A quest for carbon neutrality…easier promised than done

Today’s issue of Inside HigherEd has a story about the challenges of reaching Carbon Neutrality. The article, In Quest for Carbon Neutrality, Late out of the Gate, focuses on the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment in which college and university presidents have promised to take their schools to a carbon neutral status.

Participating schools were supposed to have a plan submitted by last week (Sept 15, 2008, actually), but only half of the schools actually submitted their plans. Many schools are having trouble compiling their carbon emission levels. The schools are finding ways to make their emissions comparable across schools, but this is much easier said than done. Here’s a piece of the article that highlights some of the challenges:

In completing the baseline inventories, colleges were asked to, at a minimum, estimate emissions based on the on-site combustion of fossil fuels, electricity consumption, student, faculty and staff commuting, and institution-funded air travel. Some went above and beyond, calculating inventories for a series of years rather than the single year required, and including emissions from solid waste disposal or study abroad in their analyses. Many, but not all, attached detailed narratives.

To the degree that total carbon dioxide emissions can be normalized across universities, they’re broken down by emissions per 1,000 square feet and emissions per full-time enrollment.

Without better metrics for normalizing the data, the organizers of the commitment strongly discourage making comparisons across universities for ranking purposes, both because of variations across institutions (including accidents of location — differing heating needs in colder versus milder climates, for example, and the degree to which regional electricity producers rely on renewable energy sources versus coal), and also because of differences in methodologies and boundaries (what was and wasn’t included in the various university inventories).

You can read the full article here: In Quest for Carbon Neutrality, Late out of the Gate.

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