Travel: These emissions are created off-campus when faculty, staff, or students travel on official campus business. They are calculated from the number of miles traveled or estimated from the amount of money spent on airline tickets.
  2. Scope 3 – Commuting: Faculty, staff, and students commuting daily to campus in personal vehicles generate these emissions. Gathering this data is often the most complicated part of conducting your GHG inventory. Using a survey to gather the required information is a common method. The overall goal is to determine the annual number of miles traveled by each mode of travel (car, bus, train, etc.). To calculate this value, several data sets are required:
    1. Number of commuters (by affiliation – faculty, staff, or student)
    2. Modal split (% commuting by car, carpool, bus, train, etc.)
    3. Number of commuting days per year (can be estimated based on academic calendar and assumptions about campus culture or from survey data)
    4. Average distance per trip (gathered from survey data or calculated from employee zip code data).
Required Data Typical Units Typical Sources
Air Travel Miles Traveled Miles or $ spent Travel Expenses; Reimbursement Records
Commuters Headcounts # of Faculty, Staff, Students Employee Records; Student Registrations
Mode of Travel Modal Split % Commuting by car; train; bus; etc. Survey Data; Parking Pass Sales
Average Commute Miles Traveled Miles per trip Survey Data; Zip Code Data

Additional Data

These items complete the GHG inventory. Some may not apply to every campus, some might be very small sources of emissions, and some may not be as easily available as other data sources. It could be possible to add these items after an initial inventory is completed if time or resources do not allow their initial inclusion, but important opportunities for emissions reductions can be lost if they are not tracked, so effort should be made to include them if possible.

  1. Scope 1 – Refrigerants & Chemicals: Some chemicals are very powerful greenhouse gases and even small accidental releases can have an impact on a greenhouse gas inventory. These are typically refrigerants or coolants that inadvertently leak from HVAC or refrigeration equipment.
  2. Scope 1 – Agricultural Sources: Agricultural activities contribute to GHG emissions. If your campus has farms, gardens, or livestock these activities should be tracked.
  3. Scope 3 – Other Directly Financed Travel: These emissions are the same as airline travel but for other modes: bus, train, taxi, car rentals, etc.
  4. Scope 3 – Study Abroad Travel: If the institution directly finances or reimburses student travel for off-campus study, these miles should be recorded in the same way as other financed air travel.
  5. Scope 3 – Solid Waste: Landfills and waste incinerators contribute to global warming. The amount of waste disposed of (i.e., not reused, diverted, or recycled) should be tracked. This data is usually not very difficult to obtain and is very useful for understanding recycling and other waste management programs on campus, so even though it is an optional piece of the inventory it should be included if at all possible.
  6. Scope 3 – Waste Water: Sewage treatment plants contribute to GHG emissions. The gallons of wastewater disposed of and the disposal method (type of septic system or treatment plant used) are required for this calculation. Like solid waste, this data is often easily obtained and though optional should be included if possible since it will help inform water conservation efforts.
Required Data Typical Units Typical Sources
Refrigerants & Chemicals HCFC leaks Pounds of each specific chemical HVAC Maintenance Logs; Chemical Purchase Records
Fertilizer Application Amount & type of fertilizer Pounds & nitrogen content Farm/Grounds Records; Receipts of Purchases
Livestock Size and type of animal herds # & type of animals Farm Records
Other Travel Miles Traveled Miles & mode of travel Travel Expense Reports; Reimbursement Reports
Solid Waste Amount of waste disposed of & type of disposal (landfill, incinerator, etc.) Tons of waste Utility Bills; Recycling Coordinator; Contracted Waste Hauler
Waste Water Amount of water used Gallons of water Utility Bills; Sewage or Water Bill; Utility Manager


Tracking Other Elements of the Plan

The final section of the climate action plan should describe how the institution will track its progress in achieving the goals set out in the rest of the plan. For example, you may wish to establish a centralized system to track actions taken to increase resilience as well as efforts to incorporate resilience, carbon neutrality and sustainability into educational, research, and community service activities. This system could also include evaluations about the cost and benefits of each project so as to help foster intra- and inter-campus learning. Signatories are encouraged to also consider more quantitative methods of tracking other types of progress. For example, to measure success in making resilience, carbon neutrality and sustainability part of the educational experience for all students, signatories might conduct periodic sustainability literacy surveys of students or surveys of faculty to assess the sustainability content of their courses.